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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 168’s Dan Hooker

New Zealand’s own, Dan Hooker, will face off with UFC commentator and fellow bruiser, Paul Felder, this Saturday (Feb. 22, 2020) at UFC Fight Night 168 inside Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.

It’s amazing the jump in success a fighter can find from switching weight classes. At Featherweight, Hooker was a solid fighter and capable finishing threat, sure, but he also lost half of his fights to dudes like Maximo Blanco and Jason Knight. Packing on an additional 10 pounds has allowed Hooker to really show off his skill set and potential, as he’s won six of seven total bouts at Lightweight and advanced into the Top 10.

More than that, he’s destroying people. Five of those victories featured stoppages, and in the sole decision win, he knocked Al Iaquinta down half a dozen times. Like Felder, this is Hooker’s opportunity to really assert his name into the crowded Lightweight title picture.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Like many of the best fighters in New Zealand, Hooker has spent time at Tiger Muay Thai, but is primarily based out City Kickboxing. Hooker is gifted physically with both length and power, and he makes the most of these tools with an aggressive, stalking style.

“The Hangman” has a professional kickboxing background and has finished 10 of his foes via knockout.

Hooker is not necessarily the fastest Lightweight on the roster, but he plays to his strengths. Hooker presses opponents, but — with the exception of the James Vick fight — does so in a measured manner. Taking small steps and feinting, Hooker is looking to walk his opponent into a trap.

There are benefits to this more subdued style of pressure. For one, it’s fairly low energy. Secondly, it can give opponents a false sense of security, even as Hooker is cutting off the fence and finding his timing.

An increasingly major weapon for Hooker is the calf kick. Against Vick, he opened the bout by nearly running at his opponent, making his intentions very clear that he was going to hammer the calf. Hooker’s calf kick is extremely dangerous, and he’ll commonly throw the strike without any setup because he’s incredibly confident that his opponent will be too off-balance to counter.

Once the kick is established, Hooker really builds from it with feints and lead hand strikes. In this week’s technique highlight, my amigo Andrew Coyne does an excellent job of identifying the core of Hooker’s game (the relationship between calf kick, jab, and left hook):

It’s mentioned in the video above, but a major weapon of Hooker is his “cheat” left hook. By feinting a right hand or right kick, Hooker can bring his right foot closer to his left and directly beneath him, loading himself up for an athletic movement. As his opponent backs or leans away from the potential threat coming from his right side, Hooker explodes into his left hook (GIF).

A final note on Hooker’s boxing: like other City Kickboxing representatives, Hooker likes to follow up his cross with a jab or up-jab. It’s very common in MMA for combinations to end at the right hand, but Hooker offsets that expectation by stabbing forward with another left, which will often land clean if the right came up short.

Once his range is figured out, Hooker is remarkably sharp. He has complete confidence in his jab and low kick at distance, but often he’ll inch closer. If his foe stands still, Hooker will continue to blast the calf. Should they load up, Hooker will beat them to the punch with a quick jab or cross (GIF). After landing, Hooker likes to squat down and duck beneath any follow up blow before returning with a left hook.

Another example of Hooker’s ability to read his opponent’s movements is his step knee. Against both Ross Pearson and Jim Miller, Hooker was able to time his opponent’s head movement and land perfectly with his knee (GIF). Height obviously helps here, but it was also impressive because the two knockouts were scored in different situations. Against Pearson, Hooker was retreating and fired as Pearson slipped forward, whereas he caught Miller after backing him into the fence and forcing an uncomfortable reaction.

Defensively, Hooker moves his head well when in control of the range, but his loss to Edson Barboza must be mentioned. It simply proved a terrible style match up for Hooker. As he patiently inched forward, Barboza’s lightning kicks found their target, chopping his leg and ripping into his body before Hooker had finished stepping into range. Before long, Hooker was no longer fighting with strong legs beneath him, and the beating only worsened.

Wrestling

Dan Hooker has scored a grand total of three takedowns in his 13-fight UFC career, and if my memory serves correctly, at least one came as a result of using the guillotine to deny a shot and take top position.

Hooker’s takedown defense is the more important issue here, and it’s held up very well at 155 pounds. At Featherweight, Hooker’s slower style did not match up well with the quicker, smaller men, who were able to see his punches coming and duck under to score a strong hold on the waist. At Lightweight, however, Hooker’s distance control and measured stalking rarely leaves him exposed to solid shots. Much of the time, he’s able to turn his hips and force his opponent to a single leg takedown, at which point Hooker can hop to the fence and fight hands.

Against Al Iaquinta, there was a particularly great sequence in which Hooker really punished his foe’s takedown attempt. As Iaquinta worked for a high-crotch takedown along the fence, Hooker cut the corner a bit and reached toward Iaquinta’s ankle. By catching the ankle and pulling against the knee joint, Hooker eliminated Iaquinta’s ability to drive forward and complete the shot.

In wrestling, the end result is probably a stalemate. Unfortunately for “Raging Al,” Hooker had the option to release a brutal stream of elbows with his free hand, a series of strikes that seemed to nearly draw a referee stoppage and do a ton of damage.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Hooker has finished seven of his victories via tapout. Though his submissions were a bit more varied on the regional scene, it’s his guillotine that has proven very effective inside the Octagon — though he did threaten a rear naked choke on Iaquinta as well.

Hooker’s preferred style of guillotine is a dangerous one, the power guillotine, and it’s made exceptionally more potent by the length of his arms (GIF). When his opponent attempts to change levels towards the neck, Hooker focuses on sinking in the choke arm extremely deep. If he’s able to land the crook of his elbow around the chin, Hooker can finish the choke by using his other hand to jam his wrist down and into the neck. Alternatively, Hooker has chased the rear naked choke grip to finish as well, which is a very powerful grip once secured.

Hooker attempted to power guillotine Gilbert Burns, one of the most decorated grapplers in the sport — you know that man is confident in his front choke.

In a great example of his game coming together, Hooker strangled Marc Diakese. After knocking his feet from under him with a calf kick, Diakese tried to remain opportunistic and drive into a takedown. Instead, Hooker wrapped up the neck and ended the fight (GIF).

Conclusion

Hooker is a pretty lethal fighter, one who capitalizes on small advantages and amounts of distance to do huge damage. Once he takes control, he tends to keep it and continue applying the pain. It’s a style that’s proven both successful and entertaining, and Hooker is once again trying to apply it at the highest level.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 168 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 168: “Felder vs. Hooker” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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