Collins aims to complete ultimate comeback story Saturday at CES 72

In combat sports, title shots don’t come overnight. Neither does success. For Fran “The Fury” Collins, it’s taken more than a decade – with a lot of turbulence in between – to get closer than most to reaching the pinnacle of his craft.

In 72 hours, the 37-year-old Collins returns to the cage for the third time since his comeback to face New Hampshire’s Tim Caron for the vacant CES MMA World Middleweight Title in the main event of CES 72 scheduled for this Saturday, March 18 at Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Great Cedar Showroom.

The Collins-Caron main event headlines a full day of mixed martial arts, which also includes seven pro fights and six amateur bouts beginning at 6:30 pm. Among them is eight-time UFC veteran and Hartford, CT, native William “Knightmare” Knight (11-5), who has been added to the card in a heavyweight showdown against 22-fight vet Jordan Powell – Knight’s first appearance with CES MMA since January of 2020. Tickets are available online at or or the Foxwoods box office.

There’s a lot to unpack with Collins reaching main event status only nine months after resuming his career following a 10-year layoff. An Irish fighter competing for a world title on St. Patrick’s Day weekend is also a great surface-level storyline, but there’s more to Collins’ legacy than heritage.

Most fighters begin to reach their physical prime around the time Collins stepped away from the sport, and while there’s a chance he could’ve fought for a title much sooner had he not endured such a long layoff, Collins says the late 20s version of “The Fury” might not have been ready for such a life-changing opportunity.

“The difference is when you’re younger you’re just going out there having fun,” Collins said. “MMA is more of an art to me now. I take it much more seriously from the stretching to the breathing to the mobility. There’s so much more that goes into this than just going out there and scrapping.”

The fact Collins has reached this stage is impressive in and of itself. A U.S. Air Force veteran and recovering alcoholic – he’s been sober since June 12, 2020 – Collins spent part of his time away from MMA pursuing semipro football, a sport he dominated in high school. MMA temporarily kept him out of trouble; his drinking problems began after his military career, but when he turned pro in 2011 he managed to focus long enough until alcoholism consumed him again just a couple years.

Life changed when a coworker told him he had a drinking problem. He quit the next day, beginning the inevitable road back to MMA. Within two years, he returned to the cage, beating Deran Martinez in 23 seconds at CES 69 in June.

Make no mistake, the comeback wasn’t about scratching an itch or proving a point, nor was it some one-off bucket-list item. Collins decided to rededicate his life to this sport for the sole purpose of chasing a world title, an opportunity to open doors that could help him provide for his 12-year-old daughter.

“I knew I’d get here,” Collins said. “I manifested it in my mind. It’s about knowing what I can do.”

“The toughest part was getting my mind right. When you become sober, you have to relearn everything. It was mainly the mental game. Anyone who’s competed will tell you it’s 85 percent mental. It took a long time, even the first couple of fights. Then you get to a point where you are in a groove and you’re like, ‘Just put me in there with anyone.’”

Collins reached that point in his last fight at CES 70 against Mus’Aib Baiyina. He struggled early, ran out of gas, and then found his second wind in the final round, finishing the fight via ground and pound with just over two minutes remaining.

“After grinding through it, I got to the end and realized, ‘I’m still here,’” Collins said. “That was the turning point for me to declare I’m ready for a title shot.”

He faces a tall order Saturday against the durable, 35-year-old Caron (12-5, 5 KOs), also a military veteran and a five-time Bellator vet who last fought for CES in 2018 while making an appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series that same year. Caron also comes in hot, having beat 7-2 Salaiman Ahmadyar and 9-3 Alton Cunningham in his last two fights.

“I’m not worried. I know it’s an ‘any given Sunday’ scenario and he’s more experienced, but when you fight against [coach and former UFC world heavyweight title challenger] Gabriel Gonzaga every day in camp, it’s hard to be scared of many things,” Collins said.

“I heard rumors that [Caron] says he’s going to knock me out. I find that funny considering he hasn’t finished any of his last few fights. We’ll see. All the best to him. Win, lose, or draw, we’ll shake hands when it’s all said and done.”

Collins’ demeanor is that of a much more mature fighter who sees the game differently than he did a decade ago. Despite being nicknamed “The Fury” – an fitting nickname given his propensity to “go 110 percent with everything I do” – Collins has learned to pull back when necessary and push harder when it’s time to test his limits. He’s even imparted his wisdom on younger fighters when they’ve been willing to listen. But what’s most important now is focusing on Saturday night and what’s at stake. The Fran Collins who steps inside the cage this weekend is much more prepared for this opportunity than the one who took the region by storm more than a decade ago.

“If you are serious about this and it’s what you want to do, then each fight should sharpen one tool for the next fight,” Collins said. “All of a sudden, you have this tool belt with everything in it. You have to remained focused. This is not a joke. You can lose your life inside that cage. This sport is not for the faint of heart.”

Full fight card details are available online. Follow CES MMA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @CESMMA.