PFL Playoffs 1: A Feather in the Cap for Cooper III and MacDonald

Ray Cooper and Rory MacDonald, PFL Playoffs 1
Ray Cooper III faces off with Rory MacDonald ahead of the 2021 Playoffs. Photo: PFL

Ray Cooper III is headed toward his second PFL title and further domination of the welterweight division, but Rory MacDonald is looking to add to his legacy in his first PFL playoff run.

Ask anyone in the know and they’ll tell you one of the biggest gems to come out of the PFL is the electrifying Ray Cooper III.  Since the Professional Fighters League opened in 2018, “Bradda Boy” has been one of the brightest spots in the promotion behind brutal finishes.  Besides his 2019 tournament triumph against David Michaud, his pair of fights against Jake Shields to avenge the loss by his father nearly two decades ago were some of the most discussed bouts in the promotion.

Despite his breakout turn in the PFL, however, Cooper still seeks that signature victory that would propel him into the conversation of world class talents on par with those in the UFC and around the world.  He’s already laid down the ground work, calling for bouts with MacDonald and 2018 champion Magomed Magomedkerimov.  They are victories that would boost his profile, to be sure, especially if he can put them away with the type of knockouts that he has become known for.

Going into the playoffs of his first PFL season, Rory MacDonald is at another precarious point in his career.  Following his controversial loss to Gleison Tibau, his status as a dominant force in the welterweight division is in question.  Though many pundits scored the fight in favor of MacDonald, the fact that it went anywhere near a split decision was surprising considering the Canadian was expected to out-class Tibau on paper.  For a time, MacDonald was briefly in the conversation as the best welterweight in any promotion.  But after a lackluster loss to Douglas Lima in the Bellator Grand Prix final, compounded with the loss to Tibau, his status as one of the world’s best at 170 pounds is in question.

MacDonald already has a decorated history behind him, going from the youngest fighter on the UFC roster to top-ranked title contender and eventually Bellator champion.  Should he best Cooper and go on to win the PFL title, he would join a rare group to have claimed gold in two major MMA organizations.  Another setback, particularly in one-sided fashion, could spell the end of his title aspirations after being one of the world’s best for more than half a decade.

A wrestling heavy attack will be the key for MacDonald as looks to keep Cooper on his back for as much of the bout as possible to neutralize the threat of the Hawaiian’s vaunted explosiveness.  MacDonald’s multi-faceted arsenal will be his biggest asset towards winning the fight as he figures to have the skills to avoid damage and get to the positions he wants.  By comparison, Cooper should look to use his physicality and work the body of MacDonald at close range.  The more time Cooper can keep MacDonald with his back to the fence, the more he is expected to win rounds and take the decision.

The winner of the bout could set up one of the more anticipated bouts of the finals.  Outside of the two, 2018 champion Magomed Magomedkerimov is looking to continue his run against fifth ranked Sabidou Sy who replaced top-ranked Joao Zeferino.  Magomedkerimov has not lost since he won season one, and a bout with either MacDonald or Cooper would be one of the most intriguing bouts of the Finals should he get past Sy on Friday’s undercard.


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