Thiago Santos is set to face Rob Wilkinson on April 1.
Thiago Santos is set to face Rob Wilkinson on April 1. | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

UFC veteran Thiago Santos is set to make his PFL debut against Rob Wilkinson on April 1.

Just a couple of days ahead of his Professional Fighters League debut, former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos sounds excited to start a new chapter in his career. At 39-years-of-age, ‘Marreta’ is set to take on 2022 tournament champion Rob Wilkison for his promotional debut on Saturday.

In an interview with Combate, Santos explained what led him to try a new promotion so late in the game. Though Marreta is aware he does not have much more time left fighting at the highest level, he believes he can still make waves for a few more years before his performance starts to suffer. With PFL’s one million dollar prize within his grasp, the Brazilian believes the change of scenery and the prize are motivation enough to keep him focused.

“It’s a new promotion. New rules. You can’t use elbows and there’s a point system. You have a season schedule, you know you’re going to fight four times in a year with the exact dates. You can program everything better,” Santos enthused. “I won’t be a hypocrite. Of course winning a million dollars is good for anyone, but I also wanted to write something new in my story. I’ve spent almost 10 years in the UFC. Now I’m at an advanced age, I’m 39. I didn’t want to try something new when I was already going through a bad phase. The time is now. I believe I can fight at a high level for three more years, so I’d like to try it. I’m not wasting any more time.”

“That forces a fighter to go for the finish as soon as possible,” Santos added, speaking of PFL’s point structure. “I think it motivates you to do that. You know that if you can get a finish in the first round, you’ll get a good score. That helps, it makes you more at ease for the next fights. That’s something we have in mind, for sure.”

Paired up against last year’s champion, Santos knows he needs to be careful against Wilkinson. However, the Brazilian seems to think the booking should be a good one, and might even mean he’ll showcase some of his grappling skills to secure a victory.

“Wilkinson likes to strike. He has knockout wins, he walks forward. He’s dangerous and aggressive. However, we noticed that when he fights strikers, he tries to take them down. He knows what he’s dealing with. We don’t expect him to strike with me a lot. He’s going to want to use his wrestling, but we’re ready for that. I’m ready for wrestling, jiu-jitsu, wherever the fight goes. I’ve trained that, too. I like the matchup. I think that debuting against the last champion has a bigger impact. I like the fight and I’m super excited.”

Santos (22-11) left the UFC on a two-fight losing skid, with defeats at the hands of now-champion Jamahal Hill and top contender Magomed Ankalaev. The 39-year-old’s last victory took place in October 2021, when he defeated Johnny Walker via unanimous decision.

PFL 1 goes down at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card is scheduled to be headlined by a featherweight bout between 2022 champion Brendan Loughnane and UFC veteran Marlon Moraes.

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