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Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles full fight preview | UFC 281

UFC Fight Night: Allen v Hooker Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight finishers Dan Hooker and Claudio Puelles will duel this weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) at UFC 281 from inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

Hooker finds himself in an odd situation. On one hand, he’s lost four of his last five fights and been finished three times in that span — that’s real bad. At the same time, the remaining loss was arguably a career best performance, and he’s lost to nothing but elite opposition. Whether Hooker is washed or simply facing the best competition in the world and coming up short is hopefully a question that will be answered in this match up. Puelles, meanwhile, doesn’t fit the normal mold of a typical Lightweight prospects. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) also-ran has won five in a row mostly on the strength of his submissions from bottom position and ability to roll for quick kneebars. That’s an odd mix of skills, one that seldom produces consistent success, but his results are inarguable.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

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YEAR-END PPV BLOWOUT! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) closes out its final pay-per-view (PPV) of the year on Sat., Dec. 10, 2022, with a battle for the vacant Light Heavyweight crown between former champion and No. 2-ranked contender, Jan Blachowicz, looking to stop the momentum of No. 3-seeded Magomed Ankalaev. In the co-main event of UFC 282, which will take place inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, breakout star, Paddy Pimblett, intends to keep his momentum going at the expense of gritty veteran, Jared Gordon.

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Dan Hooker

Record: 21-12
Key Wins: Gilbert Burns (UFC 226), Paul Felder (UFC Fight Night 168), Nasrat Haqparast (UFC 266), Al Iaquinta (UFC 243), James Vick (UFC on ESPN 4), Marc Diakiese (UFC 219)
Key Losses: Islam Makhachev (UFC 267), Dustin Poirier (UFC on ESPN 12), Michael Chandler (UFC 257), Edson Barboza (UFC on FOX 31)
Keys to Victory: Recent struggles aside, Hooker is a very crafty and dangerous fighter. He’s a nasty kickboxer with a real knack for creating huge connections with counter shots and step knees, and Hooker is very solid ground fighter even if he was submitted by Makhachev in short order (just like everyone else).

Let’s choose to ignore his brief return to Featherweight, which was simply an awful idea.

In this bout, Hooker should commit to a full on sprawl-and-brawl approach with zero deviation from that strategy. Realistically, Puelles has never fought anyone with a remotely similar skill set Hooker, and his kickboxing has never looked that crisp. Hooker should be able to take apart his lead leg and land big shots, provided he is not severely deteriorated from the last couple years.

The primary key here is to avoid being baited into any kind of grappling exchange. Hooker should be able to stop the shot, and sure, Hooker could probably do some damage from top position if he choose. It’s just not worth the risk, however, not when there shouldn’t be any need to brave Puelles’ strongest and trickiest area.


Claudio Puelles

Record: 12-2
Key Wins: Clay Guida (UFC Vegas 52), Jordan Leavitt (UFC Vegas 28), Chris Gruetzemacher (UFC Vegas 44)
Key Losses: Martin Bravo (TUF: Latin America 3 Finale)
Keys to Victory: As mentioned in the intro, Puelles is pretty unique. He’s a capable kickboxer and decent takedown artist, but he really excels in scrambles and leg entanglements, which are largely responsible for his seven submission wins.

Puelles thrives in surprising opponents. They believe they’re winning and in control, only for “El Nino” to suddenly invert and catch them off-guard. Even as he’s become more known for this aspect of his game, it’s still working well!

He has to find a way to get Hooker to the floor, however. If he’s able to land an early takedown, problem solved, but it doesn’t seem likely to be quite that easy. To get the fight to the ground, I’d like to see Puelles aggressive from the first bell. Hooker’s recent struggles have very likely cost him a bit of confidence — it happens to even the most experienced fighters during hard times. Puelles can take advantage by starting fast and ideally landing hard, which will make the takedown easier to land or could even prompt Hooker to deviate from the plan and initiate the grappling.

Ultimately, Puelles doesn’t want a controlled kickboxing battle; chaos is far preferable.


Bottom Line

A Top 15 Lightweight ranking is on the line.

This may be Hooker’s last stand in general. Defeat makes it three in a row and five of his last six in addition to booting him from the rankings. It’s not at all unreasonable to think UFC releases him for such a streak, especially in the Contenders Series era. Fortunately, a win reminds the fighting world that losing to Top 5 fighters does not mean a fighter sucks, and it proves that Hooker still has more to offer at 155 pounds.

Meanwhile, it’s quite an opportunity for Puelles, who has earned a showdown versus a ranked opponent. He continues to fly under the radar, but taking a big step up in competition and platform presents an opportunity to break out from the crowd. Submitting Hooker still means something, and it proves Puelles is a real player in the Lightweight picture.

At UFC 281, Dan Hooker and Claudio Puelles will open the main card. Which man earns the victory?


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 281 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard (on ESPNEWS/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 281: “Adesanya vs. Pereira” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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