PFL 7 Report: Ray Cooper III advances to welterweight finals with win over Rory MacDonald

Eric Marcotte reviews PFL 7 with the semi-finals of the welterweight and lightweight tournaments incl. Ray Cooper III beating Rory MacDonald.

Photo Courtesy: PFL

PFL 7 Report: Ray Cooper III advances to welterweight finals with win over Rory MacDonald

By: Eric Marcotte 

On Friday evening, the PFL kicked off their playoff season at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. This particular card featured welterweights and lightweights, with both first-round matchups for each division being spotlighted on the main card. At welterweight, the second-seeded Rory MacDonald faced the third-seeded Ray Cooper III in the cards main event, and the fourth seed, Magomed Magomedkerimov, was matched up against Sadibou Sy after the division’s top seed, João Zeferino, was forced to withdraw from the playoffs. At lightweight, the top-seeded Loik Radzhabov faced the fourth overall Alexander Martinez in a rematch from an earlier bout in the season, and Clay Collard fought Raush Manfio in a battle between the division’s second and third seeds. The commentary team for this event consisted of Sean O’Connell, Kenny Florian, and Randy Couture.

QUICK RESULTS:

*Elvin Espinoza def. Hopeton Stewart by rear-naked choke at 2:45 of Round 1

*Michael Lombardo def. Kyron Bowen by TKO at 3:42 of Round 1

*Magomed Umalatov def. Leandro Silva by unanimous decision (29-28 all)

*Brett Cooper def. Tyler Hill by KO at 2:32 of Round 1

*Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Darrell Horcher by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 29-27)

*Gleison Tibau def. Micah Terrill by arm triangle at 2:18 of Round 1

*Loik Radzhabov def. Alex Martinez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

*Raush Manfio def. Clay Collard by unanimous decision (29-28 all)

*Magomed Magomedkerimov def. Sadibou Sy by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

*Ray Cooper III def. Rory MacDonald by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

HOPETON STEWART (5-1, 154.75) VS ELVIN ESPINOZA (5-0, 155.25) – LIGHTWEIGHT

Espinoza was able to get the fight to the ground and worked his way into side control early in the first round, and it looked as though he was working for an Americana, but instead he transitioned into full mount, and just started throwing down punches until Stewart gave up his back. Espinoza sunk in a rear-naked choke, and Stewart passed out in the hold.

WINNER: Elvin Espinoza by rear-naked choke at 2:45 of Round 1

TSN did not air the first two fights of the preliminary card for Canadian viewers, so I cannot break down much more than the finish here. Espinoza made some very smart decisions with his top control, and he was able to find the rear-naked choke after forcing Stewart into the position with ground and pound. Espinoza moved to 6-0 professionally with this win, and this marked his PFL debut. All of his wins have come by knockout or submission, with only one of those fights going past the first round.

KYRON BOWEN (9-6, 170.75) VS MICHAEL LOMBARDO (11-2, 1 NC, 171) – WELTERWEIGHT

Bowen was throwing a pretty equal mix of kicks and punches throughout the first round. Lombardo was loading up with his right hand and caught Bowen with one in the latter half of the round that wobbled him. Bowen seemed to recover, but Lombardo just landed this singular calf kick that crumpled Bowen to the ground, yelling in pain. Lombardo followed it up with one more calf kick to the grounded Bowen, and the fight was stopped.

WINNER: Michael Lombardo by TKO at 3:42 of Round 1

This was a pretty brutal finish. It’s not too often you see a single leg kick effectively end a fight like this, but from the second Bowen went down, you could tell this one was done. I would not be shocked if it turns out that Bowen suffered a leg break or fracture, because the man was clearly in immense pain here. Lombardo has now won four of his last five bouts and improved to 12-2 (1 NC) professionally with this win.

MAGOMED UMALATOV (10-0, 1 NC, 171) VS LEANDRO SILVA (25-9-1, 1 NC, 172.5) – WELTERWEIGHT

Silva missed weight by 1.5lbs and was fined 20% of his purse.

