PFL 1: Once again, Clay Collard is off to an impressive start

MMA news

ARLINGTON, Texas — The 2022 PFL season is officially off and running. And for the second consecutive year, so is lightweight fan favorite Clay Collard.

Collard (21-9) earned 3 points in the PFL lightweight standings on Wednesday, by defeating Jeremy Stephens (28-20) via unanimous decision. The 155-pound bout was incredibly entertaining, as Collard and Stephens combined for more than 500 total strikes thrown. All three judges scored the contest, which headlined PFL 1 inside Esports Stadium Arlington, a clean 30-27 sweep for Collard.

It was history repeated for Collard, who has competed in professional boxing and MMA. Last year, the Idaho native kicked off his regular season with a high-profile upset of former UFC champ Anthony Pettis. Known for his aggressive, high-pace style, Collard has won over fight fans across both sports — and nearly made it to the PFL finals in 2021, before losing a narrow decision to eventual champion Raush Manfio.

“I don’t know, I’m not too worried about [the finals],” said Collard after the fight. “I feel like I earned it last year, so I’m coming. But that was the most exciting fight on the card, for sure.”

Stephens, a longtime UFC veteran making his PFL debut, came out strong, landing powerful right hands to Collard’s head. Collard’s endurance and durability are well known in the sport, however, so it was no surprise when he held up to Stephens’s shots and started to come back with his own offense. He targeted Stephens’s body with combinations and ultimately threw 317 strikes, according to Cagenomics.

Collard’s 3 points in the main event put him in a three-way tie for second place in the division after one event. Manfio (16-3) jumped to an early lead over the rest of the field with a comeback knockout win in the third round of his fight against Don Madge, good for 4 points. Lightweights Alexander Hernandez and Olivier Aubin-Mercier also picked up 3-point decision wins.

Wednesday’s event also featured the 205-pound light heavyweight division, and standout performances by 2021 champion Antonio Carlos Junior and Omari Akhmedov.

Carlos Junior (14-5) made quick work of Delon Monte (8-2), as he hurt him on the feet and then submitted him with a D’Arce choke just 28 seconds in. Akhmedov (22-7) also scored a surprising early knockout over Viktor Pesta (18-7). Akhmedov is probably the smallest light heavyweight on the 2022 roster, but he needed only 85 seconds to put Pesta down with an overhand right.

Carlos Junnior and Akhmedov each earned 6 points for their early finishes. Australia’s Rob Wilkinson (14-2) and Las Vegas’s Cory Hendricks (9-4) each picked up 5 points for finishes in the second round. Hendricks was especially impressive, as he took out 2019 champion Emiliano Sordi.

Marthin Hamlet (9-3), of Norway, rounded out the light heavyweight winners with a decision win against Teodoras Aukstuolis. He earned 3 points for the win.

According to the PFL format, the top four points earners from each division move on to the playoffs. The 2022 champions will each earn a $1 million grand prize.

PFL’s regular season continues on April 28 in Arlington, with matchups at heavyweight and featherweight.

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