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Dan Hooker: Conor McGregor can’t skip me in line for title shot with UFC on ESPN 12 win

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MMA: UFC 243-Iaquinta vs Hooker Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Hooker has a massive opportunity to shake up the ultra-stacked lightweight division later tonight (Sat., June 27, 2020) at UFC on ESPN 12 live on ESPN/ESPN+ from inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, when “Hangman” takes on former title challenger Dustin Poirier in the main event.

It’s Hooker’s biggest Octagon appearance to date and one that could land him incredibly close to a UFC lightweight titles shot. If the rising New Zealand native is able to take out Poirier this weekend in Vegas he would push his divisional record to 8-1 since making his return to 155 pounds back in 2017. That’s more than enough to lock down a title shot, especially with a win over “Diamond.”

That said, securing a UFC title shot these days is never a sure thing. Hooker may end up doing enough to earn his shot at the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje, which is set to go down later this year for the undisputed 155-pound title, but one call from Conor McGregor declaring himself no longer retired and “Hangman” may have a tough time holding onto his spot.

“That fight is set, Gaethje and Khabib – that fight is going to happen in September, and I’m the next guy in line,” Hooker told MMA Fighting. “That will be a four fight streak over the No. 3, No. 6, No. 6 and another ranked fighter. Those are top-ranked guys.

“The next guy in line would be Conor McGregor, who looking back at it now, has a win over the No. 12 [ranked fighter] in the division. So when you compare resumes, it would be pretty difficult to hand him a title shot over me without me kicking up a fuss.”

McGregor, who retired from MMA for the third time earlier this month, could decide to return to fighting at any point in time. Once that happens the UFC’s biggest star will try to wiggle his way back into a lightweight title fight, either locking down a lucrative rematch with Khabib or a long-awaited clash with Gaethje.

For a fighter like Hooker, who is talented but doesn’t hold a candle to McGregor in calling his own shots, winning in dramatic fashion this weekend against Poirier is the only thing he can control. Hooker also has to make himself available to fight, which seems to be UFC’s biggest prerequisite in today’s landscape.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense with what we’re seeing now with the UFC kind of standing their ground with a lot of these big-named guys who want to kind of call the shots, and the UFC’s jumping back in and saying we’re the ones running the show,” Hooker said. “So I don’t think that benefits Conor very well, if he’s going to try to position himself for a title shot when compared to me.

“You’re seeing it now with Gilbert Burns-[Kamaru] Usman fight. Jorge Masvidal was obviously the clear frontrunner for that title shot, but contract negotiations turned south and the UFC gave it to the guy who wants to fight.”

“I’m one of those guys,” Hooker explained. “I want to stay active. I want to fight and understands how this sport works.”

Hooker certainly has a point in his assessment about recent UFC title shots and how the promotion has drawn a line in the sand with unhappy athletes, but there’s no proof suggesting the organization won’t cater to McGregor once he decides to return to the fold. So even though Hooker is on the cusp of taking out the No. 3 ranked fighter in the division there’s no telling where he lands after this.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 12 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.

For complete UFC on ESPN 12 fight card news click here.