Heading into this Saturday’s PFL 1 card, Rob Wilkinson is now the man with the target on his back.
Wilkinson had a stunning career turnaround during the PFL’s 2022 season, going to the final and winning the light heavyweight championship during his first year with the promotion. Now, he’s looking to repeat that success, while PFL 1 opponent Thiago Santos attempts to kick off the season with a big win of his own.
Wilkinson (17-2), a former UFC talent himself, doesn’t believe Santos will be able to find the same sort of success in the PFL.
“Unfortunately not. I think I’m going to happily send him into retirement,” Wilkinson told media outlets including Cageside Press during Thursday’s PFL 1 media day.
As for the impressive power “Marreta” possesses, Wilkinson isn’t overly concerned.
“He’s got power, but when did we see that power last? I don’t think he’s got a knockout for however many years. So yeah, I’m comfortable where ever the fight goes.”
Overall, Wilkinson believes like many opportunistic UFC athletes before him, Santos will struggle in his new home.
“We’ve seen time and time again, UFC fighters come over here thinking they’re going to be able to easily win a million dollars and win a world title, and it not go their way,” the light heavyweight champ stated. “I’m looking forward to being the PFL champ to do that to him.”
To many, Santos has not been the same since his fight with Jon Jones in 2019, that left the Brazilian needing surgery on both knees. Wilkinson sees that as well.
“I mean if you look at his fights since that Jones fight, he hasn’t finished anyone, he’s lost five of his last six I think. And obviously he’s getting on in his career age-wise. So it looks like it did change him, but it’s always difficult to come back from double-knee surgery,” Wilkinson noted.
At the same time, he knows that slump is bound to motivate Thiago Santos. “Yeah definitely. He’s fighting me who won the tournament last year, he’s looking to make a statement— come in and I’m sure he’s looking to get a finish over me and show he’s a top guy in the division,” Wilkinson added. “But I don’t believe that’s the case. I’m the champ, and I’m going to be the double champ this year.”
Whether it’s Santos or anyone else, Wilkinson knows he has a target on his back this year. That doesn’t change anything for the Australian, however.
“Not really. I know I’ve got a bit of a target on my back, but I think most of my fights last year, I was still the favorite going into them. I’m excited, I want people to know who I am and try to take me out. It doesn’t change anything, I’m still preparing, I’m still just as hungry and motivated as I was last year.”
Watch the full PFL 1 media day appearance by Rob Wilkinson above.