Article by Simon Samano
What does reigning PFL welterweight champion Ray Cooper III have to do to get some respect?
With the addition of Rory MacDonald to the 170-pound roster, a lot of people expect the former Bellator champ and UFC title challenger to get through the 2021 season and win playoff tournament. For Cooper, this all feels familiar.
In 2018, former Strikeforce champ and UFC title challenger Jake Shields was widely expected to win the inaugural PFL title, but Cooper immediately sent a message with a TKO win in their opening matchup. Later in the tournament quarterfinals, Cooper again routed Shields by first-round TKO.
If it comes to it, he’s ready to repeat that with MacDonald.
“It’s kind of like my first season in the tournament,” Cooper said during Monday’s 2021 PFL 2 media day. “Everyone thought Jake (Shields) was gonna win, and then I stomped him twice. I’ll do the same thing to Rory if we do meet again – or if he even makes it through the season.”
Cooper, 28, seemed to question whether MacDonald, 31, can handle the rigors of potentially fighting four times the rest of 2021, should he advance all the way to the tournament final. MacDonald had four fights in a calendar year only once, way back in 2006. Cooper, meanwhile, has done it in both 2018 and 2019 before the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ll see how his body holds up, and let’s see how mentally tough all these other fighters that have to fight four times within six months (are),” Cooper said. “I did it twice. I’ve got eight fights in these two years. So we’ll see how tough these guys is.”
On Thursday, Cooper (20-7-1) meets Jason Ponet in the co-main event of PFL 2, while MacDonald (21-6-1) takes on Curtis Millender in the night’s headliner at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. Both matchups are welterweight season openers.
Regardless of who the 2021 favorite might be, Cooper believes he’s one of the PFL’s pound-for-pound best and intends on showing it.
“Yes, I feel like I’m one of the best because I go out there to finish guys,” Cooper said. “I don’t know how many times I keep saying that: I go in there to finish and put on exciting fights. I live by the sword. That’s just the way I fight.”
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