Look no further for the success of Dana White’s Contender Series than UFC 250. Saturday’s pay-per-view event in Las Vegas boasts two products of the hit summer series that have made waves on social media and in the Octagon.
Sean O’Malley extended his unbeaten streak in March and now finds himself on Saturday’s main card. Then there’s Chase Hooper, the then 18-year-old who celebrated at Las Vegas’ M&M factory after his victory on the show. Hooper’s rise into the limelight surged when he finished Daniel Teymur at UFC 245 and he has become a well-known presence on the internet for pretending to be Ben Askren’s son.
“The amount of exposure based on just having one fight is crazy,” Hooper said. “There’s only a handful of people that have been in the position that I’m at. It’s going to be fun because I’m going to show all the stuff I’m working on.”
Make no mistake about it – Hooper can fight. At 20 years old and 6-foot-1, Hooper is huge for the featherweight division. His reach is similar to those in the lightweight division and his hunger is even greater. It’s one of the reasons he believes he has an edge over Alex Caceres on Saturday.
“I’m hungry. For him it’s just another fight, but I’m trying to make a statement here and prove myself,” Hooper said.
Hooper seems to be mature beyond his years. He’s aware of the attention he’s been receiving and knows none of it matters if he doesn’t perform in the Octagon.
In today’s UFC, it’s common for fighters to call out top opposition in search of a way to climb to the belt as fast as possible or for the big money fights. But Hooper wants to take a different approach.
“It’s crazy to me how fast everything has taken off,” Hooper said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity but I feel like I need to taper myself a little. I don’t want to jump right into the Top 15. I want to take my time and work up the division because I feel like I have so much time, and by the time I start maturing physically and developing my skillset, with my age, I think I can be so much better.”
It’s a well-calculated game plan. If Hooper continues to improve in training and gain experience in the Octagon now, when his body develops later in his career he will be at a peak not many reach at such a young age.
And thus, we have the matchup with Caceres, which offers a look that Hooper has yet to see in an opponent.
“When we were offered the fight, his name stuck out,” Hooper said. “I’m a younger guy, fresher, better recovery. It’s a fun stylistic matchup too because he has a style I haven’t quite fought before. He’s a striker and a little more flashy, so we’ll see if I’m able to work my grappling against him. It’s a fun fight and I really like the opportunity to have such a high-level guy in my second (UFC) fight.”
Perhaps it’s been all the media obligations that have given Hooper his ability to assess things so well. As he said earlier, there aren’t many fighters that have been in his position - where the coverage outside the Octagon outweighs the performance inside it.
“It’s been a crazy year, traveling around and doing all this stuff with FIGHT PASS,” Hooper said. “Going from fighting 45 minutes from my house and training the night before the fight to flying across the country and doing all these interviews, all the production that is the UFC and everything that comes with it.”
On Saturday he’ll get his chance to prove again that all the hype is warranted.