How Clay Collard Found His Inner Cassius
Clay Collard and Ryan Ault were broken, groping in the dark for answers when they intersected at a special juncture in their lives recognizing the dormant talent in one another.
In 2015, Collard was curled up in the back of his van, after being kicked out of the house where he was living. Finding a place to eat and shower was a daily ordeal for six months. He had no one. He kept telling himself I’m better than this.
At the same time, Ault, 42, had grown tired of boxing. He gave up on it.
“It’s the truth, we came together at the worst part of our lives,” admitted Ault, Collard’s manager and trainer who was once under the tutelage of the great Archie Moore. “I was out of fighting and gave up on it. Clay wanted to reignite his career and he didn’t know how to do it. People wrote him off. They thought he was through. He was taking tough fights on short notice, for short money. Who could blame him?
“Clay needed someone who entered his life and be an old-school coach. He says himself today, ‘We’re family.’ We push harder than anyone else. We realize we have to be the better out there, and we know that. We show up we know we can’t make one mistake. Realistically, we only have one loss—and that was to a monster (Bektemir Melikuziev) on four days’ notice.
“Our bond is why we win fights.”
“Cassius” Clay Collard (7-2-3, 2 knockouts) is one of the best boxing stories in 2020. He’s defeated three-straight undefeated prospects—where Collard was tabbed as the B-side fighter and expected to lose.
It didn’t stop him from vanquishing Quashawn Toler (9-0, 7 KOs), Raymond Guajardo (5-0, 4 KOs) and David Kaminsky (6-0, 3 KOs) from the undefeated ranks.
Formerly a UFC fighter, the 27-year-old who’s now living in Burley, Idaho, gets to dazzle a growing fanbase again Tuesday night when—for a rare occasion—he’s the A-side against Lorawnt “Smash” Nelson (5-3, 4 KOs) at the MGM Grand Conference Center on Top Rank’s weekly show on ESPN.
A-side or B-side, it doesn’t matter to Collard.
He’ll always look at himself in the mirror as an underdog. That’s what he was supposed to be against previously unbeaten Kaminsky on June 18. It fueled Collard in busting up Kaminsky, yet coming away with a split-decision when judge Patricia Morse Jarman somehow saw it 58-56 for Kaminsky, before thankfully being overruled by judges Lisa Giampa and Dave Moretti, who each scored it 58-56 for Collard.
The combined record of Collard’s previous 12 opponents was 65-3. He is unique, because he also fights MMA, where his overall record is 18-8, including going 1-3 in the UFC, which includes a setback to former featherweight champ Max Holloway.
“I don’t believe that I’m a B-side fighter, and Ryan always tells me that they’re bringing us in to lose,” Collard said. “Ryan lets them know we’re not coming in there to lose. I fight everyone like they’re the next world champ.”
When Collard signed with the UFC, his personal life was a wreck. He had so many people help him reach that high point that after a few losses, the roof caved in.
“I was kicked out of where I was living, staying in my van and still trying to make it to practice,” Collard recalled. “I was young and going through a hard time. It was so hard to eat and even find a place to shower. I would shower at the gym, because that was the only place I had to go. I didn’t really have any help and I had no credit.
“Everyone rolled out on me and left me on my own. I also had to do a little growing up, too.”
In 2014, Collard was staying with an older wrestling coach. He had some friends over one night and one of them left something illicit on the premises. The coach blamed Clay.
“I understood why the coach kicked me, even though the stuff wasn’t mine,” Collard said. “I would park the van in the back of the gym and eat at friends’ homes. I lived like that for six months, when I finally decided that I had it. My family and friends looked out for me, but it definitely wasn’t easy.”
Bills mounted. Collard took two years off and moved back home in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where he found a job as a fairground maintenance man at the Sweetwater Events Complex. He shoveled snow in the winter. He painted park benches. He would set up chairs for events, run a loader. It filled his time for two years.
Still, he kept hoping about returning to combat sports.
