clock menu more-arrow no yes
UFC Fight Night: Felder v Hooker Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Filed under:

Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC on ESPN 12’s Dan Hooker

New Zealand’s top Lightweight, Dan Hooker, will go to war opposite power puncher, Dustin Poirier, this Saturday (June 27, 2020) at UFC on ESPN 12 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Like his opponent, Hooker has become one of the best examples of a fighter hitting his stride after removing a brutal weight cut from his life. At Featherweight, Hooker was overly massive, and the cut saw him looking less athletic against quick foes. Meanwhile, outside of those weight cuts, he was sparring with Israel Adesanya and doing well! Now at a more appropriate weight class, Hooker still has the rangy build his style of kickboxing requires. However, he’s hitting harder, more accurate, and defending takedowns with much greater success. As a result, he’s climbed into the title mix, winning seven out of his eight Lightweight bouts.

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

Striking

“The Hangman” has a professional kickboxing background and has finished 10 of his foes via knockout. Hooker primarily trains at the very successful City Kickboxing, but he’s also spent a fair amount of time in Thailand, sharpening his striking skills.

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. Second, 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.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-San Antonio-Vick vs Hooker Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Once the kick is established, Hooker really builds from it with feints and lead hand strikes. Against Paul Felder in particular, Hooker showcased the excellent relationship between the jab and right calf kick.

Rather than his usual pressure, Hooker often played the matador opposite Felder. Whenever Felder went to take a step forward with his lead leg to close distance, Hooker would punt it into the air. As Felder would recover his stance, Hooker would stick him with the jab. Occasionally, Hooker would jab to stop his foe in place then rip the lower leg.

If both weapons are landing, it’s very difficult to get past that wall of range. Felder was only able to find success in the latter half of the fight because of his own calf kick and inhuman toughness.

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.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Auckland Hooker vs Pearson Simon Watts-USA TODAY Sports

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

Hooker has scored a grand total of four 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.

That said, Hooker did score a pretty significant takedown opposite Felder in the final round of their absolute war. He ducked down as Felder stepped forward, grabbing a single-leg takedown. Hooker immediately went to dump his opponent, which knocked Felder into the fence. Hooker adjusted quickly by switching to the double leg and finished the shot.

UFC Fight Night: Felder v Hooker Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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.

MMA: UFC 226-Hooker vs Burns Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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

At 30 years of age and riding an excellent win streak, it’s safe to say Hooker is in his prime. He’s earned this step up in competition against Poirier, which will likely determine whether Hooker actually has a chance at earning a title shot, or whether he’ll plateau as a high-level action fighter.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 12 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 12: “Poirier 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.

UFC 270

Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 270’s Francis Ngannou

UFC 270

Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 270’s Ciryl Gane

UFC Fighter Breakdowns

Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 46’s Calvin Kattar

View all stories in UFC Fighter Breakdowns