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Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald wins PFL debut via first-round submission


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Canadian welterweight Rory (Red King) MacDonald, returning to action after 18 months, made short work of his Professional Fighters League debut with a first-round submission win over (Curtious) Curtis Millender at PFL 2 on Thursday.

MacDonald (22-6-1) took Millender down after a lengthy struggle at the fence, eventually taking his back. He applied a body lock, attacking his thigh with heel strikes. Eventually MacDonald worked his arm under Millender's neck to secure a rear-naked choke and force Millender (18-7-0) to tap three minutes 38 seconds into the bout.

The fighters landed a total of just seven strikes, five of which were by MacDonald on the ground. 

It marked the first outing for the 31-year-old MacDonald, a native of Kelowna B.C., who now makes his home in Montreal, since Oct. 26, 2019, when he lost his Bellator title to Douglas (The Phenom) Lima.

MacDonald signed with the PFL in December 2019 but had to wait for his debut after the promotion cancelled its 2020 season due to the pandemic.

"I put in a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice over 2020 and this year so I'm really glad to be here and have a good performance like that," Macdonald said after the win.

MacDonald was originally set to face David (Bulldawg) Michaud. But the 32-year-old Michaud announced April 8 that tests had revealed a congenital heart defect, ending his MMA career.

Michaud (18-6-0) reached the 2019 PFL welterweight final, but was stopped in the second round by (Bradda) Ray Cooper III.

Cooper (21-7-1) needed just 83 seconds to submit France's Jason Ponet (20-13-1) in the co-main event Thursday at the Ocean Casino Resort. 

Cooper caught a Ponet knee attempt and slammed him to the canvas before setting up the arm-triangle choke. The hard-punching Hawaiian won without throwing a strike.

Earlier, Joao Zefferino (25-9-0) won a 29-29, 29-28, 29-28 decision over Gleison Tibau (35-15-0) in an all-Brazilian welterweight matchup

The welterweight bout between Russia's Nikolay Aleksakhin (24-5-0 with one no contest) and Sweden's Sadibou Sy (8-5-3 with one no contest) ended in a no contest when Aleksakhin was unable to continue because of an accidental eye poke. each fighter emerged with one point.

The Professional Fighters League, formerly known as the World Series of Fighting, works on a set schedule unlike other MMA promotions.

The PFL features six divisions each with 10 fighters, who each fight twice during the regular season. Fighters earn performance-based points, with three points for a win, plus bonus points for knockouts and submissions.

The top four in each weight class advance to the playoffs, seeded based on their point totals.

The 2021 PFL World Championship is slated for New Year's Eve with the winners each earning US$1 million for being crowned PFL champions.

MacDonald and Cooper lead the welterweight standings with six points.

The 33-year-old Millender, who has lost four of his last five fights, has fought in both the UFC and Bellator. He won his first three in the UFC before losing the next two and moving to Bellator where he split his last two outings.

MacDonald went 1-2-1 in his four previous fights. While he beat Neiman Gracie, he fought veteran Jon Fitch to a draw and lost by TKO to Bellator middleweight champion Gegard (The Dreamcatcher) Mousasi.

MacDonald prepared for the fight at Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Fla., due to pandemic-related restrictions on training back in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021

The Canadian Press