The former PFL welterweight champion faces off with MacDonald with the winner moving onto the finals in October with a $1 million cash prize up for grabs. Of course, Cooper has already participated in two PFL finals, so he’s been there before and reaped the benefits of the huge bonus at the end of a season.
As he looks forward to his third trip, Cooper is excited to clash with MacDonald, whom he asked to face in his first fight of the season earlier this year.
While he knows that MacDonald is a dangerous foe, Cooper believes that the former UFC title contender and ex-Bellator champion has logged a lot of miles on his body over the years, and if he’s slowing down in the least, the heavy-handed Hawaiian is ready to make him pay for it.
“My stand up is way faster than him,” Cooper told MMA Fighting. “It’s going to be hard for him to get away. I don’t take my foot off the gas. People think I don’t have conditioning. I can go five rounds any day of the week. I’ll put the pressure on him. I don’t think he’s going to last very long.
“He ain’t young anymore like how he used to fight. He’s not as tenacious as he used to be. It’s going to be a tough night for him, and I can’t wait.”
At 32, MacDonald isn’t at an age where he would be accused of losing ground with the best fighters in the world, especially considering the impressive record he’s amassed just in the past few years. MacDonald’s only losses since 2017 have come in a middleweight fight against Gegard Mousasi, a hard-fought battle with former Bellator champion Douglas Lima and a highly controversial split decision setback to Gleison Tibau.
That said, MacDonald has definitely absorbed his share of damage over the years, including a broken nose suffered in a UFC title fight against Robbie Lawler in 2016 that seemingly plagued him for years.
For his part, Cooper believes he’s seen some tendencies in the way MacDonald has been performing lately that he expects to play to his advantages while seeking a definitive finish in this playoff matchup.
“I can put him away,” Cooper said. “I’m going to put him away, especially after my last performance [went to decision]. I’ve got to get that back. I’m going to knock him out. He don’t really move around as much as Nikolay [Aleksakhin] does, he’s kind of a kickboxer, so he was running away.
“I think Rory’s slower. I think he’s going to wrestle me. He’s not going to try and stand with me. I’m going to outwrestle him. There’s no way he can outwrestle me. I’m just going to pound him that night.”
In his PFL win earlier this season, MacDonald showed off his versatile fight game when he took Curtis Millender to the ground and submitted him less than four minutes into the opening round.
Cooper anticipates MacDonald seeking a similar game plan in their fight to avoid trading punches with him, but that’s certainly not a strategy he would shy away from.
As a former three-time state wrestling champion, who turned down scholarship offers in order to pursue his fighting career, Cooper welcomes the chance to showcase his grappling and he doesn’t expect MacDonald to like the result.
“Before I even started boxing, it was wrestling,” Cooper said. “I’m a wrestler at heart. If you think he can take me down and hold me down, by all means try, because that’s my main martial art.
“Once he feels me put the pressure on him, he’s going to shoot, try and take me down, I’m going to sprawl him out, get on top and pound him out.”