Rivalries: Ray Cooper III

By Brian Knapp Jun 16, 2021


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Ray Cooper III burst on the scene as one of the Professional Fighters League’s first breakout stars, and he maintained his position near the front of the welterweight line for two-plus seasons.

Cooper will try to take another step toward defending his 2019 championship when he toes the line against Nikolay Aleksakhin in the PFL 5 co-headliner on Thursday at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The heavy-handed Hawaiian has compiled an excellent 8-2-1 record through 11 appearances with the organization. Cooper last competed at PFL 2 on April 29, when he submitted Jason Ponet with a second-round arm-triangle choke.

As Cooper approaches his forthcoming encounter with the surging Aleksakhin, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his career:

Jake Shields


More than a decade after his father submitted to a rear-naked choke from Shields at a Shooto Americas event in Honolulu, “Bradda Boy” meted out some vengeance under the Professional Fighters League flag. Cooper cut down the former EliteXC and Strikeforce champion with punches in the second round of the PFL 3 main event on July 5, 2018 at the GWU Smith Center in Washington, D.C. Shields bowed out 2:09 into Round 2. A considerable underdog entering the match, Cooper floored the Californian with a left hook in the center of the cage early in the middle stanza. Already bloody, Shields hit the deck in no condition to defend himself. Cooper unleashed a barrage of lefts and rights until his counterpart turtled in a show of surrender and forced referee Mario Yamasaki to intervene. Those who thought the result to be a fluke were shown otherwise in their rematch a little more than a year later in the 2018 PFL welterweight quarterfinals. There, Cooper punched out Shields for a second time, closing the door 3:10 into the first round.

Handesson Ferreira


Cooper avenged a decision defeat a year prior when he cut down “Boy Doido” with punches in the first round of their PFL welterweight tournament semifinal on Oct. 20, 2018 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. Ferreira succumbed to blows 2:28 into Round 1. Cooper successfully navigated the four-inch reach and five-inch height disparities, pressured the Brazilian backward and paired an early takedown with suffocating control and dangerous ground-and-pound. After the two men resumed their battle on the feet, “Bradda Boy” pushed Ferreira to the fence, slammed left hands into his face and prompted the stoppage.

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Magomed Magomedkerimov


What was thought by some to be a coronation for Cooper turned into a coming-out party for Magomedkerimov. The rising American Top Team welterweight submitted Cooper with a guillotine choke in the second round of their Professional Fighters League Championships main event on Dec. 31, 2018 inside the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. One of six division champions crowned and awarded $1 million prizes by the PFL, Magomedkerimov drew the curtain 2:18 into Round 2. Cooper was not afforded the opportunity to put his dazzling offensive skills to work. Magomedkerimov circled out of danger and lured the heavy-handed Hawaiian into the clinch before executing a single-leg takedown and nearly sealing the deal with a rear-naked choke in the first round. Cooper withstood his advances but did not keep his counterpart at bay for long. Magomedkerimov caught the guillotine in a scramble midway through the second round, wrapped the former Gladiator Challenge champion in full guard and prompted the tapout.

John Howard


“Doomsday” punched out Cooper in the first round of their PFL 4 welterweight showcase on July 11, 2019 at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Howard brought it to a close 3:23 into Round 1. Cooper entered the cage as a prohibitive -650 favorite, but the odds mattered little to his seasoned adversary. The Hawaiian tripped Howard to the floor inside the first 10 seconds, and while he applied some pressure from the top, he failed to corral the former Ring of Combat champion. Howard scrambled to his feet, jockeyed for clinch position along the fence, created some separation and connected with a devastating left hook behind the ear. A badly dazed Cooper went to his knees, rose to his feet and wandered into another clean left hook. Howard trailed his fallen counterpart to the canvas and unleashed punches until the job was done. Advertisement
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