FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Perhaps Ray Cooper III should feel extra motivation heading into his 2021 PFL Championship welterweight final against Magomed Magomedkerimov.
After all, it was Magomedkerimov (29-5) who denied Cooper (23-7-1) a PFL title and $1 million in 2018. None of that seems to be weighing on Cooper’s mind, though, heading into Wednesday’s rematch with the same prize at stake
“I really don’t have any hate towards him,” Cooper told reporters, including MMA Junkie, on Monday at a PFL media day. “It’s just competition. I like to get back what I lost and show that I’ve improved from the last fight. The most important thing is winning the title and getting to this position in the final. That’s my concern.”
On New Year’s Eve 2018, Magomedkerimov choked Cooper into submission in the second round of their title fight. That victory was just one in a 13-fight winning streak that dates back to June 2015. Cooper took the loss that night, but he bounced back in 2019 to claim the 170-pound title, making him the defending champ heading into the rematch.
Not that he’s diminishing Cooper’s improvements since then, but Magomedkerimov said he doesn’t expect them to go a full five rounds this time, either.
“Two years passed, he wasn’t wasting his time. He’s been having fights and training,” Magomedkerimov told reporters through a translator. “He might have certain things (new). But so have I. I’ve been training, putting a lot of work in. I think the outcome is gonna be the same, but we’ll just see how it goes.”
One thing is for certain: Neither man lacks confidence before they run it back.
“He’s a great fighter. I have no room to relax. I cannot make any mistakes,” Magomedkerimov said. “Just like any fight, I have to approach smart. But I see myself having certain benefits and certain advantages that make me feel confident.”
Said Cooper, “I don’t really got to watch out for anything. He better watch out for what I’m gonna do to him. He can catch some pressure coming to him, and hopefully he can try to adapt, but I don’t think so.”
2021 PFL Championship takes place Wednesday at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Fla. The card airs on ESPN2 and streams on ESPN+ after prelims on ESPN+.