Brunson shuts out Cooper, wins PFL debut
Former UFC middleweight contender Derek Brunson is 1-0 in the PFL SmartCage.
Brunson made his PFL debut Friday night at the 2023 championship event, dominating two-time welterweight champion Ray Cooper III via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-25, 30-25) in Washington.
"I wanted to finish him, but I got the job done," Brunson said in his postfight interview.
The 39-year-old secured his first victory since parting ways with the UFC in September following an 11-year stint in which he came close to a title shot.
After the fight, Brunson expressed interest in welcoming Jake Paul to the cage. The PFL signed a deal with the YouTube star turned prizefighter in January and plans to eventually air his first MMA fight, potentially in late 2024.
Brunson relied on his wrestling to smother Cooper in all three rounds. Cooper dropped Brunson with a left punch midway through the first frame, but Brunson quickly scored a takedown. He advanced to full mount and landed consistent ground-and-pound for roughly two minutes.
Brunson controlled Cooper's back for almost the entire second round. Cooper surprisingly took him down early in the third, but Brunson reversed the position and racked up another three minutes of ground control to close the fight.
Brunson was initially expected to compete in the light heavyweight season in 2024, as the PFL doesn't currently have a middleweight division for the season format. But following the promotion's acquisition of Bellator earlier this week, Brunson appears to have another option on the table: a middleweight title fight against Bellator champ Johnny Eblen.
Eblen attended Friday's event, and Brunson told MMA Junkie's Mike Bohn after the win that he's open to a matchup against Eblen next.
Brunson snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory, his first since September 2021. Cooper, who missed weight for the fight, is now 1-2 in his last three bouts. Cooper won the PFL welterweight title in the 2019 and 2021 seasons.