Rob Wilkinson Neutralizes Power of Debuting Thiago Santos at PFL 1 2023

Rob Wilkinson following his win over Thiago Santos, 2023 PFL 1
Rob Wilkinson, 2023 PFL 1 in Las Vegas Credit: PFL

Former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos made his promotional debut at PFL 1 on Saturday, taking on defending champ Rob Wilkinson in the co-main event of the Las Vegas-based card.

Santos had struggled towards the end of his UFC run, picking up just a single win since his fight with Jon Jones in 2019 — a fight that left Santos requiring reconstructive surgery on both knees.

Early on, Santos was backed up by a Wilkinson jab; the champion also found success with a couple of left hooks in the early going. Inside of two minutes, the Australian was also able to take Santos down, trapping him against the fence. While Brazil’s Santos eventually made his way back up, Wilkinson soon had him down once again; as “Marreta” worked up against the fence, Wilkinson fired knees to the thigh.

Again, when Santos escaped up, he was dragged back down, with Wilkinson utilizing a body lock. Santos was warned by the ref for a fence grab, but it really didn’t matter — Wilkinson trapped him at center, taking the back, then transitioned to the top in mount, though Santos would get half-guard back.

Wilkinson would pursue the takedown inside of a minute in round two, though Santos would stay standing. He could not keep upright the entire round, however, and Wilkinson’s wrestling and takedown abilities were quickly becoming the story of the fight. When Santos wasn’t on the ground, he was far too often up against the fence, eating knees.

Once again in the third, it was Rob Wilkinson in control. Santos did a better job in terms of takedown defense in round three, but it was Wilkinson landing a stiff jab and changing levels with just over ninety seconds left in the fight. Santos answered with a knee, but that failed to phase the Australian, who was cruising to a decision win unless Santos was able to create space and unleash his power. Santos would fire a kick that missed, then looked for a flying knee that wasn’t there. Wilkinson found time to land one more takedown, and when Santos got back up, he landed a single haymaker — but it was too little, too late.

Official Result: Rob Wilkinson def. Thiago Santos by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)