Let’s bet Clay Collard hasn’t forgotten his first fight with Raush Manfio.
Collard and Manfio met in the semi-finals of the 2021 PFL Qualifiers and it was Manfio who left the SmartCage with a show of hands after taking a controversial unanimous decision. Making the result even more exciting for Collard, Manfio won the lightweight tournament of the season to claim a championship belt and his $1,000,000 prize.
Now Collard is set for the 2022 PFL season and a rebound from his first league loss – not that he thinks he has any rebound.
“I don’t think I lost all of last year, that’s my opinion,” Collard said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting.
“I still don’t think I’m really done,” he continued. “But you have to move on and look to the future. It sucks, you know? I thought I won the fight, so I don’t know. Raush better watch out this year because I’m coming for that fool.
Collard started the 2021 season with a bang by spoiling Anthony Pettis’ PFL debut and then taking a split decision over Joilton Lutterbach to book a playoff spot. His fight with Manfio was an entertaining affair, which saw both fighters land their fair share of power punches, although Collard was still convinced he was the better man that night.
As far as he is concerned, Manfio has hardly impressed at all during the whole 2021 season.
“Next time, if we fight again and when we fight again, I’ll prove I’m the best fighter, because I believe I am,” Collard said. “I think I did enough to win this fight. I mean, you look at us after, his face looked like hamburger meat compared to mine. I passed it – the computer system made me pass it, like, 168-98. Round two, I almost got him in a chokehold. At the end of the third round, if I had had about a minute more, I might have pulled that arm out and ripped his arm off.
“I think he squealed. I think he squeaked against Lutterbach. He barely beat Pettis. I think I beat him and got robbed, so the guy got into the championship in my opinion.
“A million dollars and a belt around your waist,” added Collard, reflecting on the consequences of the decision loss. “Of course it stings.”
In addition to the striking statistics being in his favor, Collard pointed to a number of other parameters to justify his criticism of the judgment.
“You have the two commentators, Kenny Florian and Randy Couture commentating, both got me the win,” Collard said. “The fans, all the fans voted me the winner. And the computer system made me pass it.
“So it’s all leaning towards me winning the fight – and the three judges, I don’t know what fight they were watching. I don’t even know if they were watching the fight. Maybe they just wrote stuff on the scorecard.
Collard expects him and Manfio to cross paths again this season, whether in the regular season or the playoffs. But both men will have to battle it out in a tough field that also includes Pettis, two-time PFL champion Natan Schulte, and the man Collard fights in Wednesday’s season opener main event, Jeremy Stephens.
It’s a fight Collard considers the best for business.
“PFL is smart,” Collard said. “They start the season with the best banger they can find, and it’s me, me and whoever it is. They bring in Jeremy Stephens, he’s new, he’s got a name, he’s got a following, so promotion is smart. They start the season with a banger.
“I started with Pettis last year, I’m starting with Jeremy Stephens, it’s going to be a banger. It’s a smart promotion.
Stephens, a 34-fight UFC veteran, looks like a perfect match on paper as he and Collard are known for their startling insight. Collard feels the same way, and he knew he would be standing in front of Stephens sooner rather than later.
“I called him,” Collard said. “I told my coach, I told everyone, ‘They’re going to give me Stephens upfront, look. They’re going to give me Stephens upfront. I got the call from the chairman, Ray [Sefo], and he’s like, ‘You have Stephens.’ I said, ‘I called it! I called it s***, I knew it.
“So I’m excited. I think my boxing is a little cleaner than his. I am much longer than him. He fought in 45, he’s coming in 55, I think I’m going to be the biggest. I don’t think he punches harder than Raush and I was still up at the end of this fight with Raush so I’m ready to punch and put on a show for the fans. That’s why I do this. Win, lose or draw, I’m always the most exciting fighter, period.