ARLINGTON, Texas — The 2022 PFL season is officially underway. And for the second year in a row, so has lightweight fan favorite Clay Collard.
Collard (21-9) earned 3 points in the PFL lightweight rankings on Wednesday, beating Jeremy Stephens (28-20) by unanimous decision. The 155-pound bout was incredibly entertaining, as Collard and Stephens combined for over 500 strikes in total. All three judges scored the contest, which headlined PFL 1 inside Esports Arlington Stadium, a clean 30-27 sweep for Collard.
It was the story repeated for Collard, who competed in professional boxing and MMA. Last year, the Idaho native kicked off his regular season with a high-profile upset of former UFC champion Anthony Pettis. Known for his aggressive, fast-paced style, Collard won over fight fans in both sports – and nearly reached the PFL Finals in 2021, before losing a narrow decision to eventual champion Raush Manfio.
“I don’t know, I’m not too worried [the finals]”, Collard said after the fight. “I feel like I deserved it last year, so I’m coming. But it 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 stamina and durability are well known in the sport, however, it was no surprise when he held off Stephens’ shots and started to come back with his own attack. He targeted Stephens’ body with combinations and ultimately delivered 317 strikes, according to Cagenomics.
Collard’s 3 points in the main event put him in a three-way tie for second in the division after one event. Manfio (16-3) took an early lead over the rest of the field with a third-round knockout victory in his fight against Don Madge, good for 4 points. Lightweights Alexander Hernandez and Olivier Aubin-Mercier also had 3-point decision victories.
Wednesday’s event also featured the 205-pound light heavyweight division and standout performances from 2021 champion Antonio Carlos Junior and Omari Akhmedov.
Carlos Junior (14-5) made quick work of Delon Monte (8-2) as he hurt his feet and then submitted him with a D’Arce choke just 28 seconds out. Akhmedov (22-7) also scored a surprising early knockout against Viktor Pesta (18-7). Akhmedov is probably the smallest light heavyweight on the 2022 roster, but he needed just 85 seconds to take down Pesta with an overhand right.
Cory Hendricks ends this fight with a flurry of punches to claim the upset victory over Emiliano Sordi.
Carlos Junior and Akhmedov each got 6 points for their first results. Australian Rob Wilkinson (14-2) and Las Vegas’ Cory Hendricks (9-4) each had 5 points to finish in the second round. Hendricks was particularly impressive, as he knocked out 2019 champion Emiliano Sordi.
Martin Hamlet (9-3) of Norway rounded out the light heavyweight winners with a decision win over Teodoras Aukstuolis. He got 3 points for the win.
According to the PFL format, the top four points from each division advance to the playoffs. The 2022 champions will each win a grand prize of $1 million.
The PFL regular season continues April 28 in Arlington, with heavyweight and featherweight matchups.