Mike Wilkinson hasn’t had an easy go at it in his UFC career thus far, and it has nothing to do with wins and losses, as he’s emerged victorious in two of his three Octagon bouts.
The problem for the Leigh, Lancashire native is that those three fights took place over the course of the last three-plus years, with Wilkinson’s body being a more fearsome opponent than anyone he’s faced in competition. It makes you wonder why he continues to do this, but he has no such questions.
“I will never quit,” Wilkinson said. “There is no quit in me. I’ll never give up. I only see my goals, and I don’t believe in failure. I will never give up. The only thing I’m passionate about in life is being in the gym and challenging myself and pushing myself.”
And fighting. This Saturday, he gets to do that again, facing hot featherweight prospect Makwan Amirkhani in London. The UFC FIGHT PASS bout is Wilkinson’s first since a 79-second knockout of another rising star, Niklas Backstrom, in October of 2014, and he promises that this weekend’s bout is a good omen for things to come.
“I want three or four fights this year, I want to climb that ladder, and by the end of the year, I want to be in the top 15 or top 10,” he said. “I believe in my ability; I’m just going to train smarter, be clever and stay injury free, and if all goes to plan, you will see me.”
No one has ever doubted the ability of the 28-year-old. Ever since he showed up for tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter Smashes series, he’s clearly had the goods to succeed in the Octagon, but only if he was able to make it there. On TUF, an injury scrapped him from the semifinals, and even when he was brought back for a UFC fight against cast mate Brendan Loughnane in December of 2012, it was just after eye surgery, hampering his training camp.
“I had no sparring for that fight, I did no strength and conditioning, nothing apart from technique drills because I had eye surgery previous, and I could feel the strain and the pressure,” he said. “I took the fight because I knew that was my shot to get into the UFC. There was no way I was going to turn it down.”
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He won, decisioning Loughnane over three rounds. A submission loss to Rony Jason six months later pinned a loss on his record for the first time, but he was undaunted until injuries began piling up. He got the spectacular win over Backstrom in October of 2014, and a fight with Alan Omer last June would have kept the momentum going.
Then Wilkinson got injured. Twice. But he pressed on.
“I had two torn groins, but there was no way I was pulling out; I wanted to fight,” he said. “I’m going to stand and go to war and put a show on for the fans. I had no grappling for that camp. But obviously the universe had a plan for me, and it dislocated my shoulder and said ‘listen, you’re not ready. Take a step back and heal.’”
Wilkinson finally did as the universe told him, withdrew from the Omer fight, and it was a time for him to get his body back to a hundred percent. Now heading into the Amirkhani fight, it is, and he can’t wait to strap the gloves back on.
“My coach has not seen me train this well in a good couple of years,” ASW’s Wilkinson said. “He said he’s really got to see me doing a camp and being able to do everything that needs to be done for the fight, leaving no stones unturned. There’s nothing holding me back in any sessions, my body’s feeling a hundred percent and I’m super excited to put a show on for the fans, because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
It’s about more than that. It’s about perseverance and heart, and all those things you can’t quantify until you see them with your own two eyes. Those are traits Wilkinson was born with, and it’s why you’ll never see him give in.
“I’m a qualified joiner, and that’s what I used to do on site, but I used to turn up on site every single day and I hated it,” he said. “I hated being in the cold and in the rain, and I used to say to the other joiners, I will not do this for the rest of my life. They said ‘We all said that.’ But I said ‘I’m telling you now, I ain’t gonna do a job that I’m not gonna be happy with. I would sooner have no money and be happy than have loads of money and be miserable.’ Money’s not everything in life; it’s about being happy. And if I can do things that make me happy, then I’m sure along the way that the money will come. And I’ve stuck to that, and money came in my last fight.”
Now it’s time to get some more.