When the Professional Fighters League season started earlier this year, Ray Cooper III probably wasn’t the name most people expected to end up as the No. 1 ranked welterweight.
That all changed when Cooper shocked the world with a savage second round finish against former Strikeforce champion and UFC veteran Jake Shields to kick off the season. Cooper followed that up with a blistering 18-second knockout in his second fight and now he’s the No. 1 overall seed in the welterweight bracket with the winner earning a $1 million grand prize.
Because of the format with the PFL where wins and finishes count the most, Cooper was able to skip past all the typical pre-fight trash talk and social media engagements that can often times determine how fights are made in mixed martial arts.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” Cooper told MMAWeekly. “Combat sports just like wrestling, you go through the whole tournament, the end of the year you get the national tournament. You beat everybody, you’re the champion. You can talk all you like but you still have to wrestle and beat that guy to move on. This is the same way. It’s not about who talks the most or who has the most Instagram followers.
“This PFL is going to take over. This is how sports are supposed to be.”
Thanks to the ranking format set up for the PFL season, Cooper got a bit of a surprise for his next fight when he was once again matched up with Shields, who ended up as the final entrant with the No. 8 seed overall.
Typically Cooper wouldn’t expect to face Shields again any time soon after such a dramatic finish in their first fight but he’s not upset at the rematch just a few months later.
Instead, Cooper looks at this opportunity as a chance to retire a legend with plans to put Shields away in similar fashion and send him packing from the sport.
“I was excited because I wanted to fight him again and finish our little trilogy,” Cooper explained. “He beat my dad and then I beat him so it’s going to be a good fight. I think he’s going to be done after this. He had a good career but I’m coming up and he’s going to be done after this.”
That’s a bold prediction from Cooper as he prepares for a second fight against Shields, who is obviously looking for redemption after their first encounter.
Whenever he does decide to finally call it a career, Shields may go down as one of the greatest welterweight fighters in the history of the sport but Cooper believes that curtain call will come on Saturday night after their second meeting.
“I don’t think he can handle anymore big wars,” Cooper said about Shields. “He’s been in a lot of big wars, memorable wars, he fought Georges St-Pierre and almost beat him. He fought Dan Henderson and beat Dan Henderson so he’s been in a lot of wars. This next fight coming up, I’m going to put a hurting on him and I don’t think he should be fighting after this.
“He should retire and live his life. He’s a living legend. He’s a beast. But in fighting, he’s a little bit too slow right now.”