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Dan Hooker Has Earned This Moment

"This will be my 14th proper fight in the UFC. I feel comfortable where I am — I feel comfortable in the main event, I feel comfortable fighting in front of my home fans because I feel like I’ve earned this spot."

As Dan Hooker readies for his hometown main event showdown with Paul Felder this weekend at Spark Arena, there is no part of the moment that feels unexpected or unsettling for the 30-year-old lightweight from Auckland.

“I don’t feel like this has been thrust upon me or any kind of surprise,” said Hooker, who enters his bout with Felder on a two-fight winning streak and coming off the biggest win of his career over Al Iaquinta last October at UFC 243. “This will be my 14th proper fight in the UFC. I feel comfortable where I am — I feel comfortable in the main event, I feel comfortable fighting in front of my home fans because I feel like I’ve earned this spot.

“I’ve paid my dues in the UFC. I’ve done a lot of heavy lifting over the years being the first New Zealand-based fighter to be in the UFC and just gut it out,” added the City Kickboxing representative, who blazed a trail for a host of teammates who have made waves inside the Octagon over the last several years, including champions Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski. “I feel like I’ve grown and developed as a fighter in front of everyone’s eyes, in the UFC, whereas a lot of fighters will develop outside of the UFC and then make a splash.

“I developed in front of everyone’s eyes. You can go back on UFC Fight Pass and watch all my fights, watch my entire UFC career. This just feels earned. It feels like it rightfully should be mine.”

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Hooker has seen firsthand how a fighter can go from zero to 100 in a flash inside the Octagon, having watched his teammate and training partner Adesanya embark on a 20-month run where he went from making his promotional debut to unifying the middleweight title in the span of seven fights, becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport in the process.

While the charismatic “Last Stylebender” has rocketed to the top of his division, Hooker has taken a very different path to contention in the deepest division in the sport, beginning his UFC tenure by going 3-3 at featherweight before he refused to shoot himself in the foot trying to make the 145-pound limit any longer and relocated to lightweight.

That move coincided with shifting his training to City Kickboxing, and the returns have been undeniable, as Hooker has gone 6-1 over his last seven fights, transforming from a dangerous, but inconsistent, featherweight to a lethal finisher in the loaded lightweight ranks.

Having been forced to navigate rough waters during his featherweight days and work his way up the fight card incrementally throughout his career has made each subsequent step up feel properly timed and earned for Hooker, who feasts on pressure and isn’t fazed by any of the peripheral elements attached to his fights.

UFC Auckland: Dan Hooker Pre-Fight Interview
UFC Auckland: Dan Hooker Pre-Fight Interview
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Dan Hooker talks about headlining his first UFC event in his home country.


“It was weird in Melbourne — I was very calm when I got there and I was sitting out back, thinking, ‘I’m going to need some coffee to wake up,” he said with a laugh. “I thought over 50,000 people would be enough to get me going, but the heart rate was a little too low, so I went and had a bunch of coffees.

“I’ve slowly been building each and every time,” continued the seventh-ranked lightweight, who began his UFC career with a first-round stoppage win over Ian Entwistle in the same arena back in June 2014. “I need more pressure to get the best results. You make your debut on the prelims and your next fight, you’re like, ‘I want more of a rush; I want something bigger.’ You slowly build — main card, then a pay-per-view prelim, then a pay-per-view main card, and a co-main event, and a main event.

“I need more rush. I need more at stake,” he added. “I love this sport. I love doing it. I love the risk. I love the reward, the excitement of it. Everything is on the line and it’s what I get out of bed for.”

There is plenty at stake and plenty of risk this weekend when he steps into the cage with Felder, who similarly enters on a two-fight winning streak and coming off the biggest victory of his career.

While this weekend’s main event was booked at the end of November, the history between these two dates back to April 2018 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Serving as the analyst and in-cage interviewer on the UFC Fight Night broadcast, a suited Felder stepped into the Octagon to speak with Hooker following his first-round knockout win over veteran Jim Miller, his third straight win since relocating to lightweight. When asked if there was anyone he’d like to potentially face next, Hooker politely asked Felder if would be interested in mixing it up a few months’ time.

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The fight didn’t come together as Felder was otherwise engaged, but it planted the seeds for a potential clash in the future, and although their initial encounter on the Jersey shore was cordial, the build to this weekend’s clash has been anything but.

“I don’t feel like this fight needed any trash talk,” said Hooker, who didn’t take kindly to some of Felder’s pre-fight comments. “He’s generally very respectful, I myself am a very respectful guy, and I feel like Spark Arena would have sold out regardless of any kind of trash talk.

“I thought it was very unnecessary, but I’m not opposed to hostility,” he continued, chuckling. “That’s something I thrive off of and I enjoy very much. I try my very best to never be the one that casts the first stone — I’m always as respectful as I can be until I feel someone is being disrespectful towards me, and then I’ll match it.

“And let’s be honest here: this is my show,” Hooker added. “I’m the reason why Paul Felder is here. I’m the reason why Paul Felder is in a main event.”

As much as he was put off by Felder’s comments, he acknowledged that they felt different than previous instances where opponents bumped their gums in the lead up to fight night.

Those times, he said, it always felt like they were putting him down in an attempt to pump themselves up — “they were projecting their own fears on me,” as he put it — so he didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of a response. This time, however, Hooker believes it was a case of Felder looking to show he’s a bankable main event commodity.

Although he can understand where it came from, he won’t let it slide.

“I don’t feel like he’s trying to insult me out of any kind of fear or anything like that,” he said, speculating about what prompted Felder to make this personal. “The pressure is on him for his first main event and he wanted to show he’s marketable and he could sell a fight. I feel like that’s where it came from, but regardless of that, disrespect has been shown and we’ll sort it out in the cage.”

Along with getting the opportunity to sort out his differences with Felder, the hometown headliner knows that this weekend’s bout is also about answering some of the questions that continue to hover over him as he looks to make a push towards title contention in the lightweight division.

His lone setback since relocating to the 155-pound ranks came in a hard-fought, punishing battle against Edson Barboza, whom Felder edged out on the cards in his last appearance. With the Brazilian seemingly headed down to compete at featherweight, Hooker sees Felder and their fight this weekend as his best chance to prove himself against another high-level striker and take the next step forward in his pursuit of championship gold.

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“There is definitely (the possibility of) a bit of redemption for the Barboza match because he’s coming off a win over Barboza in his last fight,” he explained. “Paul is the closest thing I’ve got to answer those questions that a lot of people have about ‘Is this the style that is my kryptonite? Is this the style that I can’t match or master?’

“I know what happened, I know what I’m capable of doing, so those questions don’t bother me at all,” said Hooker, “but I feel like having a win over him, this becomes my redemption fight and be the fight that answers a lot of those questions.”

And with an additional 10 minutes to work, Hooker is confident he’ll be sending Felder home with half the money he intended to bring home from his trip to Auckland.

“I don’t go out there trying to hit you a million times, trying to do all this crazy stuff or trying to win rounds,” began the local finisher. “I sting you once and it’s done.

“In 15 minutes, I feel a little bit rushed to land my one shot, but with an extra 10 minutes — over 25 minutes I’ve only got to sting you one time? That’s a long time to be on your toes. He makes the wrong move once, moves his head the wrong way once — which I’m expecting — and he’s going to wake up with half his money gone.”

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