Ep. #83 – Ray Cooper III

Ray Cooper III is a Hawaiian mixed martial artist who competes in the Welterweight division for the Professional Fighters League. His family is iconic in Hawaii MMA, and Cooper was the winner of the 2019 PFL Welterweight tournament after reaching the finals in 2018.


Ray Cooper III: All right, so, how is that life there in hawaii and how has it been throughout the time life is good um. I just been hanging out i’m doing my own thing right now, since our season got cancelled and with this whole pandemic thing and um just been helping. My cousin um really helping him get ready and uh yeah. That’S pretty much. It first things. First congrats on the uh on the twins. I know that’s probably got you uh, you occupied, what’s it like being at home with a full house? Oh that’s good! Um! I came from a big family, so um, that’s nice, nothing! New! To me! It’S just! I got my kids of my own and i’m happy and i love it and i’m just blessed that god gave me the opportunity to fight and stay home and be my family. So with everything going on, like you’ve mentioned the the season being canceled. What’S it kind of like you know, i’m sure you want to get back in there. I’M sure you want to fight. So how does it feel just happen to be kind of like forced to sit on the sidelines and not stay active um? It’S really frustrating. As of now, because since my cousin’s father is like man, i want to fight and just being there and in the atmosphere again, it’s just like. I need to get a fight already and we got ta get get past this thing already, but all in all, it’s a good time to take off from i fought two years. I fought ten fights in two years, so it was the most i ever fought and being that active and it was good to um brush some minor injuries and just heal my body and just be my family and wow, and i’m really not i’m really not struggling. So it’s not a it’s, not a big deal. If i don’t fight too so um yeah, it’s kind of right, but i got ta get back in there soon does part of you wish they had even like, maybe not a tournament format, but maybe just some events. You know just a couple of fights just to kind of like keep fighters busy, because you know you, you got to stay active and i’m sure you know a year off, for some fighters is nice, but for people who like to fight and who have grown up Fighting their entire lives, i’m sure they’d like to just stay active and just make sure that they don’t develop. Some ring rust, um, yes, um. I wish we had it, but i with our season and our in our league format. They want to keep it true to that, but we can’t we couldn’t predict this this this um, this pandemic, that happened so um, i’m hoping they have a one-off fights like just probably one at the end of the year or or soon you really mean so because There’S a couple guys that would like to get my hands on and be in the pfl, especially the new guy on the block laura mcdonald. Talking on his smack, like he’s gon na, do something but um ariana. It’S a good opportunity for for him because he’s coming off of two losses in beta tour, so i don’t know what the big hype is on him and yeah. I just want to get a crack at him soon. I love that fight. I mean he’s he’s very, very exciting. He had a couple of very, very big fights, both in the ufc and bellator. I think that would be great um. How does it feel? I want to talk a little bit about the tournament? How does it feel to finally win it? I mean in 2018, you were so close, you were you were one fight away from winning it. It must feel nice to have uh be able to say you know what i won the tournament. How did it feel in 2019 picking that up felt it felt good felt like a? I got a small accomplishment um, but i was i’m looking to to reign and to keep keep winning titles um. It was just uh just one step that i had to get over this, that one mishap that i had in the first season, um. That was my first time fighting a big organization like that, let alone fighting uh in a tournament style like this. So i was. I was kind of over a little overconfident because how i finished all my opponents in the first four fights going into the finals – i was a little too confident, but i grown. I grew from that from that season and just have to um keep my head focused and focus on the tasks and and yeah. Well, obviously, in the playoffs um megaman couldn’t continue, so that’s the guy. I really wanted. He couldn’t continue. So that was a big win for me. He didn’t want to fight. It goes to show you that i wanted a strong survivor in a tournament style like this, and not many fighters are are built to fight twice in the night and it’s something you just have to do and yeah. So i love it. It plays right into my my skill set and i’m happy. One thing i want to talk about is that fighting two two times in one night i mean you, don’t see it in ufc, you don’t see it in bellator, it’s something! That’S strictly uh pfl. How do you go back? You know, knowing you just got into a fight, you’re tired, you’re, you’re hurt you’re beat up knowing you still got, ta go back out there um as someone who’s done it. I think twice now right, you did it in 2018 and 2019. What’S the co, what’s it like, you know going back there and how do you stay like motivated and concentrated and focused for the fight? The second fight um, it’s um to me. It’S just just like wrestling uh wrestling. You got ta wrestle like four times in a sometimes. If you lose, you got ta go backside. You have to wrestle four times to even get podium, so i’m listening to it. Um, there’s nothing new to me. I just really just like wrestling and it’s just fighting, but it was a good experience. I liked it. You just got to keep your mind focused you kind of um game plan on any any other guy, because you don’t know who’s going to win, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Anything can happen especially like with mega man that happened just with. In my last in the last season, he he won and obviously i don’t know what happened he couldn’t continue so chris curtis had to step in and that’s what i mean you cannot be set on one guy. You got to be ready for anything. That comes your way, so um i’m ready for that. My dad he um. He puts that in my mind and we have to be ready for anybody. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of you. You’Re going to just run, run right over them. So yeah, it’s a it’s an awesome feeling it’s a very exciting feeling to fight in a tournament like that. One thing i want to touch on is to start off 2019. You had to fight someone you’re very, very familiar with what was it like having to compete against a cousin. I mean i’m sure, that’s as someone who’s close to my family. I’M sure that’s wasn’t an easy decision. Saying yeah, i’m gon na fight him um, so kind of talk. What it was like both accepting the fight and and be like going out there and knowing you’re gon na, have to punch and hurt a family member um yeah. It was um. It was tough uh because uh we were, we were training partners before he’s older than me. So, as i was getting into fighting, he was. He was already kind of fighting a lot in in hawaii and um we trained together, so it was uh. It was. It was kind of it’s kind of hard but being have me, and him have beef down here for for a while, just because he he just he he left, he was training all together and then he left eight fr teams to go with these other guys and Um he started mounting off a little bit and um yeah. It was just uh, it’s just you just got ta put that aside. If your family, that wants to try to challenge you and go in your own way because he’s a bigger guy he he could have, he could have went to 185. You know what i mean, but he chose to go to 70. He knew that um. I was there so in that case you just got to put that family stuff aside and if they want to challenge you, you have to do whatever it takes for your family in general um. It doesn’t matter so yeah. It was hard, but i had to get it done and yeah want to touch on another cousin of yours who, who looked very very, very impressive last weekend in kai kamaka um. I interviewed him a little while ago before i even fought in lfa and uh. I was like i could tell his mentality was on another level and uh man describe what it was like uh watching him and being there to see him pick up that ufc uh ufc win um, it was, it was so awesome. He he’s one he’s our workhorse. He he’s been training and going through all kind different different things. That’S been happening with him um his two injuries he had with his shoulder um. He fought like once a year. He fought in bellator once and then he hurt his shoulder and he had to fight it. He hurt his shoulder again, so it was just a multiple of adversity that was coming his way and to see him climb over that and just go out there, and especially in the lfa go out. There beat this undefeated guy and in the way he did it. He stood right in front of him and if he’s watched his previous fights he he never fought like that because he was cutting weight so much 235. His body was like breaking down and he really couldn’t perform like how he how he could and seeing him perform. How he, how what he’s capable of doing it was just awesome, and i was i was so happy for him and he worked so hard. That’S why every every day he’s he’s like, though we train together so he’s like the first guy, we’re gon na, be running running our miles he’s the first one that finishes like he’s, always he’s so motivated and dedicated and disciplined to his his eating habits. Everything everything about him he’s so he’s so headstrong, and i was just super happy for him and yeah. It was a awesome experience to see him finally get his his dream and you know i’m just really happy for him. What was it like cornering in an empty arena? I mean i’ve, see i’ve heard spiders talk about it, they’re like man, it’s weird, some people don’t even notice, but if someone moves in the corner, what was it like? Um, you know in hawaii. Our shows is not that packed either, so you know it’s, it was kind of like it was kind of like just fighting back at home and um just in front of a just in front of the biggest stage in the world. Then it really didn’t bother us because that that kind of stuff that he wrestled in he wrestled naia, so he’s used to being in front of big big crowds and wrestling like, especially in the midwest like that you don’t get any bigger crowds than that like he Been out there and that really didn’t affect him, but for me it was just. It was just like another sparring session. It’S in our garage, that’s what i was explaining it’s just another sparring session. That’S all it’s just another practice because it really felt like it was because there was no no fans, it was just a few people and yeah. It really didn’t affect us and yeah. We was ready. I want to touch a little bit about hawaii mma in general. I mean it all started with bj penn and then brad tavares, uh, yu, tai, guerder. Now kai kamaka, it really has started to grow and i think the one thing um that’s kind of stayed consistent is the fighting style. You know any time someone from hawaii goes to fight. You know what to expect it’s just someone who’s going to come out there and swing and be tough and and has changed to steal. So so, where does that come from? How does that fighting mentality come out of such a small area um? I i have no idea when that is just something: that’s in our blood, i guess and um. We was just me and him was born into it, watching our father’s fight, and you know um from the super bowl days. I don’t know if you ever heard of super brawl, um yeah back, then the arenas was more packed than the yes. You know are at our blazing, it’s only a little blaze, though it’s like sony. I think it only holds like 8 000 people, but it felt like it was like 50 000 people, so um yeah, it’s just i don’t know we just watched like our fathers. Do it my uncle my dad and it’s just how we were raised just to just like at school and we’re fighting on the streets, you fight, we have to fight. You got ta fight. If you to um to protect yourself, you got ta, know how to fight. So it was just spreading to us from a young age. I do want to touch a little bit on that i mean your. Your dad is a is a legend in hawaii mma. What’S it like kind of following in his footsteps and even kind of taking it to the next level, i’m sure that winning that tournament means a