Conserving alive a quest to pocket $1 million would appear to be all of the motivation Ray Cooper III actually wants as he heads into Friday’s PFL welterweight playoff semifinal (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN+). However Cooper does have an added incentive driving his need to defeat Rory MacDonald.
It has nothing to do with McDonald being the struggle firm’s shiny new signee, a former Bellator welterweight champion and UFC title challenger introduced in so as to add luster to the 170-pound division. That weight class occurs to be headed by Cooper, a finalist in each of the PFL’s two accomplished seasons. In 2019, he received the championship and the $1 million payout that got here with it.
With the 2020 PFL season having been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cooper is the reigning, defending champ. And but the entire consideration main into this season went to MacDonald.
Cooper insists that he’s not bothered by sitting within the shadows. “Rory is a widely known man and has fought loads of identified guys,” Cooper stated. “He acquired the eye as a result of he fought within the largest group and he was a champion in one other one. I am trying ahead to competing towards him.”
So what’s it that makes this a grudge match of types? To unearth the rationale why Cooper regards the bout as one thing extra than simply the newest step in his chase for a second million bucks, you need to dig into his roots. Cooper, 28, is from Pearl Metropolis, Hawaii, and rising up as an aspiring fighter — and a three-time state champion highschool wrestler — within the early 2000s, he discovered inspiration in watching a sure Aloha State legend carry out.
BJ Penn, a former jiu-jitsu world gold medalist and two-division UFC champion, is the best Hawaiian fighter ever. His triumphs had been quite a few and at occasions bigger than life. He moved up from light-weight to dethrone UFC welterweight king Matt Hughes. He fought Renzo Gracie at mild heavyweight and Lyoto Machida at heavyweight. However the BJ Penn reminiscence that gnaws at Cooper is from 2012, when Penn misplaced a unanimous resolution to, of all folks, Rory MacDonald.
“I’ve gotta get that one again for BJ,” Cooper stated. “He was the one Hawaiian man on the high, so BJ was a giant inspiration for me. Me beating Rory this weekend is gonna solidify that.”
That’s as near trash speak as Cooper will get. He’s a person of few phrases and even fewer agitated inflections. Usually his quiet phrases veer towards cliche, akin to, “I let my fingers do the speaking.” However for those who’ve ever watched him carry out within the cage, you realize Cooper speaks the reality.
That’s a technique — maybe the one approach — that Cooper and MacDonald are alike. Stylistically, as fighters, they’re as totally different as night time and day — as in, “say good night time” and “let’s wreck your day.” Cooper is all forward-moving violence. MacDonald measures out his break-you-down domination.
Cooper and MacDonald have similar 22-7-1 data, however they arrived there by way of distinct paths. Cooper has a dozen PFL fights underneath his belt. MacDonald will probably be making his third look within the PFL after splitting a decade between the UFC and Bellator.
One space of widespread floor: MacDonald agrees with Cooper on BJ Penn. “I additionally appeared as much as BJ as one of many guys who motivated me to get into this sport,” stated MacDonald, a 32-year-old Canadian. “I’ll at all times bear in mind the night time I fought him. That was a pivotal struggle in my profession that I will not overlook.”
Now MacDonald faces one other pivotal problem. He was one in every of three prized additions to the PFL roster for this season, and the opposite two — heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and light-weight Anthony Pettis, each former UFC champs — didn’t even make the playoffs of their respective divisions. MacDonald, in contrast, has carried out nicely, though he acquired knocked down a peg when a puzzling break up resolution went towards him in June after he’d largely managed Gleison Tibau for 3 rounds.
Friday’s occasion at Seminole Onerous Rock Lodge & On line casino in Hollywood, Florida, options semifinals at welterweight and light-weight. The opposite 170-pound matchup pits 2018 champion Magomed Magomedkerimov towards Sadibou Sy. At 155 kilos, it is Clay Collard vs. Raush Manfio, and Loik Radzhabov vs. Alexander Martinez.
Cooper can not help however look forward to the October finale and a possible matchup with Magomedsharipov, who defeated him for the championship in 2018.
“I am gonna get via my opponent, and hopefully he will get via his opponent,” he stated. “Magomed is the match I would like within the finals. I would like an opportunity to proper that unsuitable.”
MacDonald, however, is absolutely centered on the right here and now. He acknowledges the ability in Cooper’s fingers, making him “a harmful opponent who I’ve acquired to take significantly,” MacDonald stated. “I am gonna need to be on my sport.”
The closest factor to trash speak to come back out of MacDonald’s mouth? “Ray’s acquired energy and aggressiveness on his facet,” he stated, “however I really feel like my talent degree and expertise will get me the win.”
Friday’s struggle lineup
ESPN2/ESPN+ (semifinals), 9 p.m. ET
Welterweight: No. 2 Rory MacDonald vs. No. 3 Ray Cooper III
Welterweight: No. 4 Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. No. 5 Sadibou Sy
Light-weight: No. 2 Clay Collard vs. No. 3 Raush Manfio | Light-weight
Light-weight: No. 1 Loik Radzhabov vs. No. 4 Alexander Martinez | Light-weight
ESPN+ (non-playoff), 5:30 p.m. ET
Welterweight: Gleison Tibau vs. Curtis Millender