In 2018, mixed martial arts fans have been lucky enough to witness the rise of a number of fighters. Israel Adesanya has only needed four UFC fights to establish himself as one of the sport’s most exciting strikers, while in Bellator, Aaron Pico has combined outstanding boxing and wrestling to produce several stunning highlight-reel finishes.
In the Professional Fighters League, no fighter’s stature has risen more than the welterweight knockout artist, Ray Cooper III, who is one win away from becoming PFL’s 170-pound champion.
Beginning the year as a relatively unknown fighter, Cooper’s potential was still apparent; in his 18 fights prior to his PFL debut, he was 13-5 with all but three of these finishing inside the first round. This exciting run saw him make his PFL debut in July this year against former Strikeforce Champion and UFC competitor Jake Shields, in somewhat of a grudge match.
Shields was a familiar opponent for the Cooper family, with Ray Cooper Jr., Cooper’s father, fighting the “Skrap Pack” member twice. The first of these took place at Warriors Quest 6 in 2002 with Cooper Jr. victorious via unanimous decision. Their rematch at Shooto Hawaii in 2004 saw a very different outcome as Shields finished Cooper Jr. in the first round via rear-naked choke, winning Shooto’s welterweight championship in the process.
Cooper entered his debut fight against Shields as the underdog, an assessment that immediately proved incorrect. Cooper pressured Shields, landing numerous powerful strikes from top mount. When they returned to their feet. Cooper’s tremendous punching power was displayed as he fired brutal overhands and uppercuts that forced Shields to the canvas. In the second round, Cooper continued to pressure the veteran, stopping takedowns and landing at will. Two minutes in, he found a home for his left hand, dropping Shields and finishing him with brutal ground-and-pound.
In his second PFL bout, Cooper was even more impressive, finishing the dangerous Pavel Kusch just 18 seconds into the first round with a barrage of punches. This performance saw him break the record for fastest knockout in PFL history and proved that he was a serious contender for the playoffs.
On October 20, Cooper entered the PFL playoffs as the #1 seed, testament to his remarkable rise. In his quarterfinal bout, “Braddah Boy” faced Shields again and finished the #8 ranked fighter even more quickly. Forcing Shields against the cage, Cooper caught his opponent with a perfectly timed right hand that dropped the veteran before finishing the fight on the ground.
Cooper then faced Handesson Ferreira in an opportunity to avenge his most recent loss. In this fight, the Hawaiian once again showcased his tremendous punching power, trapping his opponent against the cage and landing multiple left hands eventually forcing another first-round stoppage.
A rising star
On New Year’s Eve, Cooper will face Magomed Magomedkerimov in a fight that will crown PFL’s welterweight champion. The Russian fighter is dangerous, with recent wins over Bojan Velickovic and Pavel Kusch.
Despite this, no PFL fighter has been close to even hurting Cooper this year. Provided he can replicate his recent performances one more time in New York, he will end the year as PFL’s welterweight champion, marking the culmination of a phenomenal 2018 for “Braddah Boy”.