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The Professional Fighters League threw plenty of promotional heft behind Anthony Pettis after he signed as a free agent in February. Perhaps more attention should have been paid to Clay Collard.
Damaging power punching combinations and merciless forward pressure spurred Collard to a unanimous decision over the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder in the 2021 PFL 1 headliner on Friday at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Scores were 29-27, 29-27 and 29-28, all for Collard (19-8, 1-0 PFL).
Pettis (24-11, 0-1 PFL) spent much of the first round striking off of his back foot, as he attempted to counter his opponent’s aggression with leg and body kicks. He twice wound up on his back eating punches and leg kicks from an upright Collard, who refused invites into his full guard. The middle stanza was decisive. Collard targeted the Milwaukee native’s body, floored him twice with punches and seemed to be nearing the finish line. Pettis survived, drawing upon every ounce of guile he had stored in his 5-foot-10 frame. It nearly paid off. Pettis had “Cassius Clay” reeling with a head kick and flying knee late in the third round, but his attempts to close the deal went for naught. Collard managed to clear the cobwebs and ride out the remaining time.
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In the lightweight co-main event, a hyperaggressive Marcin Held excelled in his promotional debut and laid claim to a unanimous decision over two-time PFL champion Natan Schulte. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28 for Held (27-7, 1-0 PFL), who has rattled off five consecutive victories.
Held pieced together multi-punch combinations from the start, choosing to engage the Brazilian judoka in the standup. Schulte (20-4-1, 9-1-1 PFL) answered with kicks to the Polish submission specialist’s lower legs, but those efforts provided a minimal return. Held’s output dwindled somewhat in the second round, though he did manage to sneak in a takedown to keep his opponent off-balance. Schulte connected with chopping punches in the third, appeared to rattle the Pole with a straight right and later backed him up with a left hook. However, the finish he needed was never within reach.
The setback was Schulte’s first in more than four years.
Meanwhile, Movlid Khaybulaev remained undefeated and did so in overwhelming fashion, as he walked away with a lopsided unanimous decision over Dana White’s Contender Series alum Lazar Stojadinovic in a three-round featherweight feature. Khaybulaev (16-0-1, 2-0-1 PFL) swept the scorecards with 30-27 marks across the board.
Stojadinovic (14-8, 0-1 PFL) was a non-factor. Khaybulaev secured takedowns in all three rounds, moved freely from one position to the next and applied his ground-and-pound with varying degrees of intensity. The 30-year-old appeared to be close to a stoppage near the end of Round 1, where he battered Stojadinovic with punches and framed a kimura in the waning seconds. While the finish failed to materialize, Khaybulaev handled his business like a pro over the final 10 minutes and left no doubt regarding who was the superior fighter.
Finally, Bubba Jenkins leaned on a suffocating clinch, timely takedowns and effective ground-and-pound, as he took a unanimous decision from two-time PFL champion Lance Palmer in a three-round featherweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Jenkins (15-4, 1-0 PFL).
Palmer (22-4, 11-1 PFL) appeared to get caught off-guard by the former NCAA wrestling champion’s confidence and persistance. He spent much of the 15-minute match in a state of retreat. Jenkins set the tone with a strong first round, where he executed a takedown and eventually advanced to the Ohio State University graduate’s back, cementing his position with hooks. Palmer saw his best chance at victory come and go in Round 3, as he threatened with a guillotine choke that ultimately went nowhere.
The loss was Palmer’s first since March 18, 2017 and closed the book on his 11-fight winning streak.
In other action, Brendan Loughnane (20-3, 3-0 PFL) cut down Sheymon Moraes (11-5, 0-1 PFL) with punches 2:55 into the first round of their featured featherweight prelim; Raush Manfio (12-3, 1-0 PFL) was awarded a split decision—28-29, 29-28, 29-28—over Joilton Lutterbach (34-9, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round affair at 155 pounds; Akhmed Aliev (20-6, 3-2 PFL) captured a unanimous verdict against Mikhail Odintsov (18-3, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round lightweight tilt, earning 29-28 scores from all three cageside judges; Chris Wade (18-6, 6-3 PFL) laid claim to a unanimous decision over Anthony Dizy (13-4, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round confrontation at 145 pounds, sweeping the scorecards with 29-28 nods across the board; Tyler Diamond (12-1, 1-0 PFL) took a unanimous verdict over Sung Bin Jo (9-2, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round featherweight battle, drawing 30-27 marks from all three judges; and Alex Martinez (8-0, 1-0 PFL) eked out a split decision—29-28, 28-29, 30-27—over Loik Radzhabov (13-3-1, 2-3-1 PFL) in a three-round lightweight clash.