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When the PFL was first conceived, Jake Shields looked as though he’d found the perfect organization to carry out the what was left of his MMA career. Not only was season structure suited to him psychologically in that it was essentially a tournament — something he said truly appealed to him — but the seven-figure dangling carrot at the end was visible from where he stood. The only thing he had to do was win some fights against lesser known opponents, using his grappling to minimize the damage he’d take through the journey.

If only MMA followed such straight lines. Shields stepped into the cage at PFL 3 in Washington DC to face 25-year-old Ray Cooper III, a name he was well acquainted with from the old days. That’s because Shields fought Ray Cooper Jr. —Ray’s father — back in Honolulu back in 2004. He beat him via a first-round submission, while Cooper III was just 11 years old. Shields was inadvertently giving somebody’s son a chance to avenge his father’s loss, the kind of thing that feels too Hollywood to be true.

And that’s exactly what Cooper III did on July 5 to kick off the PFL’s 2018 season. “Bradda Boy” unleashed a bit of hell on Shields, highlighted by a steady dose of his powerful left hand. Not in the least bit intimidated by Shields’ six-inch height advantage, Cooper played deliberately with Shields’ ground game, fearing nothing from the moment he pulled guard in the opening seconds. Playing with fire? No, he was playing with power. In fact, he opened up a cut on the very first left he threw, alerting the 39-year-old veteran that he meant business. From there he made thousands of eyes pop open at once, using powerful inside punches, short hooks, and uppercuts.

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