Canadian fighters Rory MacDonald and Julia Budd set to launch 2021 PFL campaigns
MacDonald (22-8-1) came on board in December 2019 but had to wait until last year to make his debut after the 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic. The former UFC welterweight contender opened 2021 with a first-round win over Curt (Curtious) Millender but then suffered a controversial split-decision loss to Brazilian Gleison Tibau – mmajunkie.com called it steal of the year – and a unanimous decision loss to eventual champion Ray Cooper III in the welterweight semifinals last August.
On Friday, MacDonald will face American Brett (Fudoshin) Cooper (28-15-0) while Budd will meet New Zealand lightweight Genah (Fabioso) Fabian (4-2-0).
The 2022 season started with cards on April 20 and 28. The regular season continues with shows on June 17, June 24 and July 1.
Budd and MacDonald both look forward to what lies ahead. Barring injury, they’ll each have two regular-season fights before the playoffs in August. The championship card will take place on a date yet to be announced in the fall.
“I love it,” Budd said of the PFL format. “I’ve studied all the opponents who are in the squad and I’m just super excited. It’s my first year here and so far I’m enjoying every second of it. I’m excited about the format of the season. I’m excited to see how busy I can be this year, and I plan to go out on Friday and really kick off amazing.
MacDonald added: “It’s a fresh start, a clean slate. I will take advantage of my disappointments from last year and learn from them… I feel like the work I put in during the off-season will pay off.
Friday’s PFL Main Event 3 at the eSports Stadium in Arlington, Texas sees two-time Olympic judoka champion Kayla Harrison of the United States open her campaign for a third straight PFL lightweight title against Russia’s Marina Mokhnatkina.
In the co-main event, Ray Cooper from Hawaii takes on Brazilian Carlos Leal Miranda. Also on the card, former UFC lightweight champion Anthony (Showtime) Pettis meets Ireland’s Myles Price.
Like Brett Cooper, MacDonald had his first professional fight as a teenager in 2005 and has a wealth of experience. The Montreal-based fighter went 9-4-0 in the UFC with a memorable and bloody loss to Welterweight Champion (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 in 2015.
In 2017 MacDonald moved to Bellator where he went 3-2-1 and won and lost the 170lb title.
Brett Cooper has fought in Bellator and a host of other promotions.
“I feel like we’ve had equal experiences at the elite level. He’s obviously been more popular and the reason he’s been more popular is because he fought in the UFC,” the 34-year-old California-based fighter said. “I’ve fought everywhere but the UFC – Bellator, PFL here now and every other big organization.
“I feel like that was kind of the path I could have had. He did really well. But I feel like I get on well with him. The experience is pretty equal, I would say. I look forward to the battle of the first generation hunters. We both started MMA early on. We didn’t wrestle, box or kickbox. We both started doing everything at the same time.
MacDonald had his first professional fight at age 16, his parents having to give their approval to do so. Even then, only a few sporting commissions would sanction the youngster.
Brett Cooper made his debut at 18.
“Fighting wasn’t quite legal in California yet, so there were some underground fights,” he recalls.
MacDonald, 32, took three months off after the defeat to Ray Cooper before returning to training. He divided his preparations between Tristar, his longtime gym base in Montreal, and Austin, Texas, where he trained alongside former UFC fighter Tim Kennedy, a member of the special forces of the U.S. Army, and famed Brazilian jiu-jitsu trainer John Danaher.
“Honestly, I think the time I spent in Texas working with the guys there was a real blessing and I feel great. I feel like I’m the best in the world and I can’t wait to get out there and show it off.’ said MacDonald
Budd’s mission in the PFL is simple.
“I came here to dominate,” said the 38-year-old from Port Moody, BC.
Facing the very experienced Budd, Fabian, 32, may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The Kiwi were stopped by Harrison in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
“I’m learning on the job at the highest level and in one of the best promotions in the world,” Fabian said. “Every fight, every weight cut, every camp, I’m constantly evolving, learning and progressing at a rapid pace.”
Fabian has strong sporting credentials. She was a star sprinter and triple jumper as a teenager, before switching to rowing. She fell in love with combat sports during a trip to Thailand, before switching to MMA after winning a kickboxing world title.
Fabian had won three consecutive PFL victories before falling to Harrison. Unable to return to New Zealand due to pandemic travel restrictions after that loss in August, she held camp in the United States
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 5, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press