In the bustling heart of Washington D.C., at The Anthem, a remarkable chapter in mixed martial arts history unfolded on November 24, 2023. It was a night where Olivier Aubin-Mercier, affectionately known as “The Canadian Gangster,” solidified his place in the pantheon of MMA greats. Clinching his second consecutive PFL Lightweight Championship and a one million dollar prize, Aubin-Mercier’s unanimous decision victory over Clay Collard wasn’t just a triumph in the ring—it marked a poignant pivot in his career and life.
The buildup to this climactic showdown was laced with whispers of retirement from Aubin-Mercier. The relentless grind and the mental toll of two years on an intense schedule had ignited thoughts of hanging up his gloves. His post-fight reflections to MMA Junkie encapsulated a mix of triumph and emotional ambiguity: “I don’t know how I’m feeling… It’s a weird sensation.” The absence of the customary pre-fight ‘butterflies’ indicated a deeper, more introspective conflict within him.
At 34, Aubin-Mercier was arguably in the finest form of his career, yet something significant was amiss—the time with his family, a gap in his life that no championship could fill. His decision to step away from active competition was not one of defeat or decline but a conscious choice to reclaim those lost moments. “It’s good money. But the truth is, I want to see my family,” he stated, laying bare the often unseen sacrifices behind the glitz of professional sports.
It was a battle where every moment in the octagon was hard-earned, especially after Aubin-Mercier sustained a potential leg injury from Collard’s targeted calf kicks early in the bout.
Despite the injury, Aubin-Mercier’s relentless pursuit of takedowns turned the tide in his favor, allowing him to dominate on the ground. His tactical prowess was on full display, controlling large segments of the fight on the mat. The climax nearly arrived in the fifth round when Aubin-Mercier was inches away from ending the fight with a rear-naked choke, but Collard’s resilience saw him last until the final bell.
The judges unanimously scored the bout 49-46, a testament to Aubin-Mercier’s dominance, which not only extended his perfect PFL record to 10-0 but also added another $1 million to his accolades. Post-fight, while Aubin-Mercier stopped short of announcing retirement, he expressed gratitude towards PFL and hinted at an impending hiatus, focusing on family time in 2024.
“Sand between my toes,” mused Aubin-Mercier, indicating his desire for a break. His commitment to family, particularly to his daughter, whom he had promised a summer without work, underscores a deeper personal journey beyond the confines of the octagon.
Aubin-Mercier’s performance against Collard was a narrative of resilience and strategic brilliance. Even with a compromised leg, his ability to shift focus to grappling and consistently pin Collard to the mat was a masterclass in adaptability. His control was evident as he repetitively took Collard’s back and locked in body triangles, asserting his grappling dominance.
Collard’s calf kicks, while limited in number, were effective in hampering Aubin-Mercier’s mobility. The Canadian’s response was to pivot away from striking, focusing instead on continuous takedown attempts. As the fight progressed, Collard’s scrambles to regain footing became more successful, but Aubin-Mercier’s grappling supremacy remained unchallenged.
The bout’s latter stages saw Collard ramp up aggression, particularly targeting Aubin-Mercier’s weakened leg. Yet, Aubin-Mercier’s resilience shone through as he executed another takedown, reestablishing his control and nearly securing a rear-naked choke in the closing moments.
Emerging victorious despite the injury, Aubin-Mercier can celebrate not just the win and the financial reward but also the closure of a strenuous yet triumphant chapter in his career.
With a potential champion versus champion bout with Bellator’s Usman Nurmagomedov now unlikely due to Nurmagomedov’s suspension and Aubin-Mercier’s planned break, the future of the PFL lightweight division remains uncertain. However, Aubin-Mercier’s exceptional 10-0 run in the PFL, culminating in the 2022 and 2023 lightweight championships, leaves an indelible mark on the sport. His impressive record, with 21 wins, including eight submissions and four knockouts, reflects a career of remarkable achievements and memorable bouts.