Both fighters were having difficulties finding their range early. After a few slow minutes, Umalatov misjudged his range as he closed the distance, and got tagged by a hard right hand in response. This was a very tough round to score, largely due to relative inactivity, but that shot from Silva was enough for me to give him the edge. 10-9 Silva.

A right hand from Umalatov knocked Silva off-balance to begin the next round, and he was able to tag him a few more times as Silva swarmed forward shortly thereafter. Umalatov was really starting to pull ahead with his activity, but Silva was able to turn it on a bit in the latter half of the round, landing some heavy leg kicks as well as a clean right hook. Another close round, but I gave this one to Umalatov. 19-19.

The striking battle continued in the third round, following many of the same patterns. Umalatov had nearly doubled Silva’s offensive output, but he did not seem to have the power to really dissuade Silva from moving forward. Silva was trying to land that one big fight-ending shot, but it never came, and the fight ultimately went the distance. 29-28 Umalatov.

WINNER: Magomed Umalatov by unanimous decision (29-28 all)

Honestly, I didn’t think this was a great fight. Silva’s output, in particular, was very low, and Umalatov was largely unable to hurt Silva with any of his offense, creating an unsuccessful fifteen minutes. Still, Silva took this fight on rather short notice, so I’m not really going to fault either man for perhaps not having the most spectacular of performances. Umalatov improved to 11-0 (1 NC) with this win, and this was his first professional fight that went to the scorecards.

BRETT COOPER (27-15, 169.75) VS TYLER HILL (10-5, 171) – WELTERWEIGHT

Cooper immediately began to hunt for a takedown. Hill defended the attempt well, but Cooper was able to catch him with some hard hooks before shooting for another attempt. Hill was having a lot of trouble dealing with Cooper’s pressure, and Cooper just continued to pour on right hands until he rocked Hill, badly. Hill was just sort of stumbling around the cage, trying to survive, but he was getting hurt, over and over again, until finally, Cooper landed one last right hand that just sent Hill face down to the ground.

WINNER: Brett Cooper by KO at 2:32 of Round 1

Cooper was aggressive from the opening seconds of the bout, and this quickly turned into a real beatdown. Hill seemed prepared to deal with Cooper’s wrestling but didn’t have any answers for his boxing. From a production standpoint, PFL was really messing with their camera angles throughout the fight, showing off their ref cam, and I thought it resulted in a bit of a disorienting viewing experience, especially for the finish of the fight. Regardless, this was a great performance from Cooper, who made his PFL debut here.

OLIVIER AUBIN-MERCIER (12-5, 1 NC, 155.5) VS DARRELL HORCHER (14-4, 159.25) – LIGHTWEIGHT

Horcher missed weight by 3.25lbs and was fined a percentage of his purse.

Aubin-Mercier attacked the lead leg of Horcher in the opening minutes. He connected with some looping left hands, but it was Horcher who landed the big shot of the round, dropping Aubin-Mercier hard against the cage with a left hand after rushing in with a flurry. Aubin-Mercier recovered quickly and ended the round with a takedown. 10-9 Horcher.

Aubin-Mercier continued to pick apart at Horcher’s leg and began to search for a takedown early in the second. He got Horcher to the ground, where he eventually moved into half guard. In the final minute, he was able to secure top mount, and began to throw down ground and pound, forcing Horcher to give up his back. Aubin-Mercier was unable to get the finish, but this was a very dominant round in his favor. 19-18 Aubin-Mercier.

Horcher was immediately taken back down to start the final round. Aubin-Mercier proceeded to smother him against the cage for the remainder of the round, winning the final five minutes decisively. 29-27 Aubin-Mercier.

WINNER: Olivier Aubin-Mercier by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 29-27)

Aside from the first-round knockdown from Horcher, this was a pretty dominant performance from Olivier Aubin-Mercier. The scorecards for this one were interesting, with all three judges scoring the fight differently, but all in favor of Aubin-Mercier. I can see the case for each of the scorecards, but I did think Horcher took round one with that knockdown. Aubin-Mercier is now 2-0 in PFL.

