Ray Cooper III thinks he is the best wrestler in MMA heading into the 2021 PFL final, “I would fight Kamaru Usman any day of the week”
Ray Cooper III is just one win away from pocketing another million dollar PFL Championship.
The PFL went without a season in 2020 before resuming in 2021 where several big name additions entered the fold. In the future in the world, a possible normalcy will restore to the maximum the idea of cross-promotion in sport – PFL CEO Peter Murray apparently has open to the idea heading into this year’s finals.
As the defending champion himself, Cooper loves the idea of the best coming together.
“It would be huge for the sport,” Cooper told BJPenn.com. “It would be like boxing with the WBO fighting the IBF champions. I don’t know why they don’t do this. It’s just a measure with the promoters to see who’s the bigger one, you know what I mean? But that would open so many doors to plan which fighters to fight and see who really is the best. I think I am the best. I feel like I would fight Kamaru Usman any day of the week. Hopefully that can be done and we can do these big super fights. Because anyone in the UFC can get it. I am the best of all. I’m ready and that would be great.
The 23-7-1 Pearl City native is undefeated in six straight games, with his latest perhaps the biggest win of his career. In the welterweight semifinals on Aug. 13, Cooper outscored former Bellator champion and UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald en route to a unanimous decision.
With several big wins under his belt before – both against Jake Shields standing out as highlights – Cooper has once again flown a bit under the radar when it comes to receiving the credit he rightly deserves. However, that doesn’t matter to him as he just stays on track with his priorities in check.
“It’s just another fight,” Cooper said of his return to his third PFL Championship. “This is where your goal is. To be in the final as in the fight. I expect to be there every time as long as I’m with the PFL, I’ll always be in the final. So it’s just another day at the office, man. Go ahead, grab my belt and collect this check. That’s all I have in mind.
“I am not surprised at anything. I know what [Rory’s] the whole game plan was he was going to try to beat me even though I’m a wrestler first and foremost, I can just hit. But I grew up wrestling and I think I’m the best wrestler there is in MMA. So there is nothing anyone can try to beat me with. If you try, I’ll put you on your back and you’ll be there until I decide to let you go. So this is not surprising to me.
“What was surprising was that he shot in the first ten seconds of the fight and I thought we were going to trade a bit,” he added. “But that’s how it played out.”
MacDonald was not the only victim to be swallowed up by the unique format of the PFL. In 2021, the promotion added other big names such as former UFC champions Fabricio Werdum and Anthony Pettis – none of whom have been able to raise their hands in three combined appearances.
For Cooper, he simply sees the surprise results as a testament to the improved format for all who have experienced it.
“The way it’s formatted, these guys can’t handle fights that many times in a year,” Cooper said. “I think it also boils down to mentally. Having to gain weight, having to train, even if you hurt something, you still have seven weeks before you have to fight again. So it’s playing with your mind and you just have to be tough mentally. Few promotions do what we do. Bellator does promotions but they go like two years in a row. It’s crazy. The PFL is only going up, we will arrive on the big stage soon.
“We have good fighters. Just because you’re from UFC doesn’t mean it’s crap. A lot of the UFC guys aren’t top caliber either. Probably only the top 5 guys in each weight class are top guys. They have a big team but not all of these guys are top level. They weren’t in the final, I wasn’t – Werdum is what? He’s almost 50. 45 or something. And Pettis is also there in the age. Rory is still young, he’s probably the only one still in the top welterweight and everyone says he’s old. He is only 32 years old. He’s not old, I’m only 28, he’s four years older than me. It doesn’t mean shit. So Rory was the only one who was up to being in the playoffs and maybe making it to the final if he wasn’t on my side of the support. But he was and it turned out to be bad for him.
Opposite Ray Cooper III in this year’s final there will be another local PFL talent as well as Cooper’s former rival, Russian Magomed Magomedkerimov.
The duo first met in the PFL’s first welterweight championship bout in 2018, which saw Magomedkerimov walk away with the title. The rematch was in the works for the 2019 season until Magomedkerimov fell ill – they are now set to resume it on October 27 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
While the Hawaiian has been off to a good start and remembers feeling his inexperience the first time he met, he now feels more mature and no longer makes “amateurish mistakes”.
Magomedkerimov (29-5), on the other hand, has been flawless in the PFL having not lost in 13 consecutive fights dating back to 2015.
“He fights the same way,” Cooper said. “He’s going to try to knock me down just like he’s trying to knock everyone down, tries to beat me and that’s about it.” I’m ready for everything. He’s not going to choke on me like he did last time around, and I’m just going to go and cross it, write that check and get ready for the next season.
After three straight seasons involving Ray Cooper III in a playoff bout, it just wouldn’t be the same without him. Yet the possibility of new ventures still intrigues the 28-year-old.
Like everyone else, Cooper just wants to be treated right, no matter where he is. However, some historic luxuries added to the mix wouldn’t hurt. It’s about taking things one step at a time and the rest will follow.
“It depends on what happens after the fight,” Cooper said of his future with the PFL. “I’m going to win but we’re coming to the end of this year’s contract, so I don’t know, we’ll see. I always like to earn a million dollars every year or every six months. So as long as the PFL continues to treat me well, I stay and keep accumulating titles and checks.
“I pleaded for [PFL in Hawaii]. I mean, Bellator did it and I think we’re just getting bigger and bigger. We’re on the same platform as the UFC so for them to come here would be great. I’m the only Hawaii fighter in the PFL and believe I’m the biggest name in the PFL so in the future they will come here because it will be hard not to.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM