When the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 PFL season, Hawaii’s Ray Cooper III was not given a chance to defend his 2019 PFL welterweight title.

Cooper last fought on Dec. 31, 2019 in a TKO victory over David Michaud, winning the PFL welterweight tournament and the robust $1 million grand prize that came with it. Despite the life-changing amount of money, Cooper insists his life hasn’t changed.

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“Life hasn’t changed one bit. I’m more financially stable, but nothing changed, I didn’t change anything, anything crazy,” he told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “This is just one big opportunity to get my family set for life and I’m gonna keep doing it and I got another opportunity coming up too.”

A multi-sport athlete growing up, Cooper was able to frequently ride his dirt bike around the island during his time off last year. During the PFL’s media availability on Monday, Cooper mentioned buying multiple bikes for his family members as one of the purchases he made with his prize money. It also helped him him stayed sharp in the PFL’s year away.

“I feel the same getting back into (competition). I feel the same. I just can’t wait to compete. I’ve been off for a while and I feel good. I wasn’t training that much, offseason just cruising. Riding dirt bikes, trail riding, a whole new level of conditioning too because you gotta muscle around on a 270-pound bike up hills,” Cooper says. “It’s one of the most dangerous and physically demanding sports around and that’s what I’ve been doing as my training for most of the year and I trained with my brother them and my cousins after they left for Vegas so I was doing something the whole year and nothing skipped a beat for me, I’m ready to get back and finish what I started.

“It’s really important. You cannot base your life only around one thing, you gotta spread out and do other things and I grew up playing football, playing wrestling, grew up riding. We’ve just been mixing things and keeping things fun, keeping things to how we used to do them when we was younger and just being young, thinking I’m a young kid again and having a lot of energy and just going out there and competing. … I love this and I wanna do this ‘til the day I die.”

Cooper’s first fight towards a PFL welterweight title defense will be televised Thursday on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. HST when he takes on Jason Ponet. The bout between Cooper and Ponet comes right before the main event between former UFC and Bellator standout Rory MacDonald and Curtis Millender. Despite being the defending champion, Cooper was not given the main event treatment in his first fight back. It’s a fact he’ll keep in mind if he gets the opportunity to face MacDonald next.

“Nothing changes. I’m not worried about him. He’s nothing. I’m gonna face him, run him over and I just think that I’m gonna be the main event,” Cooper said of MacDonald. “He’s not gonna be the main event. Everybody knows who’s coming out there to finish fights and I finish fights. These guys don’t finish fights so I’m the main event that night, that’s it.”