GLEISON TIBAU (36-15, 171) VS MICAH TERRILL (15-8, 1 NC, 170.75) – WELTERWEIGHT

Tibau secured an early double leg takedown, and almost immediately locked in an arm triangle. Tibau squeezed hard, and Terrill passed out in the submission.

WINNER: Gleison Tibau by arm triangle at 2:18 of Round 1

Once again, PFL chose to switch to the ref cam footage for the finish here, resulting in an awkward viewpoint for the end of the fight. It seemed to me as though the stoppage came a bit late here, but these things do happen on occasion. In Tibau’s last fight, he got the split decision nod over Rory MacDonald, which was regarded as an extremely poor decision. Regardless, it went down as an official win, and he was able to build on that with a dominant finish against Terrill here. Tibau is now 2-1 in the PFL.

LOIK RADZHABOV (14-3-1, 156) VS ALEX MARTINEZ (8-1, 1 NC, 155.5) – LIGHTWEIGHT PLAYOFF BOUT

Martinez beat Radzhabov by split decision earlier in the PFL season.

Radzhabov pressed Martinez against the cage to begin the fight, but Martinez was able to break away and land a nice combination. That luck didn’t hold for long, however, as Radzhabov was successful with his next attempt to bring things to the ground. Radzhabov wasn’t able to accomplish much with his top position, however, and Martinez made it back to his feet. In the final minute, Radzhabov landed a number of hard right hands, cutting Martinez up, and securing the round. 10-9 Radzhabov.

There was an impressive scramble towards the start of the opening round, which ultimately resulted in a stalemate against the cage. Martinez almost secured a takedown of his own, and while he was unsuccessful with that, he was able to hold Radzhabov against the cage for a prolonged period of time. A calf kick from Radzhabov knocked Martinez off of his feet, and Radzhabov began to work from his guard. He transitioned to the back of Martinez, but Martinez was able to turn into Radzhabov and scrambled back to his feet. Close round, but I had Radzhabov up 20-18 going into the final round.

Radzhabov threw a number of leg kicks early in the third round, before taking Martinez to the ground. He wasn’t terribly active, but picked up a solid amount of control time, with Martinez unable to create the separation he needed. In the final minute, Martinez nearly caught Radzhabov in a guillotine, nearly securing the late finish, but Radzhabov was able to shake him off before the end of the round. 30-27 Radzhabov.

WINNER: Loik Radzhabov by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

The fight was more competitive than the scorecards might indicate, but the right fighter got his arm raised here, as Radzhabov evened the score with Alex Martinez. With this win, the top-seeded Radzhabov secured his spot in the lightweight finals, where he will be set to face the winner of Clay Collard and Raush Manfio for the million-dollar prize. Radzhabov’s total record in the PFL improved to 4-3-1 with this win.

CLAY COLLARD (20-8, 1 NC, 155.75) VS RAUSH MANFIO (13-3, 156) – LIGHTWEIGHT PLAYOFF BOUT

Collard showcased some sharp hooks early, and Manfio responded with an uppercut. Manfio landed a knee to the body, and they exchanged leg kicks. Collard landed a right hand that clearly effected Manfio, before following it up with a nice knee in the clinch. Collard dug into the body a few times, with both fighters landing some hard shots to the head as time expired. 10-9 Collard.

They immediately started trading to kick the second round off in exciting fashion. Collard was ahead in terms of activity, but Manfio was landing some heavy shots himself. There were some wild exchanges on the feet throughout this round, with Collard eventually deciding to shoot for a takedown. Manfio defended the attempt, before avoiding a spinning head kick attempt. Collard started throwing these brutal body shots in a clinch exchange, forcing Manfio off of his feet, and Collard was almost able to lock in a choke before the end of a very entertaining round. 20-18 Collard.

