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Dan Hooker waits backstage during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at Fiserv Forum on December 14, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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Dan Hooker Changes His Approach

Lightweight Looks To Balance His Fireworks With Technique Ahead Of UFC 257 Co-Main

Last July, after getting his three-fight win streak snapped by Dustin Poirier in Las Vegas, Dan Hooker somberly took to Instagram to write:

UFC 257: Dan Hooker vs Michael Chandler Preview
UFC 257: Dan Hooker vs Michael Chandler Preview
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“My whole approach needs to change. Being a nasty son of a gun that loves to scrap got me this far. But I'm missing a huge piece of the puzzle, the "championship mindset". I experienced it against Poirier and I saw it last night with Volk. To everyone on this journey with me, I will make the necessary adjustments and be back stronger than ever. I have lost many times, but remain undefeated.”

Asked about where he is mentally as he enters Saturday’s UFC 257 co-main event against former Bellator champion Michael Chandler, “Hangman” admits it’s a “complex question” that maybe isn’t so easily answered.

Dan Hooker on UFC Fight Island

“I changed my whole outlook; changed my whole approach to the sport. The way I was approaching it was the reason I kept getting into fights like that. It’s like changing part of your character or changing part of who you are, which is not a thing you can be aware of and just click your fingers and be like ‘Oh, I need to throw my right hand a bit more’ or ‘I needed to throw a lift-kick a bit more.’ Something technical is simple to change. But your entire approach to the sport, which is like your entire approach to life? It’s a massive shift.”

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His shift proved that despite training with the same people day after day, month after month, year after year, that you can still have those eye-opening moments that help you plot a new course. And it’s yet another credit to Eugene Bareman’s tutelage at New Zealand’s City Kickboxing.

“I’ve come to the realization that I like to fight more than I like to win. Then I’m going out and watching my teammates like Israel [Adesanya] go out and fight very technically. I’m going out and watching Alex Volkanovski. His fight against Max Holloway had to be the biggest shift. Because he had a tough first two rounds, getting caught early. At that moment then, I would have just been like, ‘Oh well, let’s go then! My back’s against the wall. Let’s fight back.’ But he stayed so composed. He stayed so technical, and it led to the result that he got. It led to him retaining the world title. So I can learn from my teammates and emulate different parts of that. Less of going out there to get in a fight. More to win a contest.”

UFC 257: Dan Hooker Finding Tactical Aggression
UFC 257: Dan Hooker Finding Tactical Aggression
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To be sure, Hooker has won plenty of contests, including an instant-classic 2020 Fight of the Year contender over Paul Felder. But win or lose, it’s almost always a firefight and a war of attrition where both parties take immeasurable damage. For a fighter as close to belt contention as Hooker, a little extra longevity could be the difference between a split decision loss and a title shot. It makes sense on paper, but the Kiwi understands it’s easier said than done, and that the old approach lingers just below the surface.

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“You can say it all you want,” he laughs. “But you get put in a situation where he catches you with a few good shots…the blood still boils. It still does in the gym. It still does in training. It’s just maintaining that composure.

“That approach, that’s what I came into the UFC with. You see all the young fighters when they  come into the UFC, they’re just like ‘Man! 50K bonus! I’m gonna get a Fight of the Night bonus! I’m gonna get a Knockout of the Night bonus! I’m gonna get 50 grand! 50 grand!’ At the time, I was broke. That can change your life. 50 grand paid for my wedding. It bought my house, it got me to where I am. But the point I’m at now, 50 grand is not going to change the world. And that approach is going to cap the longevity of my career.”

Beyond that, he points out, his firefights don’t paint an accurate picture of who he is as a mixed martial artist.

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“I feel like I’m doing my technique and my ability a disservice by going out there and doing that and just throwing it all away. I’m not fighting the way I know I’m capable of fighting: very technically, very smart, very systematically. That’s something I know I’m capable of, so I feel I’ve been letting myself down.”

Dan Hooker poses for a UFC 257 portrait on UFC FIGHT ISLAND, 2021 (Photo by Juan Cardenas/Zuffa LLC)
(Photo by Juan Cardenas/Zuffa LLC)

Himself maybe, but not fight fans. Across his UFC tenure, but particularly in recent years, Hooker has stood out as must-see TV in a ridiculously talent-laden division.

“I’m not saying boring or anything like that,” he says, assuring he’ll “still put on fantastic performances, like Volkanovski puts on fantastic performances, Israel Adesanya-fantastic performances. It’s the balance of the two—the excitement and the tactics. It’s fighting how I know I can fight.”

 

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