For the second time, Clay Collard has spoiled the PFL debut of a decorated UFC vet, shutting out Jeremy Stephens in the headliner of the tournament-based promotion’s Season 4 opener on Wednesday.
Collard walked through Stephens’ best shots and kept the pressure on to win 30-27 marks from all judges in the fight card’s main event at ESports Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The main card aired on ESPN and ESPN+.
Stephens quickly introduced Collard to the power that felled so many opponents in the octagon. But he appeared to be caught off guard when his fellow UFC vet was still there in his face, peppering him with shots to the head and body. One particularly wild right left Stephens wildly out of position and wide open for a trio of shots Collard put together in short order. In close, Collard expertly framed Stephens with his elbow and delivered knees to the head. By the end of the opening frame, Stephen was beginning to swell under his left eye.
Still, the recent PFL acquisition continued to land big punches, and he badly hurt Collard in the second and third rounds. As the fight went into deep waters, however, it wasn’t enough to change the trajectory of the fight, and he began to look for takedowns. He was surprised on that front, as well, when Collard ducked under after taking an uppercut and dumped him to the mat. Collard would do that twice more in open range, walking off for added effect.
Both men were exhausted by the third round, and Stephens threw an illegal spinning elbow in the final seconds of the bout. It hit Collard’s throat and went unpunished as the boxing and MMA vet added another huge name to his resume after his Season 3 upset of former UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis. Collard also picked up three points for his Season 4 total after falling short in the finals of the previous tournament.
Manfio pulls off save after slow start
Season 3 lightweight winner Raush Manfio was on his way to becoming the second champ to be upset in PFL’s Season 4 opener. He was behind on all scorecards against Don Madge, who’d dictated the range and the pace of the action over nearly three rounds. Then Manfio let loose an overhand right and erased everything that had happened up to that point.
Madge hit the canvas and was quickly pounded out by follow-up punches at the 2:42 mark of the final frame. Up until that point, Manfio’s right hand had been short all but one or two times as evidenced by a quick shake of the head from Madge. The right opportunity and angle seemed to elude Madge, and the Season 3 champ didn’t do himself any favors by waiting and not pressing the action. In the end, though, he picked up four points and avoided an unpleasant start to the season. Madge’s seven-fight winning streak – including two in the UFC before his unexpected release – came to a crashing halt, while Manfio extended his current streak to five fights.
Aubin-Mercier upsets Schulte
For the second time in a row, two-time lightweight champ Natan Schulte has been upset in a PFL season-opener. In 2021, it was Marcin Held winning on points. This year, it was Olivier Aubin-Mercier squeaking it out via split-call.
“The Canadian Gangster” employed a pitch-perfect gameplan and largely stuck to it despite an empty gas tank at the end of three rounds with the ex-champ, who mercilessly pressured him with kicks and punches in close. Aubin-Mercier’s southpaw stance proved a tough challenge for Schulte to overcome as jabs and lead lefts momentarily stopped his advance. Aubin-Mercier then moved laterally and stuck his opponent with arrow-straight one-twos that repeatedly found their target. None rocked Schulte, but they scored more points, as did repeated body shots that briefly put the Brazilian in trouble in the first round.
Schulte fought through the onslaught to smother his opponent in the cage at the end of each round, and he convinced one judge that he had done enough with a 29-28 score. But the other two saw it for Aubin-Mercier by the same tally, giving the Canadian three points and his third straight PFL win.
‘Shoeface’ runs over Monte
Season 3 light heavyweight champ Antonio Carlos Junior is off to a very good start in his quest to win his second PFL tourney. In less than 30 seconds, he had opponent Delan Monte tapping to a D’Arce choke after taking a stiff right cross to the face.
“Shoeface” took a hard right hand from his opponent and appeared to tweak his knee in an early exchange. But his punch landed harder, and he cinched the choke before the two even hit the ground. By the time Monte realized what was happening, he was at the point of no return. The official end came just 29 seconds into the first round and put six points on the board for Junior, who ran the table and won $1 million in this past year’s tournament.
Full PFL 1: Collard vs. Stephens results:
Clay Collard def. Jeremy Stephens via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Raush Manfio def. Don Madge via KO (strikes) – Round 3, 2:42
Antonio Carlos Junior def. Delan Monte via submission (D’Arce choke) – Round 1, 0:29
Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Natan Schulte via split decision (29-28, 28-29-28, 29-28)
Cory Hendricks def. Emiliano Sordi via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 2:13
Alexander Martinez def. Stevie Ray via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27)
Martin Hamlet def. Teodoras Aukstuolis via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Omari Akhmedov def. Viktor Pesta via KO (punch) – Round 1, 1:25
Rob Wilkinson def. Bruce Souto via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 0:46
Simeon Powell def. Clinton Williams via KO (knee) – Round 3, 4:38