When the Championship Tour marched into Fiji at this point last year, Matt Wilkinson was on a serious roll. He had the Yellow Jersey on his back, two Tour victories and sat alone atop the Jeep Leaderboard nearly halfway through the season. After his unlikely dominance during the Australian Leg, it was easy to call it an aberration, especially considering his best season ever on the CT came in 2015 when he finished ranked No. 18 overall. Wilko always had game, but did he have the head to go big time? Now, however, his raucous approach was somehow bolstered by a newfound tactical prowess. Was it the result of his tutelage under Sensei Glenn "Micro" Hall or just a natural maturation process? Looking back now, it was probably a function of both, a case of nature and nurture, neither one mutually exclusive.
Yet, when it came time to face John John Florence in the 2016 contest's Round Three (and eventually in the Quarterfinals) Wilko was clearly the underdog. It was no slight against the Aussie, but this was pumping, grindy Cloudbreak after all, and JJF grew up on the beach at Pipe -- the Alpha Dog of all grinding left reef breaks. But Wilko never backed down, never settled for just putting up a good fight. He took it to John on both, winning both encounters with that lethal mix of smart strategy and aggressive performance. Although he was ultimately denied a fairy tale finish by event winner Gabriel Medina, Wilko had thrown down the gauntlet for the rest of the chase pack -- the Title race came through him. For more from Wilko's epic run, check out this recap: