Mike Wilkinson was riding high after his last outing under the UFC banner in October 2014. Pitted against hometown favorite Niklas Backstrom, who was coming off his stunning debut win over Tom Niinimaki, the majority of people forecast the Swede to take the victory against the Brit.
Just over a minute into the contest, Wilkinson threw right hand with bad intentions that knocked the young Swede stiff. Such was the force of the collision that ended his unbeaten run, Backstrom was still at sixes and sevens when the Brit was giving his post fight interview. Just as Dan Hardy was setting up his first question for his countryman, Backstrom stumbled over and claimed the stoppage was "fucked up," before he was ushered away.
Although it should have been Wilkinson's coming out party, 'The Warrior' has been forced to the sideline ever since his win over Backstrom. However, instead of pondering what could have been, Wilkinson is primed for his next bout and he doesn't believe his time away from the Octagon will affect him at all at UFC London on February 27.
"It really hasn't been a bad layoff in terms of injury," Wilkinson stated. "I train 365 days a year. Even though I dislocated my shoulder I only took I week off and then I was straight back into the gym. I was back working with my coach and I was keeping my weight down so I'd be ready for anything.
"In that time away from competition I've improved drastically. The time when you're not in camp, that's when you should be in the gym learning and developing, and that's what I've done. I haven't missed a single session in the gym and I've developed a lot as a fighter. I'm full of confidence and I know what I need to do in London on February 27.
"I don't believe in ring rust. If you put everything into your training and you leave no stones unturned, I don't think ring rust comes into it. I know I've done everything I can possibly do in training and when fight night comes around, my instincts will take over from everything I've been doing in the gym. It's those instincts that will win me the fight."
Wilkinson's bout with Makwan Amirkhani is one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts on the London card, which is set to be beamed worldwide live on UFC Fight Pass. Although a shoulder injury forced him out of his fight with Alan Omer on June 20, 2015, Wilkinson claimed that his return bout in London is a "dream come true".
"Honestly, it's a dream come true," he said, considering his first bout in the UK as UFC fighter.
"To fight on home soil with all my friends and family in the stands to support me is absolutely amazing. I can't remember the last time I fought in England, I think it was even before I was on The Ultimate Fighter back in 2011, I think. It's been a long time coming and I'm not going to let the UK fans down. It will be a night to remember."
With a lot of promising fighters from the location climbing the UFC ranks at the moment, Wilkinson believes all of the UK proponents can take wins from their homecoming night at the 02 Arena. According to the returning featherweight, a big night in the English capital would be the perfect start for a big year for UK MMA in 2016.
"At the moment, we've got some really top prospects coming out of the UK. Everybody is putting the work in and a lot of the guys are mixing it up in their divisions. There are UK fighters training all over the world to better themselves and I really think February 27 is going to be a massive night for us. Personally, I think it's going to be a UK clean sweep, and that will be the perfect start to 2016 for the UK scene."
Although they have undoubtedly fought each other's teammates, and there are some who have fought each other, Wilkinson believes that all of the charges who will fight at home on February 27 will be united to create a 'UK Army'. 'The Warrior' sees the night as the "us against the world", and he insisted that he will rooting for every UK fighter who steps into the Octagon on the night.
He said: "We've all got our little wars on the night, but together we're like a UK Army, that's how I'm thinking of it. I'm rooting for all of the UK fighters against whoever they're facing. We're proud of where we're from and we stick together when we're not fighting against each other. It's us against the world on February 27 and I hope and think that we can all win our fights."