Manfio cracked Collard with a right hand around the ninety-second mark of the final round. It seemed like Manfio was landing the harder shots throughout the third, but time wasn’t on his side, and it felt as though an increase in output was much needed for him with two minutes remaining. He caught Collard with a few more of those powerful right hands, but he couldn’t knock him off of his feet, and this one went the distance. 29-28 Collard.

WINNER: Raush Manfio by unanimous decision (29-28 all)

This was a very fun fight, especially that roller coaster of a second round. I was pretty surprised by the decision here, as I thought Collard took the first two rounds in a clear enough fashion, but I suppose the judges didn’t weigh the ending of the round heavily for whatever reason. I’d have to rewatch it, but I find it hard to see the rationale behind these scorecards. Regardless, Manfio got his arm raised here, cementing his spot in the division’s finals, where he will be set to face Loik Radzhabov. 

MAGOMED MAGOMEDKERIMOV (27-5, 1 NC, 171) VS SADIBOU SY (9-5-2, 1 NC, 169.25) – WELTERWEIGHT PLAYOFF BOUT

Magomedkerimov wasted no time in bringing Sy to the ground. While Sy was able to tie Magomedkerimov up on the ground, he was unable to escape from the bottom position, and this was an easy round to score for Magomedkerimov. 10-9 Magomedkerimov.

Both fighters clipped each other in the opening minute of the second round. Sy was able to stop Magomedkerimov’s next takedown attempts, and his confidence seemed to be growing on the feet. Magomedkerimov connected with a strong overhand right. With a minute remaining in the round, Magomedkerimov was finally able to get Sy back to the ground. He finished the round in top position. Close round. 20-18 Magomedkerimov.

Magomedkerimov continued to throw out that overhand right in the final round, and it was finding its home more often than not. Sy’s output was fairly low all fight long, but it was really betraying him in this final round when he was in need of a finish. Magomedkerimov pressed Sy against the cage for the final minutes of the round. 30-27 Magomedkerimov.

WINNER: Magomed Magomedkerimov by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

Sy took this fight on short notice after the top-seeded João Zeferino was forced to withdraw from the card a week prior. He didn’t really have much to offer Magomedkerimov here but managed to go the distance despite being in some rough positions in the first round. The former PFL champion, Magomedkerimov, advanced to the finals yet again with this win and improved his overall PFL record to 10-0.

RORY MACDONALD (22-7-1, 170.75) VS RAY COOPER III (22-7-1, 169.75) – WELTERWEIGHT PLAYOFF BOUT

MacDonald wrapped Cooper up quickly, in search of a takedown. He held Cooper against the cage for the first half of the round, but it was Cooper who eventually succeeded in bringing the fight to the ground, as he began to work from half mount. Cooper almost secured an arm triangle at the end of the round, leaving no doubt as to who won the opening five minutes. 10-9 Cooper III.

Cooper landed a strong hook to begin the second round, before taking MacDonald back down. Once again, Cooper was able to work his way into half mount. This time, they were eventually stood up due to inactivity, where they began to engage on the feet. Cooper seemed to get the better of the exchanges and quickly took Rory back down. Another strong round for Cooper. 20-18 Cooper III.

Cooper came out swinging in the third round, and he proceeded to stuff a takedown before assuming top position. Once again, Cooper was able to just smother MacDonald on the ground, easily controlling him for nearly five minutes, and he won this fight in convincing fashion 30-27 Cooper III.

WINNER: Ray Cooper III by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

MacDonald really had no answers for Cooper here. Cooper controlled the vast majority of the fight with his grappling, and when the fight went to the feet, Cooper looked better there as well. With this win, Cooper advanced to the PFL’s Lightweight Finals for the third consecutive season, where he will rematch Magomed Magomedkerimov, who beat him for the million-dollar prize in 2018. Cooper’s overall record in the PFL is 10-2-1 following this win.

About Eric Marcotte 134 Articles
A graduate of Laurentian University, Eric reports on Mixed Martial Arts at POST Wrestling.