While he didn’t win the championship, lightweight Clay Collard certainly saw his stock rise during the PFL’s 2021 season. As a result, he’d landed in the main event at PFL 1, 2022 against promotional newcomer Jeremy Stephens.
After a lengthy career in the UFC, “Lil Heathen” was fighting in a new home for the first time in well over a decade.
It was no doubt little surprise to longtime MMA fans, but Jeremy Stephens was swinging hard and heavy early to open up the PFL 1 main event. He would also jab to the body and fire a number of low kicks, pulling out to an early lead. A right hand then appeared to hurt Clay Collard, but rather than cover up he fired a combination right back at Stephens!
Collard would add in a low kick of his own, rip the body, and fire a high kick that was blocked. Collard went back to the body, fire his jab, then went body-head as Stephens kept his guard high. Stephens landed a right hand by the ear, but Collard kept coming. An accidental headbutt then had Stephens complaining to the ref, which earned a time out.
Back underway, Stephens took some big swings, backing Collard up to the fence. It was a real surprise that neither man went down in the exchange that ensued; Stephens then began complaining about another headbutt. Collard ripped the body after the ref let them continue, then fired a jump knee, and Stephens was suddenly under heavy fire.
Late in the round, Collard went after a takedown, couldn’t land it, but fired a punch over the top, followed by a few hooks that forced Stephens to retreat. A clinch in the dying seconds saw Collard landing more knees.
The second round opened with another foul, this time a low blow by Stephens. Collard declined to take much of a time out. Instead, he punched his way in, landing a knee in the clinch. Stephens fired a right hand that landed. Collard landed to the body. Another knee for Collard. Stephens went to the body this time. Stephens then landed a huge right hand! Collard was hurt, Stephens moved in for the kill, but somehow Clay survived. He fired a number of jabs and backed Stephens up; Stephens reversed and sunk in an underhook. They’d break, and Collard was on the attack again, more punches than not landing. Collard looked to jump in with a knee, but landed short. A good thing too, as Stephens uncorked a monstrous uppercut that hit air. He’d get caught a moment later, then changed levels and briefly took “Lil Heathen” down.
Back on the feet, Collard ripped the body. The pair traded. Stephens backed up and reset. Collard threw out a leg kick. They clinched, with Collard landing an uppercut. Stephens got a body lock in place, but Collard used a kimura grip, then turned the corner and dumped Stephens. He was right back up, but the round came to a close seconds later.
Through two rounds, Clay Collard and Jeremy Stephens had fired everything they had at one another. Exactly the sort of match-up the PFL, and its fans, had hoped for when they put this pair together. Round three was no different. Collard split the guard, landing an uppercut. Stephens landed a right hand, and fired a couple of leg kicks. Collard launched a spinning back kick, and spinning back fist. In a clinch, the knee was there for Collard again. The knock-down, drag-out brawl continued. A bit of trading in the pocket. Both men landed upstairs. Chins were holding. Stephens landed his left, and later went to the body.
This is INSANE! Neither fighter backing down#2022PFL1 LIVE on ESPN & ESPN+
🌎 https://t.co/jPNvomkWj8 pic.twitter.com/OCOIufoMxw
— PFL (@PFLMMA) April 21, 2022
With about 90 seconds left in the fight, Stephens went to the body, backing Collard up. He then dropped to pursue a takedown; Collard again went to a kimura to escape, but couldn’t reverse. Instead, he ate a wild Stephens punch on the way out. Collard showed a bit of fancy footwork, fired a spinning kick and slipped. Stephens came on late, landing a back elbow, technically illegal under the PFL’s regular season rules.
A full fifteen minutes of brawling, and the final fight of the PFL 1 card headed to the judges. Collard took all three rounds in a unanimous decision win, but Stephens proved he can still take a punch, and land a boatload of them.
Official Result: Clay Collard def. Jeremy Stephens by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)