Dan Hooker not shying from ‘hardest road to the title’
  • Dan Hooker not shying from ‘hardest road to the title’
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  • Jul 05
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  • By Katrina Mahoney

It’s not for a brash personality or inflated ego that Dan Hooker stands out as a competitor.

Beneath the polite, easy-going exterior is a fiercely dedicated student of mixed martial arts. For Hooker, climbing the UFC rankings isn’t about fame or notoriety, it’s simply about testing himself against the world’s most elite competition.

Prior to his last fight against Jim Miller, “The Hangman” spoke of wanting a ranked opponent next. With those contenders booked shortly thereafter, that ultimately didn’t come to fruition. So Hooker, unwilling to sit on the sidelines, signed to fight Gilbert Burns, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion with knockout power.

“You can’t plan anything in this game. You just have to take it one fight at a time. More than sitting out and waiting for a ranked opponent, I wanna get back in there and compete against the best guys in the world. That’s my real passion. Not chasing rankings or things like that. That’s just a nice bonus, but I would just prefer to fight regularly,” Hooker said.

With the UFC’s lightweight division being deep and talent-rich, Hooker believes the difficult journey to the top makes the belt that much more valuable.

“I feel like if I’m gonna be the champ, I would prefer to be the champ in the division with the most guys with the hardest road to the title, then I feel like it really counts for something. It’s not like people don’t know that lightweight is the toughest division to make a name for yourself. Lightweight’s savage, man. There’s like 160 guys. The top 30 guys could contend for a title. It’s a real deep division in the UFC,” said Hooker.

In his last fight, Hooker knocked out Jim Miller with a perfectly-timed knee in the first round. A highlight-reel finish against a tough veteran was a performance worthy of animated celebration. Not from Hooker. In a strikingly calm manner, he took out his mouthpiece, brushed his hair off his face and patiently waited on the other side of the octagon with arms folded behind his back. Hooker explains the reaction was mostly because he felt like it wasn’t a very good fight.

“It was alright, got a knockout and that, but I don’t think my performance was that good,” Hooker said.

For the spectator, it’s impossible to see where he’s coming from, though Hooker compared it to his fight with Marc Diakiese last December which was “more of a puzzle.”

“I like fighting for the challenge, and the game. It’s like incredibly fast-paced chess and I felt like the Diakiese fight was… there was a lot going on, small stuff, in terms of positioning and just little, small technique battles.”

With three straight wins since moving to lightweight, Hooker looks to continue his momentum against Gilbert Burns at UFC 226 this weekend.

“I’m gonna hit him with an armbar, helicopter sweep and then omoplata him,” Hooker said with a laugh. “Getting a nice choke would be pretty sweet as he’s so well-faired on the ground.”

So well-faired in fact, that Burns is scheduled to headline Polaris 7 on July 14, the weekend following UFC 226.

“That’s pretty bold, like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m gonna get out of fighting Dan Hooker scot-free and then go and fight this jiu-jitsu match,’” Hooker said of the decision.

“That’s hopeful thinking so let’s leave him feeling hopeful.”

With another training camp in the books, Hooker is confident he’s adequately prepared for Burns.

“It’s been good, well, good as in I mean terrible. We’ve been out here grinding seven days a week, three times a day, four times a day, for the last two months, so I’ve definitely again paid the price to play. I’ve paid the price to get in there and I’ve earned the right to feel confident as I’m standing in that cage, ‘cause I’ve done all I possibly can to prepare for this match-up,” Hooker said.

A training camp which has flown by with the recent opening of his new gym, The Combat Academy. Eager to share his passion and knowledge of the sport, coaching was an inevitable venture for Hooker. In just three weeks, he’s impressed with the development of his students and says their thirst for knowledge is “reinvigorating.”

“It’s good to see them catch the fire that I caught so many years ago.”

UFC 226 will be held this Sunday, July 8 (AU) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hooker vs. Burns will be the featured bout on the UFC Fight Pass Preliminary card which airs from 6.30am (AWST).

  • Jul 05
  • |
  • Katrina Mahoney

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