The 2021 PFL season concludes on October 27, with a full lineup of tournament championships in six different weight classes (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2 / ESPN +).
Emerging Women’s MMA Superstar Kayla harrison (11-0) will headline the event, in its lightweight final against Taylor saved (3-1). Arguably, however, the most intriguing final game will be in welterweight, where Magomed Magomedkerimov (29-5) and Ray cooper (23-7-1) will meet for the second time.
Magomedkerimov, of Russia, subdued Cooper via a guillotine choke to win the 2018 final. Cooper, of Hawaii, bounced back from that loss to win the 2019 final, although Magomedkerimov was unable to defend his throne this season- there due to an injury he sustained between his first and second playoff fight.
Both welterweights have been outstanding during the 2021 season. Magomedkerimov is leading a 13-game winning streak and Cooper is coming off one of the biggest wins of his career, a unanimous decision on Rory macdonald in the semi-finals two months ago.
ESPN spoke with a PFL commentator and a retired lightweight Kenny florian before that scheduled rematch, and asked him to break everything down.
Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Okamoto: What was the biggest difference when you first met?
Florian: It seemed to me that Magomed had a little more variety in his playing, a little more sophistication. Ray was extremely dangerous, but there was a bit of – I don’t mean recklessness, that term might be too aggressive – but he was still crude. He led by his aggressiveness more than anything else.
How would you say that each of them approached this first fight?
You’ve seen a lot of forward pressure from Cooper. It looked like he was just trying to knock Magomed’s head off. Magomed used his footwork to diffuse that pressure forward. Each of their wrestling types nullified the other. Again, it seemed Magomed was more seasoned and Ray was more raw. Cooper just wasn’t able to put everything together as much as he would have liked in the first round.
Ray started to initialize the teardown and Magomed did a great job using a hook for the control position and compromising Ray’s base a bit, causing Ray to let his head move away from his hips. His legs no longer supported his head, making him vulnerable to the guillotine.
You mentioned that their fight got called off, but what more can you say about the wrestling match here?
Magomed seemed more technical when it came to wrestling. He had more counters, more defensive weapons. He was more fundamentalist. Ray was trying to get things done with his physical aspects and his physical tools. Magomed was more refined.
– PFL (@PFLMMA) October 17, 2021
What’s the biggest difference you’ve seen in Magomedkerimov since that first meeting in 2018?
Just a continuation of his comfort. He is more calculated. He has shown a lot of experience this season, while also reminding us how dangerous he is. He finds ways to do it. He has faced adversity this year. He had a knee injury. He needed to get a first result to make sure he would continue in the tournament and he did exactly what he needed to do. And it’s not easy when you have that pressure. You’ve seen him with a bunch of favorites this season, either Anthony Pettis light weight or Lance Palmer featherweight, sometimes when you are the favorite it is not easy. Magomed has always done what a favorite should.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve seen in Cooper since that first meeting?
I think Ray really knows how to put it all together now. He is much more patient. It is much more strategic than we have seen. He is able to better control his emotions when inside the cage. I think it has a lot to do with the 2019 season and being a champion now. He has more fights to his credit. Looks like he learned from the mistakes of this fight against Magomedkerimov.
Is there a psychological advantage on either side here, since this is a rematch?
Honestly, I don’t think so. Mainly because Cooper is a whole different fighter. He’s much better than the first time they fought. I also think Magomed has made improvements as well. With Ray, sometimes when you have revenge in mind, that chip on your shoulder can get the better of you, but I didn’t see any of that in his last fight with Rory MacDonald. And I know he was very motivated and wanted to prove himself in this fight against a real veteran. I thought there was a chance that would make him too aggressive or too emotional, and there wasn’t. He was as cool and calm as I have ever seen him. So I think we’re going to get the better versions of both guys.
Ray Cooper III dominates all three rounds on the mat against Rory MacDonald to advance to the PFL Welterweight Championship.
What is the # 1 question you are asking yourself in this fight, which will dictate the outcome?
It has a lot to do with the distance at which they fight. Ray is more dangerous when he gets inside. I don’t mean to compare him to a Mike Tyson, but think about that job on the inside, when he rips through the body and throws short hooks to the floor, uppercuts – those close range strikes are where he generates the more power. He being a shorter and stockier guy, that’s where he’s going to have to live against Magomed.
Magomed is that guy who obviously, with his reach, is going to try to keep Ray on the outside and at the end of his longest shots. The first time I saw Magomed fight he reminded me a lot of Russian heavyweights Fedor Emelianenko. It’s Fedor, with even better bids. The way he puts his combinations together in takedowns is extremely impressive to watch. Positionally, he’s very good. He is deceptive like Fedor. You look at his frame and say, “Who is this guy?” He won’t do anything. Then he comes out and just wipes the floor with you. He is very gifted physically even if he does not always seem to be. He is never shaken. He’s a very down-to-earth finisher from start to finish.