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Some believe Dan Hooker bit off more than he can chew. Time may prove otherwise.
“The Hangman” will replace former champion Rafael dos Anjos in a ridiculously treacherous short-notice assignment, as he collides with Islam Makhachev in a UFC 267 lightweight showcase on Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Hooker has rattled off eight wins across 11 appearances since putting down roots in the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight division. He last competed at UFC 266, where he halted a two-fight losing streak with a unanimous decision over Nasrat Haqparast on Sept. 25.
As Hooker prepares to take on the surging Makhachev—he of the eye-popping 20-1 record—at 155 pounds, a look at some of the rivalries that have shaped his career to this point:
Hooker put away the Sanford MMA export with punches in the first round of their UFC 226 lightweight prelim on July 7, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Burns succumbed to blows 2:28 into Round 1, as he suffered the first stoppage loss of his career. Hooker clipped the four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion with a slashing straight right in the center of the cage, then cut off his bid for a takedown with a tight guillotine choke. The City Kickboxing standout reset himself on the feet, went to the body with a savage left hook and fired another left hook to the head. Burns hit the deck, where he was met with a closing hammerfist that prompted referee Mark Smith to intervene. In hindsight, the performance was one of the driving forces in Hooker’s unexpected rise to stardom at 155 pounds.
The former Ring of Combat champion wiped out Hooker with a left hook to the body in the third round of their UFC on Fox 31 co-main event on Dec. 15, 2018 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Having an administered a barbaric beating, Barboza closed the deal 2:19 into Round 3. The Brazilian was in prime form, as he destroyed the inside of Hooker’s lead leg with his patented Louisville Slugger kicks before targeting the head and body with his fists and shins. Barboza was almost sadistic in his approach, answering the City Kickboxing product with increasing violence at every turn. He doubled over Hooker with multiple spinning back kicks below the navel in the third round, reset and then sealed the Kiwi’s fate with a wicked left hook to the liver. With that, referee Rob Hinds had seen enough and informed “The Hangman” that it was time to live to fight another day.
The moment was not too big for Hooker, and he emptied his tank to prove it. A City Kickboxing lynchpin, he continued his unlikely climb to contention in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s cutthroat lightweight division and eked out a split decision over Felder in the UFC Fight Night 168 headliner on Feb. 23, 2020 at Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand. All three judges scored it 48-47: Howard Hughes and David Lethaby for Hooker, Barry Foley for Felder. It was as hotly contested as the scorecards indicated. Hooker outstruck the former Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder in the first, third and fifth rounds, zapped his mobility with a sustained barrage of kicks to the lower leg and executed a pivotal takedown late in Round 5. Still, both men had a legitimate claim to victory. Felder wobbled “The Hangman” with a straight right in the fourth round and staggered him again in the fifth, to no avail.
“The Diamond” on June 27, 2020 called upon every ounce of his resolve, steadied himself in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight pecking order and picked up a unanimous decision over Hooker in the UFC on ESPN 12 main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three judges sided with Poirier—48-47, 48-47 and 48-46—in a remarkable fight where the competitive spirit of both men was hot to the touch. Hooker built an early lead through stellar work in the first and second rounds. He answered Poirier’s aggression with some of his own, attacked the American Top Team mainstay’s base with leg kicks and fought exceptionally well at close range. Hooker strung together a devastating punching combination in the waning moments of Round 2, then punctuated his efforts with a well-timed knee that gave his opponent real pause. Poirier, however, refused to go away. He found another gear in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, where he outlanded Hooker by significant margins on the feet and countered takedowns from the Kiwi with sustained bursts of offense off his back and an active submission game.
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