Clay Collard was the MVP of boxing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting multiple times in the Top Rank bubble. Three years later, he has found a new way to become a top star by competing in the Professional Fighters League Championship Finals.
“Cassius” is one win away from calling himself the PFL lightweight champion and taking home $1 million. First, he must defeat the 2022 winner, Olivier Aubin-Mercier, on November 24. The fight will air on ESPN+ PPV.
As Clay Collard himself would say, “It’s been one f—— hell of a journey, man.”
Calling himself the “fighter’s fighter,” Collard has quite unique experience in the combat sports world. The 30-year-old from Utah began wrestling at six and picked up boxing at 11. He also competed in amateur MMA contests before he turned 18. Turning pro in 2011, Collard joined the UFC in 2014, going 1-3, and after fighting all over, hooked up with the PFL, where he is 6-2.
Outside of MMA, he made his boxing debut in 2017. Collard went 5-4 from 2020 to 2021, using his power to his advantage. Many have tried to transition from MMA to boxing and vice versa.
Collard is one of the rare fighters to thrive.
“Ain’t nobody done it like your boy ‘Cassius.’ I think it was my amateur boxing career, I think that helped a lot. I got over 100 amateur boxing matches. I fought in Golden Gloves, Silver Gloves, Junior Olympics, all over the U.S. since I was 10 years old,” Collard told The Sporting News.
“I chose mixed martial arts because I figured if I can wrestle the boxers and box the wrestlers, then I’d beat everybody. I think people don’t have the understanding. MMA guys don’t have the understanding of boxing. It’s different. Unless you realize it’s different and certain things work in MMA that don’t in boxing and vice versa… it’s a complicated thing. I think people overlook it. That’s why they don’t find as much success.”
Since joining the PFL, Collard has competed in several Fight of the Year candidates. He upset Anthony Pettis in 2021, and competed in a slugfest against Jeremy Stephens in 2022. In a semi-final fight against Shane Burgos, Collard beat the Bronx native in front of his home fans, earning a standing ovation. Many have doubted him, but Collard continues to prove he’s not going away that easily.
“Start paying attention,” Collard said. “I’ve been in this sport since 2011. I have almost 50 fights in mixed martial arts. I have another 20 in boxing. That’s not counting my amateur career and what I’ve done in boxing. If you don’t know, now you know. If you don’t know yet, start paying attention.”
Aubin-Mercier brings a nine-fight win streak into this contest. “The Canadian Gangster” won the tournament last year and has looked nearly unstoppable since joining the PFL from the UFC. He beat Burgos to start the 2023 season and finished Bruno Miranda in August to advance.
During the Miranda fight, OAM landed vicious hooks and took Miranda out via TKO. While praising his craft, Collard didn’t see much in that performance. Collard believes thanks to his boxing mind he has what it takes to counter whatever Aubin-Mercier throws at him.
“He’s a very intelligent fighter,” Collard said. “He’s extremely well-rounded, extremely skilled. It’s a tough challenge, one I’m looking forward to. I thought that the left hand that landed on Miranda was ugly. I thought it was really ugly. Miranda didn’t see it coming. I saw it coming a mile away. I think his elbow went straight up in the air before he finally threw it out there. I think I have the edge on the feet. I think he’s going to try and get me down and wrestle me down, hold me down. We’re going to do everything we can not to let that happen, keep it on the feet, and do what we do best.
“He telegraphed the crap out of it (the punch). I thought it was an ugly left hand that knocked Bruno down, personally. He didn’t keep his elbow down, he didn’t rotate through it… that was just a goofy punch.”
If all goes according to plan, Collard will make the most of the opportunity he has earned after putting years of literal and figurative blood, sweat, and tears into combat sports.
“I think it’s going to be five rounds,” Collard said. “We’re trying to win every round. We’ve got to do enough on the feet and not let him hold us down for very long. I think it goes five rounds, and I think we outpoint him.”