Despite being in the conversation as one of the greatest competitors in the PFL’s short history, 2019 welterweight champion Ray Cooper III will not be in the main of the league’s Oct. 27 championships. Yet “Bradda” isn’t too bothered by the snub, because he say he’s the true main event, and fans will be tuning in to see the latest exploits of “the most exciting fighter in the PFL.”
In the 2021 installment of the PFL Championship, Cooper III (23-7-1) will be competing in a rematch against 2018 finals opponent Magomed Magomedkerimov. The Russian scored a submission victory over him on that night, but throughout the league’s three season history, both have proven to be two of the most dominant forces in PFL history.
Ray Cooper III: ‘Everybody’s tuning in to watch me, so I really don’t care where I’m at on the card‘
The pair have just two losses in 23 combined fights in the PFL. They are the only welterweight champions in league history, and will decide the best 170-pound fighter in season three in a couple of weeks. Suffice to say, this is one of the most important fights in the PFL history. Yet, they are not the headliner for the championship event. Instead, it’s women’s lightweight star Kayla Harrison. An unbeaten fighter that is viewed as the league’s most marketable talent.
Although Cooper III has a great deal of respect for Harrison, and won’t be campaigning for the main event spot, the league’s decision is surprising to him.
“Kayla’s fighting a 3-1 girl that just so happened to get into the finals. I mean I’m not downgrading Kayla. She’s awesome. She’s a two-time Olympic champion. But, the talent pool in the [women’s lightweight] division is not how it is in the welterweight division,” Cooper III told MixedMartialArts.com.
“It doesn’t matter where I’m at on the card. Everybody knows I’m the main event. And everybody knows what’s gonna happen. Everybody’s tuning in to watch me. So I really don’t care where I’m at on the card.”
Cooper III doubts an injury really knocked Magomed Magomedkerimov out of 2019 playoffs
The 28-year-old and his fellow league champion were supposed to have a rematch in the semifinals of the 2019 playoffs. However, an injury forced Magomedkerimov, 31, out of the bout. Costing Cooper III a chance at redemption for his defeat the previous year. Yet the Hawaiian believes it was more questionable conditioning — on a night where competitors had to fight twice — that knocked his rival out of their rematch, not an injury.
“I think in the second season he wasn’t injured. I think he just didn’t want to fight. His conditioning wasn’t there. You can tell. You can see it in all his fights. He gets tired when he gets a tough opponent. You can tell just by his body language,” he said. … “I look forward to fighting him and getting that blemish of my mind of him beating me the first season when I had so much momentum. That’s all I’m looking forward to. Vindicating that I’m the best, and he ain’t better than me.”
Ray Cooper III: ‘I’m just going to plow through everything he’s got, I’m gonna run him over‘
What has made Magomedkerimov such a challenge in the cage, and why he remains unbeaten in the league, is his grappling. It’s been the backbone of his 29-5 run in the sport. However, Cooper III isn’t impressed by his opponent’s gound skills, despite it being the source of his failure three years ago. He believes he was winning that fight, and going for a takedown from his knees, then underestimating Magomedkerimov’s guillotine choke cost him. “Bradda Boy” says he has matured since then, and expects to manage the grappling game before running right over Magomedkerimov and winning another million dollar check.
“Everybody knows he gonna try to clinch me, gonna try to wrestle me. That’s all he’s been doing this whole season. Through these years in the PFL, that’s all he’s does. He just tries to wrestle people. He wants nothing to do with the stand-up unless the guys are not too good striking,” Cooper III said. “He just goes to where his strengths are. My strengths are also wrestling. Wherever the fight goes, I control the whole fight. And right now I feel there’s nothing that can stop me. … This is gonna be a way different fight because I’m just going to plow through everything he’s got. I’m gonna run him over.”
The defending welterweight league champion views this third straight spot in the finals as a chance to prove something to the MMA community. That his PFL contemporary is not on his level, and few others in the weight class are, because he’s the best 170-pound fighter in the world.
“He’s just another fighter in my way,” Cooper III says of Magomedkerimov. “I feel I’m the best welterweight in the PFL and in the world. I can compete against any of these guys. Especially, in the UFC.”
The 2021 PFL Championships takes place on Oct. 27 from inside the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Hollywood, Fla. The events preliminary card kicks off at 4:30 pm ET on ESPN+, with the main card following at 7 pm ET on ESPN 2.