While some of the PFL’s big ticket signings this season didn’t pan out, Rory MacDonald is giving the league at least one matchup it had to have been craving.
MacDonald takes on 2019 champion Ray Cooper III in the welterweight main event of PFL 7 on Friday at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., with a spot in the 2021 PFL finals on the line. Magomed Magomedkerimov, the 2018 champion, is on the other side of the bracket, which means the 170-pound final four includes two PFL champs and a former Bellator titleholder.
The MacDonald-Cooper matchup pits the No. 13-ranked welterweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings against a homegrown PFL talent who can make a case that his name belongs among the division’s best with a second consecutive league title. It’s a welcome marquee matchup for the league after seeing former UFC champions Fabricio Werdum and Anthony Pettis flame out during the regular season.
The lightweight semifinals aren’t short of intrigue in their own right as MMA fighter-turned-boxer-turned-MMA fighter Clay Collard looks to continue his Cinderella run to the million-dollar prize when he takes on Raush Manfio, who has his own unlikely tale to tell. Plus, 2019 finalist Loik Radzhabov looks to ride the momentum of a 27-second knockout of Akhmed Aliev when he rematches Alexander Martinez, who defeated him by split decision in the regular season opener.
What: PFL 7
Where: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Ray Cooper III vs. Rory MacDonald
Rory MacDonald has been a step above his PFL competition so far (and yes, that includes Gleison Tibau, no matter what the absurd scorecards said), but he has a difficult road ahead of him as he has to get through Ray Cooper III and (I expect) Magomed Magomedkerimov to snag that seven-figure prize.
On paper, MacDonald has the clear edge in a few areas. He has a big height and reach advantage and he knows how to utilize his jab to set the tone in the standup. Cooper is going to have a hell of a time getting past the long arm of MacDonald and it’s easy to picture a scenario where he gives up the first round just trying to figure MacDonald out.
Where MacDonald might begin to falter is if Cooper can time a few strategic flurries and threaten with his power punching. He also has enough of a wrestling base that he can stuff MacDonald’s takedown attempts and threaten to put MacDonald on his back. It’s entirely possible that Cooper controls stretches of this fight from top position while scoring with ground-and-pound.
But I think this takes place primarily on the feet with MacDonald avoiding major damage for the most part while sniping away at the shorter Cooper. There will be some tense moments for sure, just nothing that MacDonald can’t navigate through.
MacDonald by decision.
Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Sadibou Sy
This is a nightmare matchup for Sadibou Sy.
A skilled and powerful striker, Sy has done well for himself in the PFL despite not having the most well-rounded game. He throws with accuracy and has good finishing instincts, which has led him to first-round knockouts of some sturdy opponents in the past couple of seasons. However, it’s doubtful that Magomed Magomedkerimov gives him any opening to get his standup going.
Magomedkerimov is arguably the best wrestler in the PFL and, with respect to Ray Cooper III, would probably be going for a three-peat this year had an illness not knocked him out of the 2019 playoffs. He needs to shore up his striking defense, especially considering how dangerous Sy can be on his best day, but otherwise he should have no issue taking Sy to the ground and finishing with a submission or strikes.
Clay Collard vs. Raush Manfio
Someone’s feel-good story is about to hit a snag.
Will it be Clay Collard, who went from shaking up the boxing world to shaking up the PFL lightweight division with a season-opening upset of Anthony Pettis? Or Raush Manfio, who won a pair of split decisions to get to this point and narrowly avoided having to fight Natan Schulte, the godfather of his child? How MMA would that have been?
Whichever way this fight goes down, it should be a fun one. Collard and Manfio are going to take the center of the cage and throw down from second one. This is going to be a classic, in-the-pocket, striking battle and I don’t see either guy getting too far ahead on the scorecards for the duration of the fight.
Were I picking this one to end in a knockout, I’d go with Manfio; however, I’m predicting a decision and that favors the more disciplined boxing of Collard.
Loik Radzhabov vs. Alexander Martinez
The first fight between Loik Radzhabov and Alexander Martinez was a close one and the result probably surprised some viewers who may have favored Radzhabov’s top control over Martinez’s submission attempts and the damage Martinez did on the feet. Given how competitive that fight was, this should be another coin-toss matchup.
I’m going with Radzhabov to make the necessary adjustments to get the win this time around. Radzhabov just wasn’t busy enough offensively, using his wrestling more for position than to make any significant attempt to end the fight. Against a less well-conditioned opponent, that might have worked, but Martinez was active in every phase of the game and that earned him the decision. Radzhabov let that first fight get away from him.
Don’t expect him to make the same mistake twice. Radzhabov’s wrestling is still the best weapon in this matchup and as long as he can maintain pressure for three rounds and do a little more damage than before, he should avenge the loss to Martinez.