Feelin’ Like A Million Bucks

Ray Cooper III (pictured) defeated his cousin Zane Kamaka by second-round submission during a Professional Fighters League regular-season MMA bout on May 9, 2019, in New York. AP PHOTO/GREGORY PAYAN

Pearl City’s Ray “Bradda Boy” Cooper III cashed in big time after kicking and punching his way to the Professional Fighters League’s welterweight championship.

Last year ended with a bang for Pearl City native Ray “Bradda Boy” Cooper III, and it wasn’t just the fireworks that made it so special. While most of the nation counted down to midnight on Dec. 31, Cooper was at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden for Professional Fighters League’s New Year’s Eve championship, where he defeated David Michaud for the welterweight title and earned a cool $1 million in the process.

The bout was a true comeback story for Cooper, who lost the same title fight to Magomed Magomedkerimov by guillotine choke in 2018.

In this match, however, Cooper came out swinging — and Michaud didn’t even know what hit him. Referee Keith Peterson called the fight in the second round, and the rest was PFL welterweight history.

Remarkably, the Pearl City High graduate remains humble in the aftermath of his victory, even though he has big plans for PFL’s season three.

Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (left) presents Ray Cooper III with the PFL welterweight championship belt. RYAN LOCO PHOTO, COURTESY PFL

“I’m getting ready for the next season. I’m planning on winning multiple championships, winning multiple big checks like this,” he promises.

Cooper, whose record stands at 20-7-1, topples his opponents with swiftness and efficiency.

“I can stand and box, and I can wrestle on the ground,” he says of his well-rounded repertoire. “I finish guys standing up; I finish guys on the ground. I take them out. My main goal is to not let it go to a decision.”

The training he puts in to achieve such results is long and arduous at Lion of Judah, the gymnasium conveniently located “in the garage of my house in Pearl City.”

The hometown hero goes on long runs at least three days a week, and follows those jogs up with wrestling and hand-to-hand combat drills to perfect his technique, as well as weight training to improve his strength and endurance.

Just don’t count on him exercising restraint when it comes to the type of food he chows down or the size of its portions.

Ray Cooper III (left) defeated David Michaud by TKO in the second round of Professional Fighters League’s 2019 season championships back on New Year’s Eve.

“We train hard, so I just eat whatever I like,” Cooper says with a chuckle, noting his preferred fare are kalua pig, laulau and plate lunches — or basically anything from Highway Inn.

His newest fave, though, is all-you-can-eat Gen Korean BBQ House in Pearlridge.

“We do plenty damage there,” he says.

It’s safe to say that Cooper’s interest in mixed martial arts runs in the family. His dad, Ray “Bradda” Cooper Jr., was a phenom in his own right back in the day, defeating the likes of Hermes Franca, Antonio McKee, Jutaro Nakao and Jake Shields.

“I used to watch my dad when I was younger,” Cooper recalls. “He was doing it as a hobby.”

Cooper has been wrestling since the age of 5 and competed while at Pearl City High, where he won OIA and state honors. He remembers his mom, Monica, taking him to his father’s MMA matches, as well as to wrestling tournaments.

Celebrating Cooper’s win are (from left) cousin Kai Kamaka III, dad Ray Cooper Jr., and wife Kelly, mom Monica, and brothers Blake and Makoa Cooper. RYAN LOCO PHOTOS, COURTESY PFL

The eldest of six children, Cooper’s interest in MMA trickled down to brothers Bronson, Blake, Daylen and Makua, and sister Makana.

“As the oldest, you gotta do the right thing,” Cooper says. “Don’t get off track and don’t set a bad example.”

He was always hard on his siblings growing up, but the one thing he always took pride in was exhibiting the same tenacity and drive his dad demonstrated as a fighter.

In fact, it was the elder Cooper’s bouts with Shields — one win, one loss — that sparked young Cooper’s interest in mixed martial arts.

“After that fight, I knew I wanted to fight MMA, and I knew I wanted to fight Jake Shields,” Cooper says.

And fight him he did. Cooper went head-to-head with Shields twice, just like his father did, and beat the former Rumble on the Rock champ by TKO in July and October of 2018.

Cooper — whose walkout song of choice is Polynesian People by Norm — has been a force on the MMA circuit since turning pro at age 19.

Following stints with Destiny MMA, Star Elite Cage Fighting, Gladiator Challenge and X-1, Cooper found himself signing a deal with PFL at the tail end of 2017.

He admits that his first season was filled with trepedation. But the 5-foot-9 warrior quickly shook off those nerves

and promptly plowed through the competition, highlighted by three straight wins against Pavel Kusch, Shields and Handesson Ferreira.

“After I beat Jake Shields, everyone knew I was a real threat in the division,” Cooper recalls. “It was a little overwhelming.”

His victory against Michaud marked his second win in a row after a draw with Sadibou Sy.

So what’s next for the newly crowned welterweight champ?

Well, he has eyes fixed on the upcoming PFL season three opener, and he has high hopes of meeting ex-Bellator champion Rory MacDonald in the ring. MacDonald, is a veteran fighter who’s trained with the likes of retired MMA champion Georges St-Pierre, and is remembered here locally as the one who beat B.J. Penn back in 2012.

But before any rumors of season three can even begin, Cooper will enjoy a nice respite at home doing the type of things most local boys do.

“Just cruising, hanging out with my friends and family, and going to the beach,” he relays.

He’ll also be helping coach his alma mater’s wrestling team at Pearl City High and enjoying some much-deserved rest before the real training begins in the spring.

And PFL’s third season can’t come soon enough for Cooper, who cites the league’s focus on fighter well-being and elite competition as definite pluses.

“It’s not just about the talking,” Cooper explains. “It’s about getting in the cage and fighting, and that’s why I love it.”