On Saturday, Professional Fighters League lightweight Clay Collard (9-2-3, 4 KOs) will appear in a boxing match on ESPN for the fourth time since June when he takes on undefeated Quincy LaVallais (9-0-1, 5 KOs) in a rematch from June 2019, when the two fought to a draw.
WHAT MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN
For Collard, 2020 has been a whirlwind of sorts. Saturday night isn’t just any fight card either. Collard will be participating in the main card broadcast on ESPN of the Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez undisputed lightweight card. If it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic, Collard might not have found himself in this position. Odds are he would have been six months into the PFL season by now having not fought one boxing match in 2020.
Although he’s created quite the buzz among fans and within the halls of Top Rank’s Las Vegas offices, Collard isn’t going to win fighter of the year, bu he could certainly find himself on the final ballot, according to The Ring Magazine and Boxing Writers Association of America President Joe Santoliquito. When I asked one of the executives at Top Rank why they are so fond of Collard, the answer was simple: “He moves the needle.” There’s something about Collard that has captured the general public’s attention while he was fighting during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking advantage of every second of air time he was presented with on ESPN. While some may scoff at the idea of Collard getting this much airtime, you can’t blame ESPN for wanting him back. Eyeballs are eyeballs and regardless of whether or not some feel Collard is more of a sideshow than potential world title contender, the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that his unorthodox style of boxing, heavily influenced by his MMA style has garnered the interest from the casual fan.
The folks at ESPN aren’t dummies either. They know that this exposure is only going to get people to tune in to see their hero Collard compete in the 2021 PFL season.
Interestingly enough, in advance of that first appearance on June 18, I told anyone that would listen, including the viewers of my Fight Guys You Tube channel, that Collard would pull the upset against David Kaminsky in what ended up being a six round split decision victory for Collard. What I didn’t predict was that Collard would become (an unlikely) cult hero of sorts in the combat sports space, oddly enough, in the one sport that he’s not most proficient at.
While boxing has helped increase Collards profile, MMA is where his heart is and where he looks to have future success and potentially earn one million dollars in 2021. In April, Collard will begin his journey in the PFL lightweight division that will culminate with the season championship on New Years Eve. So from April through December, while Collard will still be able to be seen on ESPN, it will be exclusively as an MMA fighter.
When asked about competing in boxing and MMA, Collard said, “Competing alone in some singular combat discipline makes you a better fighter. Doing boxing while everyone is off has improved my game leaps and bounds. My reach and timing are incredibly better, I am in tremendous shape, staying busy and active. People do BJJ tournaments, I’m just taking a striking approach to it.”
Collard, who has a 19-8 MMA record, is excited to make his PFL debut in January. When asked why, Collard said, “A handful of reasons. I get to get back to my first love of MMA. This is where my heart’s at. Other than that it’s the tournament style and the consistency. I’m planning on winning that million dollars, so I’m obviously excited about that. The PFL is an amazing organization. The people have been nothing but great to me. Ray Sefo knows a fighter when he sees one and the promotion has shown they care about the fighters and their careers.”
Collard has his predictions on the PFL lightweight division and how he feels he matches up. “I’ve trained with a few of the guys and watched the full 2019 season. The league has some of the best fighters in the world, and I know for a fact I’m in that conversation.” Said Collard. “I’ve been training since I was 6 and I know the game as well as anyone. I feel like I’m the dark horse of the division. People are not gonna see me coming and I plan on taking advantage of that to put some dudes out.”
It’s A Million Dollars, Man!
When asked what it would it be like to win the one million dollars and how it would affect his life, Collard said, “It’s a million dollars, man. There’s a lot I can do with that. I just opened my own gym. I want to use the money to bring business out here, putting my money back in the fight game and making this one of the best facilities in the area. I wanna teach the craft to the youth. Other than that, it puts food on the table, I eat a lot so that’s gonna come in handy.”
The PFL has an exclusive agreement with ESPN to broadcast events in North America on ESPN2, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes. The league is also distributed in over 160 countries around the world.
As 2020 winds down, Collard has his eyes set on 2021 and what can be. While we won’t see him in the boxing ring, I’m sure we’ll still see Collard draped in the American flag saying “Hi mommy, I love you.”