A MARTIAL artist from Wigan borough hopes to take another step towards stardom when he faces his biggest challenge to date in Brazil next month.
Undefeated featherweight Mike Wilkinson will step into the octagonal cage for an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout against hometown fighter Rony Jason in Fortaleza.
Leigh fighter Mike, who has a perfect record from his eight professional bouts in mixed martial arts (MMA), hopes to silence the home fans by following up his victory on debut in the UFC against Brendan Loughnane.
The fight should help to build Mike’s growing following among combat fans as the fight is the first on the main card of the show, guaranteeing international television coverage.
Mike, 25, said: “The fight’s in my opponent’s backyard but my last fight was in Australia so I don’t mind that. Travelling around the world and competing is a dream come true and I feel blessed to be a part of it.
“I’m in the middle of camp now and doing two or three sessions a day, making sure I work on all aspects of MMA. I’m feeling 110 per cent and I can’t wait to get in there and do the business.
“He’s going to be my toughest opponent to date. He’s got a 12 and three record, he’s durable and got good skills but I’m very confident I will come out on top.”
A former Salford City Reds and Leigh Centurions academy rugby league player, Mike, nicknamed The Warrior, took up MMA after discovering an aptitude for wrestling during training sessions.
He started learning the sport at a club in Aspull before moving to Atherton Submission Wrestling (ASW), where he now trains with coach Darren Morris, while developing his stand-up game at Astley’s VIP boxing gym.
Mike got his first break in the sport when he was picked to appear on reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter, but had to withdraw from the series due to injury.
He has now put that disappointment behind him and is forging a path through the UFC ranks, with his confidence being further boosted by returning to his preferred weight of 145lbs for the fight with Rony Jason after appearing previously as a lightweight (155lbs).
Mike admits that this has meant his preparation for the fight has had to be even more meticulous than for previous contests.
He said: “It makes sense for me to be a bigger featherweight than smaller lightweight, but it means I’ve had to keep my diet much stricter.
“I’m now being careful with what I eat at the weekends, and I get plenty of active rest to keep the weight down.
“There’s no excuse for not making weight, you’ve got to be professional in all aspects of what you do.”
Despite the potential lure of MMA’s biggest markets abroad, Mike says he is also determined to remain in Britain for training.
He said: “I think anyone who goes to America to train hasn’t got the right coaches. My team at ASW have ben absolutely superb, they’ve made me what I am today.
“I started out with no skills whatsoever and now I’m undefeated and intending to stay that way. I’ve also had really good support from people in Leigh. I’ve no reason to leave.”
Mike will fight Rony Jason at UFC on Fuel TV 10 in Fortaleza, Brazil, on Saturday, June 8. The fight will be shown on ESPN.