rogue-days-are-over-for-hooker

Dan Hooker was a mainstay in the top 10 of the UFC lightweight division from 2017 to 2020, going 6-1 against tough opposition and engaging in a number of fan-favorite wars. But the wheels started coming off once he began swimming with the sharks in the top five. Losses to Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, and Islam Makhachev pushed Hooker to attempt another run at featherweight. That lasted all of 2:33 after Arnold Allen knocked him out with ease.

The move to featherweight seemed insane at the time, and in retrospect it was a big mistake. Everyone agrees on that, and following his rough two years going 1-4, Hooker is fully commited to his team and his coaches at City Kickboxing.

“I can’t do it without them,” Hooker admitted to Submission Radio leading up to his UFC 281 fight against Claudio Puelles this weekend. “I can’t do it without my coaches. I can’t do it without my training partners. I can’t do it without my teammates and the people that come along and support, and the big machine of people, and the love from all the friends and family that gets you across the line.”

“Like, it took me going through [those losses] to be in the place I’m at now, where now I relish it. I just appreciate it.”

According to City Kickboxing coach Eugene Bareman, the rough stretch finally brought Hooker into the camp fold one hundred percent.

“He’s a very important part of our team, and he always has been,” Bareman told Submission Radio. “But maybe, what he’s alluding to, we just didn’t have his full buy-in. We didn’t have his full buy-in. He was 90% with the team, but it was that extra 10% where he was a rogue. He was a rogue, and he’d make decisions to take fights that I said he shouldn’t take. He would do different things in training with his training that the coaches said that we probably don’t think he should go that way.”

“He was the one guy who often showed a little bit of resistance and a little bit of stubbornness and didn’t give us his full buy-in. Now he kind of understands a little bit more that 10%, where you go rogue, that means everything.”

It’s clear Bareman wasn’t happy about the featherweight decision, and he wasn’t happy with Hooker agreeing to a short-notice fight against Islam Makhachev. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hooker didn’t have the time for a proper camp, and he couldn’t work with his team either.

“There was a fight that he took against Makhachev, where we couldn’t get any coaches there,” Bareman said. “He had to stay in America and just put together some random training camp. And then he had to fly over with some people that have never cornered a fight, let alone a UFC fight at that level.”

Fortunately, Dan Hooker has had a full, hard camp with his coaches coming into this critical bout at UFC 281.

“I honestly think Dan’s ready to show you guys something special,” Bareman said. “Dan’s a special athlete, special person, and I feel like he’s a guy that needs a big occasion to rise, and it doesn’t get any bigger than UFC 281 in the middle of New York at MSG.”

He’ll have his hands full with Claudio Puelles. “The Prince of Peru” is 12-2 and on a five fight win streak in the UFC. For Hooker, though, it’ll be a nice break from fighting someone in the top five. He’s currently No. 12 at lightweight, and Puelles is unranked in the division. Bookies are clearly uncertain whether “The Hangman” can still hang … Hooker is a slight -145 favorite to Puelles at +125.