Rory MacDonald pulled off an old-school trick when he couldn’t get the rear-naked choke against Curtis Millender, using a diversion to get the tapout at the 3:38 mark of the first round in the PFL 2 headliner.

When Millendar fought MacDonald’s hands, trying to stay alive after giving up a takedown, MacDonald gave up one of his hooks and used it for heel strikes to his opponent’s thigh.

Seeing an opportunity to escape, Millender began to scramble. But that’s when MacDonald seized the neck and secured the submission for a six-point score in the headliner of Season 3’s second PFL event at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.

The venue served as MacDonald’s home for 17 days as he endured one last hurdle to a return after signing with the tournament-based promotion in December 2019, only to go on lockdown as the pandemic broke out.

“I put in a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice over 2020, so I’m really glad to be here and have a performance like that,” MacDonald said afterward.

“The Red King” also assured fans he’d display more of his striking – as soon as the PFL fixed what he said was a slippery mat. MacDonald is back in the win column after a setback to Bellator welterweight champ Douglas Lima ended his tenure in the ViacomCBS-owned promotion. UFC vet Millender has lost four of his past five.

Cooper III makes quick work of Ponet

Ray Cooper III only needed one opening to finish Jason Ponet.

A knee from Ponet in the clinch was caught by Cooper III, who slammed his opponent to the canvas and then seized an arm-triangle choke. Squeezing across Ponet’s body, Cooper III got the tap at the 1:23 mark of the opening frame for a six-point haul.

Ponet hoped to neutralize Cooper III’s heavy hands early with a takedown attempt. But the sprawl was strong in Cooper III and he waited things out until Ponet made a mistake.

The Season 2 champ has now won three straight.

Zeferino edges Tibau in snoozer

Gleison Tibau and Joao Zeferino never got out of first gear as they sparred for three rounds.

Tibau found a little bit of success with a takedown. He held his own in the clinch. Zeferino landed several kicks at distance. Occasionally, the two tagged each other with punches. But neither fully committed.

In the end, judges decided Zeferino’s work at distance was more meaningful, handing him unanimous 29-28 scores for three points in regular season play.

Sordi outlasts Camozzi in grinder

At the end of three rounds, Season 2 light heavyweight winner Emiliano Sordi and UFC vet Chris Camozzi were so exhausted, they were nearly motionless with exhaustion.

But it was Sordi who had managed to get to mount after nearly getting knocked silly by punches thrown after Camozzi managed to right himself after the champ’s attempt to slam down a few punches as he was on his back.

The three-round fight was a war of attrition, but it was Sordi who took home the unanimous decision via two 29-28 scores and a 28-27 tally. Sordi picked up three points in his regular season total and avoided the fate of three other champs who fell short in their first Season 3 outing.

Camozzi gave as good as he got in the first round, landing several heavy punches as the two went toe-to-toe and slugged it out. Sordi’s grappling was the ultimate decider, though, with a takedown opening a rear-naked choke to close the frame.

Sordi has now won six straight, while Camozzi has lost back-to-back fights.

Full PFL 2 results:

Rory MacDonald def. Curtis Millender via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 3:38

Ray Cooper III def. Jason Ponet via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 1, 1:23

Joao Zeferino def. Gleison Tibau via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Emiliano Sordi def. Chris Camozzi via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-27)

Antonio Carlos Junior def. Tom Lawlor via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 1, 4:43

Cezar Ferreira def. Nick Roehrick via KO (punches) – Round 1, 0:37 | (Watch finish)

Sadibou Sy vs. Nikolay Aleksakhin is declared a no-contest (accidental eyepoke) – Round 2, 1:56

Marthin Hamlet Neilsen def. Dan Spohn via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 2, 0:52

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