whole lot to you, but maybe even more so to him. So what’s it like to kind of follow his footsteps? What does it mean to you as a son um? For me it was uh. I knew i wanted to do this as a living for him. It was more like a like a hobby to him because he had to you know to work and provide for us. So it was just a. It was just a way for him to um. Just get out of stop just get his mind off of working and um. Knowing that he can compete, it was, it was, that’s. That’S all. It was and um to have me fight in a big arena, let alone fighting in front of inside the mandalay bay, and i mean uh, the mgm grand in las vegas. It was, it was a. It was a very a sight to see and yeah. I know that he was he was proud of me. He never knew that. I mean they would take off this big, so he was um. He was really proud of me and uh yeah yeah. Do you see your kids maybe one day, fulfilling and like following your footsteps and maybe going down that route and is that something that you’ve considered um yeah, just not probably not just following my footsteps, because i was a real knucklehead kid in you know in high School and um – i really i could have wrestled in college and uh. I think i, if i, if i wrestled in college, i would have had more, i would have been there more quicker and uh. I think i would have been more mature. So that’s one thing i think i should have. I should have listened to my my parents and uh get some a little bit more maturity going to college wrestling personally in college. So my sons, maybe my sons and if my daughters want to do it, but i’m gon na, let them let them choose right. Now: they’re gon na focus on just just wrestling and um being the best in in the state and then we’ll see i’ll cross. That bridge, when i get there, so you still got some time to think about that stuff. I’Ll, ask you a couple more questions and then i’ll uh and then i’ll. Let you get going um. So i want to ask a question about another hawaii legend who just lost two times in a row max holloway um. Both of them were very, very, very close uh, as i’m sure a friend and someone who who lives right there with him. What’S your advice to him, does he should he take a step back or do you say like maybe just go for a big fight, just go for another big fight, or do you think the smart thing to do is to take a step back um, i’m not Too sure, because with the success he had, it’s just like it comes down to like what. Why am i doing this? Because these judges is like, i already thought he won his last fight. You know i was bummed out, you know, and i think he should take a step back and think about it, because you kind of keep letting this go to the judges, because it’s not gon na. It’S not gon na play out for you and um. I think he’s still he’s still one of the top guys in the world at that weight and um uh. I think he should. I think he should move up in weight actually because i think he’s cutting a little too much he’s a big he’s, a big guy, not a small guy, so yeah, i don’t know. I just wish the best for him and i hope he um. He keeps just being focused and staying strong as as someone who’s competing in pfl. You know a lot of people talk about the ufc being the biggest organization in the world. Is that something that you’ve considered to? Like? I’M sure you want to you win the pfl you’ve done. That is there. Is there a desire to maybe like pick up a ufc title or a bellator title to be able to just like add, more accolades, um yeah, especially after this one um? Yes, my cousin fought um you’ve seen the atmosphere of the ufc and um yeah. I i’m thinking about. I i thought about it and thinking about it. I thought about it, but right now with the pfl um, it’s just i like fighting into two times in a night i like fighting consistently. I like that big payday at the end of the at the end of the year so – and this is only our second year and we got on top of espn, so i think the pfl still has plenty room to grow. I think i can. I can stay there and still get planning fights and i just want to be active and with the ufc, i i don’t think they’re that active with some other fighters um, but especially now they’re the ones that fighting we’re. Not so you know what i mean uh. It’S uh, it’s uh entertaining idea, but i believe that if i keep fighting with the pfl, the money is only going to go up in the at the end of the year part it’s going to keep going up. It’S going to we’re going to start getting to like boxing level um money, so um yeah, i’m i’m i’m pretty satisfied right now and i’m going to be at the pfl for a while there’s a big fight that was recently announced with israel, edisania fighting paolo costa. I mean we knew about it for a while, but it was officially announced i kind of built this platform based on making match-ups and making predictions. So i can’t go without asking you who do you have winning that fight um? I, like costa, i like how i like that’s like the way he fights and the way he brings the pressure and i think, he’s he’s gon na. I think he’s gon na smash right through his robot. Israel is an awesome fighter, too he’s a good stand-up guy, but i think um koster is just too too explosive and he has the ground game too. If he wants to take him down, i don’t think israel has that that high level of a ground game his his stand-up is very high level. So it’s going to be a awesome fight, but i’m picking uh costa for that one all right man. Thank you. So much for the time i’ve been a fan of yours ever since you started jake shields twice uh. I didn’t want to talk about it because i’m sure you get asked that question. 24. 7. um. But man i’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. So i appreciate you taking the time. Thank you man. Thank you, hello, thank you for taking this time for the interview all right, man, all the best in in 2021, all right, hello. Thank you.

Sergio Pineiro

Sergio Pineiro is the Founder of FighterPath.com and host of the Quarantinecast podcast. Based in Canada he is both a sports journalist and MMA enthusiast. He practices the sport but has a passion for the individual stories of training, fighting and living the fighting lifestyle.

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