“Fighting is my passion and not doing it was taking a toll on me,” Collard said. “I was married and divorced. I just had to find myself. In that two years, I made up my mind that I wanted to be one of the best fighters in the world.”
So, Collard packed up his stuff and went to Roy, Utah, where he met up with MMA buddy Sean Powers. Collard got a job at a local car wash and at night trained with Powers—until the day Ault walked into the gym.
Ault came in preparing his wife for an amateur boxing match. Collard and Ault began chit-chatting, and Collard liked what Ault had to say. It’s something fighters instinctive pick up.
Ault had created a hybrid style that would be difficult for both boxers and MMA fighters to defend. The problem Ault had was convincing Collard to accept the tenets of this philosophy, which stressed pressure, working angles and forcing Collard to sit more on his punches.
Collard and Ault exchanged numbers.
In the meantime, Collard wrecked his car. That forced him to take a random boxing match for $300 against Jamey Swanson. On nine days’ notice, Ault cornered Collard, who was battling food poisoning.
“I still don’t know how I won, because I was throwing up all over the place,” Collard recalled. “Ryan got in my face and told me I had to win the last two rounds. Then Ryan moved a few hours away.”
Collard took some fights on short notice. He sought out Ault again.
Ault agreed to work with him under one caveat—that Collard had to live and sleep fighting, in addition to accepting Ault’s concepts.
Ault noticed Collard was a voluminous puncher in MMA, but his punches weren’t accurate and he had no power. Ault wanted Collard to adapt to a come-forward style, working a lot of different angles the opposite of a standard boxing style. Collard is punching padded boards, punching heavier heavybags with sand, doing tire work; punching a six-way tire that looks like a punching bag.
The fighters Cassius is mowing down don’t realize what’s happening until after they get hit.
“I’m athletic enough, and smart and quick enough to be reckless, but I didn’t realize how reckless I was until I got with Coach Ault,” Collard said. “Then Ryan laid it on me. He told me I wasn’t strong enough. I was slow. I wasn’t accurate. I told him, ‘I’m a good striker.’ He told me, ‘You’re not that good.’
“And if that wasn’t insulting enough, he said I had ‘klunky feet.’ I thought I was pretty good. But I also remember he told me that I had the potential to be great.”
Collard’s epiphany came after going to a little gym in Cedar City, Utah. He was easily the best fighter there. Though against fighters that couldn’t compare to him, he got to slow down what Ault was trying to explain. Before that, Collard got his ass kicked at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. A few months later, Collard went back and held his own. After that, he stayed with Anthony Dirrell. The next day, Dirrell got back at Collard.
The third time they sparred, Dirrell’s people stopped it, berating Dirrell because he wasn’t doing what they told him.
Gradually, this was turning Collard into a believer. He arrived on Ault Island lower than whale dung, and was emerging as a different fighter as the changes were becoming more pronounced.
“The first two weeks training with Ryan I threw up every day,” Collard said, laughing. “The fool would chase me in a golf cart. If I slowed down, he would run me over with the f—— golf cart. He would make me run and swim across ponds, then swim back. There was this giant hill I ran up, and he had me hold this cinderblock over my head running with it.
“Ryan would laugh at me—and he pushed me to see if I would quit. I wasn’t.”
Collard got draws against Tipton Walker, Emilio Carlos Rodriquez and Quincy LaVallais.
“But these last three fights, my confidence has been building, and Ryan believes in me, and that’s made me believe in myself,” Collard said. “I’m where I should be.”
Ault and Collard can’t walk down an aisle in Walmart in Burley, Idaho, population 10,525, without being stopped for selfies with the locals.
Five years ago, he was sleeping in the back of a van. Now he’s a celebrity in Burley.
“I think we finally have received the respect that we deserve,” Ault said. “We were taken in by the Top Rank family and people want to see Clay fight. I’ll be honest, I want a big fight. I would put him in with Canelo Alvarez right now.”
First, “the people’s champion” has to get by Nelson on Tuesday night.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.