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Hooker sees UFC 226 as opportunity to prove himself

Hooker sees UFC 226 as opportunity to prove himself
With three consecutive finishes in the UFC’s lightweight division and another big fight coming up this Saturday against Gilbert Burns, New Zealand’s Dan Hooker is on the fast track to the top in one of the sport’s toughest weight classes.

But if “The Hangman” decided to walk away from the sport today, he would have some stories to tell his kids and grandkids one day, like the time he fought a 282-pound heavyweight on three days’ notice.

“A heavyweight from my gym was fighting in the main event against that guy on the weekend, but he actually broke his hand at the last minute, three days out from the fight,” recalled Hooker, who weighed around 189 pounds at the time. “My coach came storming in and he was upset, he lost his main event, and I said, ‘Look, how much does the guy weigh? He can’t be that big.’

“120-130 kilos,” came the response.

“I’ll take the fight,” said Hooker, and in case you were wondering, his opponent, Mark Creedy, clocked in at 130 kilos for the bout. That’s 282 pounds. But Hooker won, using a soccer kick to the head of his downed foe to prompt Creedy to get up and say he was done.

“It was a bit of the wild west,” Hooker laughed. “Kiwi PRIDE rules, with downward elbows as well.”

That was par for the course for young Mr. Hooker, who actually took his first pro fight on short notice after only training for six months because he would get to fight without shin pads. In fact, he fought his first six bouts before asking his coach about the pro game.

“I was 3-3 before I even understood what pro was,” Hooker said. “I said, ‘Okay, how do I start working on my record like you see the guys in the UFC are?’”

“Dan,” his coach responded. “You’ve had six pro fights, those fights are on your record forever.”

“Ah, s**t.”


Looking back now, Hooker can laugh about those days, and when talking about his rude introduction to the fight game, he admits that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“It was a big learning curve. They kept throwing me in the deep end and I just kept learning how to paddle and learning how to swim. I wouldn’t take any of it back because it’s made me the fighter I am mentally where I have the experience. There were so many highs and lows that I really appreciate the sport and I don’t really take any of it for granted.”

At the time, he said he was “living in the moment,” with visions of the UFC and world titles far from his mind. And financially, that really wasn’t on his mind, as he estimates that he fought a quarter of his early bouts for free. So the million-dollar question has to be, what was it about this sport that made him stay?

“I really don’t know,” he laughs. “It’s just a bit of madness. It’s something that I found, and I could be broke, living in a gym and this is all I want to do. It’s something I set my mind to so long ago that doing this sport and pursuing this sport is the only thing that gave me fulfillment. It’s the only thing that I’ve always wanted to do and always chased. I didn’t overthink it, because if I would have overthought it, I would not be here. The smart money is not on fighting for free, getting beat up, having a mixed record, fighting anyone. This is not what an intelligent person does. (Laughs) But I kind of turned my brain off and trusted in the process that one day if I worked hard enough, something would come of it.”

Something has come of it for the Auckland native, who will be making his tenth walk to the Octagon this weekend just five months after his 28th birthday. In other words, he has experience and youth on his side as he begins to tackle the 155-pound weight class’ elite. And he knows that experience will serve him well moving forward.

“It’s another level of composure I have because I know full well what I’m getting myself into because I’ve experienced all of it,” he said. “I’ve been beaten up, I’ve been dragged out, I’ve been put to sleep, I’ve been cut, I’ve been bloodied. I’ve lost hard fights, I’ve won hard fights, so I know what it takes and the level of commitment in training that you have to put in to get consistent results. So I don’t take any of it back because everything in my career is like a melting pot that has gotten me to this point and I feel like every fight camp I’m getting better and getting stronger. I just have to keep focusing on the fight in front of me. I can’t look too far into the future. I have to stay calm, stay levelheaded and you can only have that by having this catalog of learning experiences.”

That doesn’t mean he’s hoping experience and talent alone will get his hand raised against the dangerous Burns. He knows it will take those extra intangibles to get the job done, but he’s got those too.

“Just because I’ve done everything right, just because I’ve poured everything into this training camp and it’s gone well and I’m healthy, it does not mean that you get to walk in there and get an automatic win,” Hooker said. “I’m gonna go out there and I’ve got to take it from him. I’ve got to take the fight to Burns and I’ve got to take it purely because I want it more than him. It’s the nature of the sport. Just because you’re supposed to win doesn’t mean you’re gonna win. You’ve got to go out there and prove it. And I’m gonna go out there and make a name for myself.”



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