Ray Cooper III will head into another Professional Fighters League main event as a confident man, with the same level of self-assurance he carried before he picked up a career-defining victory over former Shooto, Strikeforce and EliteXC champion Jake Shields at PFL 3 on July 5. Why? Because Cooper he prepares and expects to win.
“I just trained with my dad and my two brothers,” Cooper said. “That’s it.”
It may not be the response one would expect regarding preparation for a fighter of Shields’ caliber, especially when you add the fact that the family trained out of a gym built by his father in what used to be his son’s garage. Nevertheless, it worked to great success because few families were as ready to meet Shields as the Coopers.
“I had an advantage because my dad fought him,” Cooper said. “I knew how he fought, and he didn’t change [much since] then.”
Those who watched the PFL 3 broadcast were enlightened in regards to Ray Cooper’s history with Shields. The Cooper family’s MMA patriarch fought him in 2002 and 2004, going 1-1 in the two-fight series. However, it gave him valuable intel to pass along to his son.
“I felt like I was better than him on the ground from the beginning,” Cooper III said, “even before I fought him, because he is just slower.”
For fans and oddsmakers, Shields was viewed as a heavy favorite in the fight because of his excellent grappling skills, which have earned the Californian victories over the likes of Dan Henderson, Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley during an outstanding 19-year career.
However, Cooper’s resume can be a bit misleading. With nine of his 14 wins coming by knockout or technical knockout, he could be viewed as a dangerous striker and not an overwhelming threat on the mat. Plus, he has three submission losses on his record. Yet Cooper sees wrestling as his base attack, and he has a great deal of faith in it.
“I feel like I can dominate anyone on the ground,” Cooper said.
Nicknamed “Bradda Boy,” the Hawaiian has been wrestling since he was 6. Although he did have early aspirations of a long collegiate wrestling run, the draw of MMA was something he could not shake. Cooper started his mixed martial arts career at the age of 19, right out of high school.
“When it came down to it, I just wanted to start fighting and competing in MMA [sooner],” Copper said.
Cooper has not enjoyed a hiccup-free career. He has lost four times and, in fact, entered his battle with Shields on the heels of a defeat. However, the 25-year-old has plenty of room for improvement and sees having a father-trainer with a wealth of fighting experience in his corner as a significant advantage. The elder Cooper finished his career with a 14-9 record and fought Shields, Frank Trigg, Hermes Franca, Dennis Hallman and Antonio McKee.
“It’s good,” Cooper said. “I know where my skill set stands because my dad fought a lot of good guys.”
Cooper will meet Pavel Kusch at PFL 6 on Thursday at the Ocean City Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He has not been imbued with a greater sense of self-belief in wake of his upset of Shields.
“I did what I expected, and it didn’t change [my confidence level],” Cooper said. “It was just another fight, even though he was a top-level opponent.”
Now he moves on to the next hurdle.
“I’m just looking forward to fighting in the PFL, getting through the season and fighting in the tournament,” Cooper said. “It’s just something new to the game and I’m just really excited for fighting in the season, let alone Jake Shields.”
In Kusch, Cooper finds himself matched with another high-level grappler. The Ukrainian boasts 20 submissions among his 23 professional victories.
“I’ve been doing the same thing I did for Jake,” Cooper said. “Most of his wins have come by submission, so we are not doing too much different.”
Cooper may sound disinterested when he explains his preparation for a fight, but he views it as a byproduct of the faith he has in himself. Plus, he does not much stock in strategy inside the cage, choosing instead to focus on what he believes to be divine purpose.
“I don’t have a game plan when I go into a fight,” Cooper said. “I just go in there and fight. I don’t believe in that. I’m [fighting] because I love to compete. God has blessed me with talent. I am just glorifying His name.”