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Dan Hooker Isn’t Wasting Any Time Before His Next Fight

The Weekly Takedown: The lightweight fighter will be back in the cage just a month after his previous bout, plus predictions for UFC Fight Night and more.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Dan Hooker’s Quick Turnaround

Dan Hooker fought at UFC 266 in September, and he returns to the Octagon later this month at UFC 267.

UFC 267 was originally supposed to feature Islam Makhachev against former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, but dos Anjos was pulled due to injury. So Hooker (21–10), who delivered a unanimous decision victory against Nasrat Haqparast only a couple of weeks ago, now holds another great opportunity as he prepares to square off against the phenomenal (yet unproven in the top 10) Makhachev (20–1).

“My goal is to be known as the best fighter in the world,” says Hooker. “You need that gold belt to make that claim. That’s my ultimate goal, chasing the man with that belt, and a victory over Islam helps put me in that conversation.”

The 31-year-old mixed martial artist says a month off between fights did not deter him from the fight against Makhachev. Hooker is in the midst of a different kind of problem. He is a native of New Zealand, which has implemented some of the strictest measures in the world to combat the spread of the coronavirus. That means Hooker is apart from his family for long stretches of time before, during and after his fights, so it almost benefited him to have these back-to-back fights.

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“I need to support my daughter and do what’s best for her,” says Hooker. “Right now, that’s me going out and putting on a show. Providing for my family is something I cannot pass on.

“I’m just going to put my head down, work and focus on Abu Dhabi. When I am finished, I’ll bring my wife and my daughter to Las Vegas.”

This is a meeting of the No. 5 (Makhachev) and No. 6 (Hooker) competitors in the lightweight division. A victory here would be especially meaningful for Hooker, as it would mark his second win in a row following a devastating loss to Michael Chandler back in January at UFC 257. After that loss, Hooker left his gloves in the cage, leaving people to think his retirement could be imminent.

“That was sheer frustration,” Hooker says. “It’s also not the first time I’ve done that. I’ve had 10 losses, and I feel like I’ve done that with my gloves nine different times. If there is one thing I don’t have a problem with, it’s being a sore loser. I don’t want to be known as a good loser.”

Makhachev makes for an especially difficult matchup, with explosive ground-and-pound fighting and solid wrestling. But Hooker also has several ways he can win this bout.

“To me, any fight is a 50–50 contest,” Hooker says. “I know full well that I could submit any man in this world, or that I could knock out any man in this world. Now he’s got a lot going on; he created a lot of momentum. A lot of guys are beaten before they even step into the Octagon with him, but that’s something that won’t happen with me. I’m too experienced; I’ve been in the fight realm and these dogfights. My fans and I both know he’s in for a fight, and that’s a fact.

“I want the gold belt to prove I am the best in the world. So I need this victory at 267 in order to get there.”


Heavyweight Title Unification Bout Set for January

Francis Ngannou is set to return to the Octagon in January for a heavyweight title unification bout against undefeated interim champ Ciryl Gane.

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This has the potential to be an outstanding fight. Gane has never met anyone near the caliber of Ngannou, and the reigning champ has a lot to prove in his first title defense since winning the belt in March. It also marks yet another heavyweight title fight that does not feature Jon Jones.

Jones was arrested two weeks ago on charges of battery domestic violence. The list of Jones’s transgressions has continued to only grow over the years, but there is still massive interest in seeing him challenge for the heavyweight belt. Despite his recent problems, Jones is still likely to fight for the belt—and a timeline of next summer would make a lot of sense.

Even though Jones has not fought since February 2020—a point in time so distant that it was before the world shut down due to COVID-19—he will not have a tune-up fight before he gets his title shot.

Stipe Miocic also looms as a challenger for the winner of Ngannou-Gane. Jones and Miocic will instantly inject a shot of adrenaline into the heavyweight division.


The Pick ’Em Section

Here are my picks for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night:

Women’s strawweight bout: Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Rodriguez
Pick: Mackenzie Dern

Welterweight bout: Randy Brown vs. Jared Gooden
Pick: Randy Brown

Men’s flyweight bout: Tim Elliott vs. Matheus Nicolau
Pick: Matheus Nicolau

Women’s flyweight bout: Sabina Mazo vs. Mariya Agapova
Pick: Sabina Mazo

Middleweight bout: Phil Hawes vs. Deron Winn
Pick: Phil Hawes

Last week: 6–0

Current record: 28–15

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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