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PFL 2022 #1: Collard vs Stephens preview, weigh-in results

The hunt for the $1 million begins now.

MMA: UFC 249-Stephens vs Kattar
He will be fighting tonight.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After a few months away from action, PFL (Professional Fighter’s League) has returned for their 2022 run.

PFL starts the year with a handful of compelling matchups highlighting their lightweight and light heavyweight divisions. Lightweight has been perhaps their most stable and varied division, whereas light heavyweight may be their most chaotic and unpredictable.

What that leaves us with, then, is a combination of matchups that allow for action and set the table for what we can expect throughout the year. Two former champions will be in action this week, with lightweight Raush Manfio and Antonio Carlos Junior at light heavyweight starting anew after their hard-fought and surprisingly successful runs last year.

But the main event honors for this event will feature two well-known strikers and action fighters instead. Clay Collard (20-9) and his boxing-heavy style with snappy reactive wrestling meets Alliance MMA’s Jeremy Stephens (28-19). Stephens was a longtime staple in the UFC’s featherweight and lightweight divisions but opted to bet on himself and chase the million dollar prize that PFL has to offer. A harder hitter than Collard, he’s also very capable of closing in the distance quickly and nailing punishing leg kicks. Collard still has his volume striking and lateral movement to fluster opponents and outwork them. It’s a tough matchup to pick in a tough field to plow through, and a great start to the season.

Former champ Raush Manfio (15-3) used his clinch control, measured striking and patience to outhustle the rest of the lightweight division last year. Now he faces a new threat as he welcomes South Africa’s Don Madge (10-3, 1 draw) to the tournament format. Madge fought briefly for the UFC, going 2-0 before leaving the organization and joining PFL for a non-tournament bout last October. He managed to secure a win in his PFL debut with a submission over Nathan Williams, and now takes part in the chase for the million against a physically strong competitor with slick striking and great forward pressure. Madge has a solid submission game and can throw heavy shots, but sometimes trails off down the road in his bouts. It’s another good match to keep your eye on.

Antonio Carlos Junior (13-5) welcomes fellow Brazilian Delan Monte (8-1) to PFL, and should be expected to have a very smooth day at the office. Carlos has a strong BJJ background and heavy kicks to go with his punches, and appears to be at the peak of his abilities. On the other hand, his opponent has a slew of finishes on his record, looking like a beast in the process. Only problem is he’s only had nine fights since 2014, three of them against sub .500 opposition. Fighting an opponent that’s 4-6 in your pro debut is perfectly fine, but having your eighth fight against a guy that’s 5-22-1 is a massive red flag.

Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Have fun while you’re here.

Former champ Natan Schulte (21-4, 1 draw) suffered a real heartbreaker of a loss in the season opener last year suffering a decision loss to Polish grappling ace Marcin Held. A split decision win over Alex Martinez wasn’t enough to keep him in the standings and he was out of the tournament after that. Now he’ll be even hungrier to reclaim the crown as he starts his 2022 off against “Canadian Gangster“ Olivier Aubin-Mercier (13-5), who is riding back to back wins against Marcin Held and Darrell Horcher since his UFC release.

Syndicate MMA rep and former ACB talent Cory Hendricks (8-4) replaces Josh Silveira against 2019’s PFL tournament champion Emiliano Sordi (23-9, 1 draw). Former UFC talent Stevie Ray (23-9) faces Costa Rica’s Alex Martinez (8-2), and Omari Akhmedov (27-7, 1 draw) takes on Czech veteran Viktor Pesta (18-6).

As usual, you can check out the weigh-ins here:

Full card is as follows:

Main card

Clay Collard (156) vs. Jeremy Stephens (156) - Lightweight

Raush Manfio (156) vs. Don Madge (155) - Lightweight

Antonio Carlos Junior (205) vs. Delan Monte (205) - Light heavyweight

Natan Schulte (156) vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (155) - Lightweight

Prelims

Emiliano Sordi (205.5) vs. Cory Hendricks (205) - Light heavyweight

Alexander Martinez (156) vs. Stevie Ray (155.5) - Lightweight

Marthin Hamlet (205) vs. Teodoras Aukstuolis (204) - Light heavyweight

Omari Akhmedov (204.5) vs. Viktor Pesta (205.5) - Light heavyweight

Rob Wilkinson (205) vs. Bruce Souto (204) - Light heavyweight

Clinton Williams (204) vs. Simon Powell (205) - - Light heavyweight

PFL 2022: Collard vs Stephens starts this Wednesday night with the prelims starting at 6:00pm EDT streaming on ESPN+. The main card will be simulcast on ESPN+ and ESPN2.