For the second year in a row, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) is offering $1 million and a champion belt to each overall winner from their respective weight class. The welterweight division may be the most stacked of all PFL divisions and has been responsible for some of the best fights and finishes of 2019.
One of the more notable names at 170 pounds is Ray Cooper III, a powerful striker from Hawaii who has punched his ticket to the championship finals for the second year running. He has compiled a record of 2-1-1 in 2019 and most recently fought twice in one night.
In his first fight of the year, Cooper was scheduled to face his cousin Zane Kamaka. However, there had been bad blood brewing between the two for quite some time, and business would be handled inside the cage.
“At the beginning of the season I had to challenge one of my cousins,” Cooper said to theScore’s James Lynch. “That was a little whirlwind, but I got past that.”
The Hawaiian submitted his cousin late in the first round after overcoming early adversity.
After a successful first fight, Cooper was matched against savvy UFC veteran John Howard. Unfortunately for “Bradda Boy,” he was knocked out in the second round.
“In the second fight, I took a loss to John Howard, which showed anything can happen. He’s a big puncher, and I went in there with the attitude that I’m not afraid of his power. I just left my hand out, and he caught me, he just caught me back. I felt like I was winning the fight.”
Despite tasting defeat a few months ago, Cooper is adamant that it will not affect him in the build-up to his championship opportunity; a win on December 31 will most definitely change his life.
“That was my first loss by knockout. It’s always in the back of minds that you could get knocked out, and what if you do get knocked out, but truly its nothing. I just got caught. I’ve lost before, so I just pushed it to the side. That’s just one loss; it doesn’t matter. I just keep looking forward to the future and focus on my future fights.”
Ray Cooper III was eager to return to action after his first-round defeat to John Howard, fighting twice in one night to secure his spot in the PFL finals.
It wouldn’t be a PFL season without highlight-reel finishes, and the 26-year-old was hungry to pick up one of his own. In October, in his second fight of the night, Cooper knocked Chris Curtis back into retirement, cementing his stake as one of the company’s best at 170 pounds.
“I got to challenge Chris (Curtis), who was supposed to fight at the beginning of the season,” Cooper said to James Lynch.
“Chris is an awesome boxer and was talking a little bit of trash, but that’s the fight game, and that’s how it goes. It was a good fight, and all in all I knew he couldn’t handle my power if I was to connect.”
On December 31, Cooper will face PFL newcomer David Michaud for the vacant welterweight title as well as the $1 million prize that’s up for grabs.
“He fought in the UFC and has been fighting for a while,” Cooper said. “I don’t think he’s fought this much in a year. So I think his body’s probably not doing too good because he cuts a lot of weight. He always looks drained at the weigh-ins. So I think I’ve got an advantage with that.”
“I don’t think he’s going to come forward, but I’m going to come forward to him. We’re going to through some shots, and I’m going to land sooner or later. I’m faster than him, my wrestling is superior to his, so it’s going to be a good fight. All in all, I’m going to dominate him.”
PFL’s championship payday is a massive amount for any MMA fighter, but Cooper already knows what he will do with the money if triumphant on December 31.
“[I would] just take care of my family and get ready for the next tournament,” he said.
“One dream of mine was to enter the Olympics and win. 2020’s coming up so we’ll see. That’s one of the things I really want to do.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.