You can bet that Clay Collard hasn’t forgotten about his first fight with Raush Manfio.
Collard and Manfio met in the semifinals of the 2021 PFL playoffs and it was Manfio who left the SmartCage with his hand raised after picking up a controversial unanimous decision. Making the result sting even more for Collard, Manfio went on to win the season’s lightweight tournament to claim a championship belt and its $1,000,000 prize.
Now Collard is primed for the 2022 PFL season and a bounce-back from his first league loss — not that he thinks he has anything to bounce back from.
“I don’t think I lost all year last year, that’s my opinion,” Collard said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting.
“I still don’t think I’m really over it,” he continued. “But you’ve got 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 look out this year because I’m coming for that fool.”
Collard started the 2021 season off with a bang by spoiling the PFL debut of Anthony Pettis then taking a split decision against Joilton Lutterbach to book himself a spot in the playoffs. His bout with Manfio was an entertaining affair, one that saw both fighters land their fair share of power punches, though Collard is still confident he was the better man that night.
As far as he’s concerned, Manfio hardly impressed at all during the whole 2021 season.
“This next time around, if we do get a fight again and when we do get a fight again, I’m gonna prove that I’m the better fighter, because I believe I am,” Collard said. “I believe I did enough to win that fight. I mean, you look at us after, his face looked like hamburger meat compared to mine. I out-landed him — the computer system had me out-landing him, like, 168-98. Second round, I almost caught him in a choke. At the end of the third round, if I would have had another minute or so I might have pulled that arm out and ripped his arm off.
“I think he squeaked by. I think he squeaked by against Lutterbach. He barely beat Pettis. I think I beat him up and got robbed, so the guy walked into the championship in my opinion.”
“One million dollars and a belt around my waist,” Collard added, reflecting on the consequences of the decision loss. “Of course it stings.”
In addition to the striking stats being in his favor, Collard pointed to a number of other metrics as justification for his criticism of the judging.
“You’ve got both commentators, Kenny Florian and Randy Couture are commentating, both of them had me winning,” Collard said. “The fans, all the fans voted me winning. And the computer system had me out-landing him.
“So everything is 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. They might have just been writing stuff down on the scorecard.”
Collard expects that he and Manfio will cross paths again this season, whether it’s during the regular season or in the playoffs. But both men will have to battle through a challenging field that also includes Pettis, two-time PFL champion Natan Schulte, and the man that Collard fights in the main event of Wednesday’s season opener, Jeremy Stephens.
It’s a fight that Collard sees as being best for business.
“PFL’s smart,” Collard said. “They’re starting the season off with the best banger they can come up with, and that’s me, me and whoever. They’re bringing Jeremy Stephens in, he’s new, he’s got a name, he’s got a following, so the promotion’s smart. They’re starting the season off with a banger.
“I started off with Pettis last year, I’m starting off with Jeremy Stephens, it’s gonna be a banger. That’s smart promoting.”
Stephens, a veteran of 34 UFC fights, seems like a perfect matchup on paper as both he and Collard are known for their striking acumen. Collard feels the same way, and he knew he’d be standing across from Stephens sooner rather than later.
“I called it,” Collard said. “I told my coach, I told everybody, ‘They’re gonna give me Stephens right out the gate, watch. They’re gonna give me Stephens right out the gate.’ I got the call from the president, Ray [Sefo], and he’s like, ‘You got Stephens.’ I said, ‘I called that! I called that s***, I knew it.’
“So I’m excited. I think my boxing’s a little cleaner than his. I’m a lot longer than him. He’s been fighting at ‘45, he’s coming up to ‘55, I think I’m gonna be the bigger guy. I don’t think he hits any harder than Raush and I was still on my feet at the end of that fight with Raush, so I’m ready to bang and put on a show for the fans. That’s why I do this. Win, lose, or draw, I’m still the most exciting fighter, period.”