Opening up the action in the PFL Lightweight division, fan favorite and perennial contender Clay Collard takes on PFL debutant and former Shooto Lightweight champion Yamato Nishikawa. At just 20 years old, Nishikawa has more pro MMA bouts than he does on this planet. Collard, a pro boxer along with his MMA career, missed last year's PFL Playoffs after some questionable judging and is looking to finish fights this season and prevent the judges from having any say. Nishikawa enters this bout with a 10 fight winning streak and 18 finishes in 21 career victories. Don’t blink because this one should be fireworks for as long as it lasts.
The fighters touch gloves and we’re underway as they waste no time feeling out with Nishikawa landing a nice body kick and Collard answering with a low kick. They continue to exchange blows before Collard wraps up the Thai plum clinch and lands some nice knees before they break.
Collard lands a big straight right on the break that staggers Nishikawa and Collard really seems to be finding his groove now, ripping heavy body shots and showing off some great head movement to stay defensively sound. Collard lands low on Nishikawa and we’ll have a brief pause in the action but on replay it appears the blow landed clean to the body of Nishikawa.
We restart and Collard wastes no time getting to it, landing some beautiful body shots before Nishikawa lands a nice inside low kick that knocks Collard off balance. Collard again lands a heavy kick to the body with a liver shot behind it and he’s just keeping the pressure on and tuning Nishikawa up at this point, answering a Nishikawa clinch attempt with a pair of uppercuts to the solar plexus of Nishikawa.
Collard is really committing to the body work here and the damage is showing on Nishikawa early. Nishikawa is having some success with the leg kicks but that’s been his only real effective offense as Collard continues to just rip the body with hooks and mix in the occasional shot up top. Collard catches a kick from Nishikawa and uses it to land that left hand again.
Nishikawa lands a nice kick to the body of Collard but Collard is absolutely relentless with the body work, and with a minute remaining in the round Collard seems to have Nishikawa hurt as he’s just pouring on the damage, already landing 65 total strikes before the end of the first round. Collard continues to tune Nishikawa up as Nishikawa’s hands drop lower and lower and the round will end, but it feels like it may just be a matter of time until Collard does enough damage to finish the fight.
We begin our first second round of the night in the co main event and Collard is showing no signs of deviating from the game plan, punishing the body before Nishikawa slips and Collard uses it to get on top and land some ground and pound.
Perhaps recognizing how well things were going for him on the feet, Collard opts to disengage and return to his feet where Nishikawa seems to be getting off a bit more offense at this point, landing some nice punches and some heavy outside low kicks. Collard catches a kick and uses it to land a nice left hook to the head of Nishikawa before landing a superman punch and more body work but somehow Nishikawa is still going.
Nishikawa lands another very nice outside kick, taking Collard off his feet briefly but Collard lands a nice straight left for his troubles. Collard continues marching forward halfway through the land, landing a big left hook up top that seems to stun Nishikawa who has absorbed quite a bit of punishment at this point.
Nishikawa briefly gets the fight to the mat, landing an outside trip on Collard who is able to quickly reverse and punch his way out of the clinch with shovel hooks to the body. Collard’s dirty boxing is just a delight to watch and seems to completely overwhelm the smaller Nishikawa but Nishikawa lands a massive low kick and Collard buckles! Collard is having significant trouble putting weight on his left leg and Nishikawa continues to attack it as Collard looks to stay in the pocket and continue working the body.
Yamato Nishikawa attacks Collard's legs and Clay is down! Don't count out Yamato!#PFLRegularSeason LIVE NOW— PFL (@PFLMMA) April 15, 2023
🇺🇸 ESPN & ESPN+
🌎 https://t.co/jPNvomD5xg pic.twitter.com/PjcYBDUuKk
Again Nishikawa staggers Collard as the round winds down and that leg is in bad shape! Despite all the volume from Collard, we’ve still got a fight here heading into the third round.
We begin our final round and Collard’s knee is clearly compromised as Nishikawa continues to attack with the low kicks. Collard wisely closes distances and shoots a takedown but can’t get it to the mat as he looks to swarm Nishikawa and stay out of range of those kicks. They clinch along the SmartCage and again Collard is landing big shots to the body inside but Nishikawa is still attacking the legs of Collard.
Nishikawa shoots and Collard sprawls hard, but Nishikawa pulls guard and briefly wraps up a triangle choke before Collard is able to escape. Now Collard is postured up and raining down heavy ground and pound as Nishikawa looks for submissions and once again is in on the triangle choke.
Once more Collard is able to escape and get back to doing damage. Collard lands some big shots but Nishikawa is able to push off with his feet and create enough space to get back to his feet. Collard uses the front headlock to control Nishikawa before rolling for a D’arce choke, but this time it’s Nishikawa with a crafty escape as Collard attempts to transition from D’arce to arm in guillotine. Nishikawa lands another big low kick that seems to hurt Collard and forces him to wrestle with about a minute remaining.
The fighters are in the clinch and Collard lands a knee that Nishikawa protests but appears to be on the inside of the thigh. We’ll get a break in the action as Nishikawa catches his breath before the final 30 seconds. Collard has landed a staggering 150 strikes as the fight winds down and they’re both swinging until the final bell and leaving it all in the SmartCage, what a co-main event!
Clay Collard defeats his oldest nemesis to pick up a PFL victory: the judges. He’ll earn three points in a gritty victory over Yamato Nishikawa.
Clay Collard def. Yamato Nishikawa by Unanimous Decision (30-27 3x)