Storylines a plenty surrounded the welterweight showdown between two-time defending PFL champ Ray Cooper III and Carlos Leal at PFL 3 on Friday night.
Hawaii’s Cooper III had come in heavy for the fight, instantly putting himself at a disadvantage in terms of becoming a three-time champion. The miss at the scales meant he could not win points regardless of a win on Friday, and would start the season at -1.
Leal, meanwhile, was a short-notice opponent with a big opportunity in front of him. Undefeated for years, he’d won his way into the league as part of the PFL Challenger Series.
Cooper III struck his way in to open the co-main event in Arlington, Texas on Friday. He’d hunt for a takedown, only for Leal to reverse and press Cooper into the fence. Cooper then turned, but they’d wind up going back to center. A moment later, Cooper would go hunting for the takedown again, with Leal defending with a whizzer. Leal turned, utilizing a body lock and landing both knees and foot stomps. Leal’s knees to the midsection were solid; he ripped the body with a punch a moment later, but didn’t have much room to work.
In the second stanza, Leal took a swing and missed, while Cooper pressed forward, then shot in for a takedown. That was stuffed; Leal fired a leg kick. Moments later, the Brazilian would fire a jump knee; it missed, Cooper looked for a takedown, but Leal fought that off. He’d then rip the body with a kick, and catch Cooper with a punch. Cooper shot for a takedown, in survival mode, and Leal sprawled, dropping hammer fists in the process.
Cooper would survive, but he was not looking like the Ray Cooper III of seasons past. Leal, meanwhile, fired a head kick, then a low kick that took the feet right out from under Cooper, though he managed to catch his fall.
Heading into the third, Cooper was looking at potentially being upset by a Challenger Series fighter. Another Cooper takedown was stuffed, and Leal fired a knee on the way back up. Leal would then rip the body, and Cooper was hurt! He covered up, then went after a leg; eating more damage, Cooper was close to having the fight stopped, but he stayed on a single-leg attempt and earned himself some time. Leal, however, got up and began firing knees to the body. Cooper proved tough, but was getting lit up. Leal went to the body, head, and Cooper didn’t have any response for a good thirty seconds until he finally tagged the body.
Ray Cooper III looked to be on his way out by the midway point of the third round. But he’d fire a hook, that landed, followed by an uppercut that didn’t. Leal was starting to slow. Cooper tried to lock in a standing guillotine, but Leal defended. Cooper then landed a big right hand, and tagged Leal several more times! Cooper blocked a head kick, and was back in the round, but time was running out in the fight! He tagged Leal again, but ran out of time.
Official Result: Carlos Leal def. Ray Cooper III by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-27)