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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Matt Erickson

Kai Kamaka III credits cousin Ray Cooper III for big-time PFL influence

CHICAGO – Kai Kamaka III got tossed into the deep end of the pool for his PFL debut Friday, but had a confidence boost thanks a family bond.

Kamaka (13-5-1) outworked Bubba Jenkins (21-8) for a unanimous decision at the PFL’s third and final event of the first half of the 2024 regular season in Chicago. The win gave Kamaka 3 points in the featherweight standings.

After the fight, Kamaka, a Bellator transfer from Hawaii who now has won four of his past five, said advice from his cousin, Ray Cooper III, helped ahead of his PFL debut. Cooper is a two-time $1 million PFL winner at welterweight.

“I was kind of teary-eyed this morning,” Kamaka told MMA Junkie and other reporters after his win over Jenkins. “My cousin Ray surprised me for my fight, and then locking eyes with him right before the fight started – I mean, just full circle. Five years ago, I was following him around this league from the East Coast.

“I wish we both could have been competing tonight, but I think it was more of a blessing that he wasn’t because I think I would have been even more nervous. But to see him today, and then during the fight, him giving me assurance, he lit more of a fire under me, especially between that second and third round, seeing him standing up and then, you know, locking eyes with him again – he just brings a different fire to me.”

Kamaka’s 3 points in the featherweight standings have him in a three-way tie behind Brendan Loughnane and Gabriel Braga, who got first-round finishes for 6 points.

A win for Kamaka against whoever he’s matched up against in the second round in late June will be critical to make the four-man postseason, and a finish might be even more important, though the 29-year-old said he’s just concerned about getting a ‘W’ and not gunning for a finish.

“The season picks up from here,” Kamaka said. “It’s whoever can stay healthy, whoever can have the strong mind and keep going. But I don’t have bad weight cuts. I don’t need too much time to rest. I heal my body up good and I’m a student of the game. The tournament picks up now.

“I’m just trying to frickin’ win fights. I keep winning, you move on. The win, then the finish, that’s all for PFL – but I’ve got to make my money and I’ve got to keep winning.”

Welterweights fought on the card with Kamaka’s featherweight division Friday at Wintrust Arena, but Cooper wasn’t in the field. He won the welterweight season in 2019, then again in 2021. In 2022, he missed weight for his first bout of the season and despite a 24-second KO in his second fight, missed the playoffs.

Cooper moved up to middleweight in 2023, but dropped a decision to UFC vet Derek Brunson, and against Bellator welterweight champion Jason Jackson earlier this year, he lost a catchweight fight. But despite his current hurdles, Cooper remains a steadfast influence in Kamaka’s career.

“He was there in my UFC debut,” Kamaka said. “He probably pulled me through to that one, too. The turning points in my career, if it wasn’t for him doing so well in the PFL, I don’t even think I’d be anywhere in my career.

“After he was doing well, he won the championship, that’s when my career started to come around because during his camps, I’m right there with him on everything. Seeing him win, I knew I was doing everything right, and that helped turn my career around. That just pushed me. That just gave me assurance that I was doing the right things.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for PFL 2024, Week 3.

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