Former UFC contender Derek Brunson won dominantly against former two-time PFL welterweight champion Ray Cooper III in his debut with his new promotion.
Brunson had asked for and had his release granted after eleven years with the UFc when a two-fight losing streak caused him to decide his title aspirations were done. Days later he signed with the PFL. Meanwhile, PFL champion Cooper III had not competed in the 2023 welterweight season after missing out on the 2022 playoffs while dealing with weight issues. Unfortunately, those issues continued for this event; despite moving up to middleweight, Cooper still missed weight by eight tenths of a pound. He elected not to cut that weight with additional time given, taking the fine instead.
Brunson opened wild, throwing a spinning wheel kick which was mostly blocked before clinching up and pushing Cooper to the fence, where he had many issues in his loss to Carlos Leal. After a minute Ray broke free, though he had issues with the high kicks and knees of Brunson. Being the much shorter fighter, he had trouble getting into the pocket to land his famous power shots. When he finally did so, Brunson simply ducked into a clinch. From there, he was able to get to a rear body-lock. Cooper was able to break free and on the break he hit Brunson with a left hook while Derek held one of Ray’s legs above his shoulder in pursuit of the takedown.
Brunson tried to clinch up while Cooper looked for uppercuts. Ray seemed to have Derek hurt, but Brunson’s veteran savvy showed up as he kept it together and used a foot sweep to get his first takedown. He immediately transitioned into the full mount where he rained down constant hammerfists. Ray Cooper just covered up for the most part, he did not even turn to give up the back for a reprieve. The referee looked closely but did not stop it and Brunson slowed his pace to avoid gassing out after a good ninety seconds of constant punching.
Cooper did not appear defeated by any means when coming out after a rough first round; he stalked forward but Derek Brunson let him get close and simply grabbed a leg which he used to land a single leg. Ray landed on his knees so Brunson took his back and got a hook in instantly. Ray fought the hands enough to stay alive and Brunson could not get his second hook in, but neither could Cooper escape, though he was not using explosive movements. With only a few seconds left Cooper finally rolled to his back, so Derek Brunson hopped on top and rained down punches for the final ten seconds to bank a 20-18 lead, presumably.
Cooper needed a finish, which he had come close to achieving in the first round, if he was to win this fight. He landed a good right hand, after which Brunson tried to change levels. This time, however, it was Ray Cooper III who stood strong and pushed Derek over, landing his first takedown. Brunson tried for a triangle off his back which failed, but he was able to avoid damage and wrestle up to a top position where he closed out the final two minutes with strong ground and pound.
The scorecards were never in doubt when the decision was read; as expected Derek Brunson swept all three scorecards to win comfortably in his PFL debut.
It will be interesting to see where Brunson goes next. As a former UFC contender who fought some big names, he has a name of his own. PFL does not have a true middleweight division to compete for gold in, but Brunson could fight against some Bellator middleweight due to the merger, or a PFL light heavyweight who would rather fight at middleweight.
It also must be wondered if Ray Cooper III will retire soon after a lackluster performance and weight miss despite the move up in weight,