The Professional Fighter’s League couldn’t have drawn it up much better.
The PFL playoffs start Friday and will be headlined by one of the most intriguing matchups of the season. Welterweights Ray Cooper and Rory MacDonald will be the main event of PFL’s playoff matchup on ESPN2 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Cooper is the reigning champion. He won the PFL championship in 2019, reached the 2018 final, and is the No. 3 seed. MacDonald, a former Bellator champion and top UFC contender, was one of the PFL’s biggest off-season acquisitions.
Cooper is in unfamiliar territory as an underdog.
“It’s just another fight,” Cooper said. “He’s just in my way to get to the title match. I just believe that I can beat anybody, and he’s no different.”
MacDonald knows Cooper is a formidable opponent, but he also believes he’s the best welterweight. He had two successful title defenses at Bellator and was involved in one of the best UFC welterweight fights in history against Robbie Lawler at UFC 189.
MacDonald’s accolades are impressive, but so is Cooper’s resume. MacDonald began watching the PFL in 2019 when Cooper won the championship, so when he signed, he knew this day would come.
“I think I’m facing the upper echelon of the sport,” MacDonald said. “I feel like I’m competing at the same level as when I was in UFC fighting for the title there and Bellator also.”
The other welterweight semifinal matchup pits Magomed Magomedkerimov against Sadibou Sy. Magomedkerimov was originally scheduled to fight top-seeded Joao Zeferino, but he’s out because of injury. Sy is the replacement.
“It felt amazing to get that opportunity, but at the same time, I felt sorry for Zeferino,” Sy said. “I actually texted him and wished him a speedy recovery.”
Top-seeded lightweight Loik Radzhabov faces Alexander Martinez in the first fight on the main card at 9 p.m. Radzhabov lost their first meeting on a split decision in April. They’ll be followed lightweights Clay Collard and Raush Manfio.
Don’t sleep on the lightweight division.
Many eyes were on the PFL’s welterweight division coming into the season, but former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis joined the 155-pound group and some thought he was a shoo-in for the playoffs. Manfio and Collard each beat Pettis. If not for the main event, Manfio and Collard’s match probably would offer the most appeal.
“I think I’ve been underestimated my entire career,” Collard said. “I have my fans and the people backing me and those are the people I fight for.”
Action begins on ESPN+ at 5:30p.m. with six prelim matches. Playoff winners advance to the PFL championship on Oct. 27 and compete for the $1 million prize.