Rob Wilkinson has had to bide his time since his release from the UFC back in 2018. With only one MMA bout to his name since, the Tasmanian has struggled to land matchups in the years following.
Wilkinson has spent his time out of competition training and building on his game, and having fought Israel Adesanya in the current UFC middleweight champion’s promotional debut, he draws confidence from having faced the best fighter in his former weight class.
“It definitely wasn’t my best fight, but looking at how well he’s done in becoming the champion, it give me confidence fighting anyone else. I’ve fought the best guy in the world at that weight class, he’s the best MMA striker in the world.”
After making his light heavyweight debut against fellow UFC veteran Dylan Andrews in December 2019, Wilkinson returns to action at Hex Fight Series 21 on April 9, when he faces Brazilian Daniel Almeida for the promotion’s light heavyweight title.
Wilkinson believes he has taken his game to another level, and with a fight booked at last, he can’t wait to show the MMA world what he has been working on.
“I’ve been pretty much been preparing for a title fight for six months now, so it’s the best shape I’ve been in going into a fight.
“It’s probably the most excited I’ve been for a fight, I just can’t wait to get in there and show all the new skills I’ve been working on, show how good I am, and show that I belong back in the UFC.”
Wilkinson has largely held a grappling advantage in his fights to date, but Almeida brings a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt to the table, a fact that is not lost on the 29-year-old and one that holds no fear.
“I’ve wanted to fight a Jiu Jitsu guy for a long time, everyone I seem to fight is a striker. I’ve got good wrestling so I normally try to take them down and keep them down, but I’ve had a few kickboxing bouts since the UFC, so I’ve been really working on my striking and I’m excited to be able to demonstrate some of those skills that I’ve been working on as well as my defensive wrestling if he does try to take me down.
“I’m more than happy to go to the ground with him, I don’t think he’s been submitted in MMA before, so I’d love to get that notch under my belt. May even help get me up to my brown belt if I can submit him, but I see myself knocking him out definitely.”
With the last of his nine career wins coming by way of head kick knockout, Almeida may well bring an improved striking arsenal to the fight on April 9. Wilkinson however, is more than up for the challenge, whichever way the fight goes.
“Apparently he (Almeida) said he wants to strike with me, I think his last fight he won by head kick knockout, when people start knocking people out they get a bit excited and think they’ve got good striking. I’ve got a bit of height and reach advantage on him, so once I start tagging him and he’s swinging and missing at me, he’ll look to get it to the ground where he feels a bit more comfortable.”
“I see myself controlling the fight, I don’t see him being able to take me down. I’ll be controlling with my striking, I’m a good wrestler so I’m happy to take him down, ground and pound and even look for a submission there. I want to put on a good performance and really dominate this fight. I’d like it to go past the first round, as I haven’t fought in a long time and I’m looking to get a bit of time in the cage to feel it out. But, I see it being a first or second round finish.”
Despite a stern test ahead of him in Almeida, Wilkinson is also looking at the bigger picture. A picture that sees him not only returning to the big time, but mixing it with the best fighters in the world.
“I’m training not just for Daniel Almeida, I’m training not just to be Hex champion, not just to be back in the UFC, I’m training to be top 10 in the UFC. I’m ready to compete with the top 10 guys.
“I’m 29-years-old now and I want to make the most out of the next five or six years, which I think will be my best years. In my early-30s I want to make a run towards that world title.”