PFL World Championship Recap: Derek Brunson dominates Ray Cooper III

2023 PFL Championships Ceremonial Weigh-Ins at The Anthem in Washington D.C., Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

Kicking off the PPV main card of tonight’s PFL World Championship event was a middleweight showcase featuring one of the promotion’s newest signings. Former top UFC middleweight contender Derek Brunson (23-9) was making his debut in the Smart Cage against former welterweight champion Ray Cooper III (25-8-1).

For Brunson, this marked his debut with the promotion. In 2021, he made a run towards another UFC title shot having won five straight. However, after back-to-back losses, he wanted a change of scenery and made his way over to the PFL. While early indications said he’d compete in the 2024 light heavyweight season, he was getting a 185 showcase tonight.

Ray Cooper III didn’t compete in the 2023 regular season after vocalizing he could no longer make welterweight. The former welterweight champion struggled to make 170 after winning the 2021 championship. He wants a middleweight division and is finally getting a shot at 185. However, he still missed weight for this bout showing his weight issues still aren’t under control.

PFL World Championship Recap

Round 1

The PFL middleweight bout kicked off with an immediate spinning back kick from Brunson. Hooks from Cooper and then Brunson gets a body lock. Brunson pushes Cooper back against the fence and using a lot of leverage here. Cooper tries to reverse the position, but Brunson looks to be the much stronger man early on.

They break away and get back to distance. High kick from Brunson just misses. Cooper pressing forward and eats a body kick. 1-2 from Brunson lands. Front kick to the body from Brunson. Leg kick from Brunson and a lunging right hook lands for Cooper. Body lock from Brunson and he gets the back of Cooper.

Heavy back pressure from Brunson here against the fence. Halfway through the round and Brunson lifts the leg of Cooper. Cooper briefly drops Brunson and Brunson bounces back up. Big shots from Cooper and now a takedown from Brunson. Brunson immediately gets to the mount and starts raining down punches.

90 seconds left and Cooper is in all kinds of trouble. Massive shots from Brunson. Cooper isn’t defending well here at all. Tons of shots from Brunson and the referee is doing all he can to give Cooper a chance. Tons of shots landing but the referee isn’t stopping this. The former PFL champion is going to survive.

Round 2

Entering the second round and both men looked gassed in between rounds. A slow 1-2 from Brunson and Cooper is really pressuring right now. I think he senses that Brunson is completely gassed here. Single leg attempt from Brunson and he gets Cooper down. Immediately on the back is Brunson.

Nice shots from the back land from Brunson. Cooper is just hanging on here and Brunson lands two more big shots from the back. Brunson is in full control here two minutes into the second round. Cooper tries to posture up but Brunson gets a hook in to keep him there. It looks like Brunson might be looking for a choke.

Cooper looks like he has nothing from the bottom right now. Two minutes left in the round and short shots are landing for Brunson. Brunson gets his second hook in to get the full back mount. Back out and 90 seconds left in the round. Brunson is just controlling the former PFL champion here.

Big shots now from Brunson and Cooper tries to get back up. Brunson looks to be attempting a choke here and then Cooper gets out of it here. Cooper rolls to his back and there’s huge shots from Brunson. The round ends and it’s a dominant one for Derek Brunson.

Round 3

The final round at the PFL World Championships and Cooper immediately pressures Brunson. Cooper is going to need a finish here and he’s going for it with this pressure. Huge 1-2 from and Brunson slips. Takedown from Ray Cooper now and he settles into the guard.

Brunson tries to attack a triangle and now Cooper moves to half guard. Beautiful reversal from Brunson and now he has the top position. He pushes Cooper against the fence and he’s unloading punches now. Less than three minutes to go and it’s going to take a miracle from Ray Cooper here.

Brunson settles into guard and lands five straight shots. Halfway through the final round. The referee warns them for activity and Brunson immediately starts working those shots. Big shots from Brunson now and there’s less than two minutes to go.

This is a one-sided bout and now there’s just about a minute left in the fight. Cooper looks completely defeated on the bottom here. Less than a minute left now and Brunson is well on his way to getting his first PFL win. Big hammerfist from Brunson now. Two more big shots from Brunson. Cooper is just holding on at this point. The fight ends and this is going to be a lopsided decision win for Blonde Brunson.

Derek Brunson def. Ray Cooper III by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-25, 30-25)