Since the title of this piece is a touch incendiary, I’d like to first make it very clear that I have a ton of respect and empathy for Dan Hooker. He’s an ultra tough veteran with great skills doing the best he can, and none of the following is written with ill will. That said, literally everyone knew Dan Hooker’s return to Featherweight was a terrible idea.
I follow the trends and narratives of this sport closely, so when Hooker announced his return to Featherweight, there were two primary concerns raised by fans, pundits, and fellow fighters:
- Can Hooker still make the weight at 32 years of age?
- Hooker was a notably worse Featherweight than Lightweight, so what’s changed?
Credit to “The Hangman,” he made 145 lbs. and didn’t look like death on the scale. Of course, that’s no guarantee that the weight cut didn’t affect his durability or general health and performance. While predicting Hooker’s fight vs. Arnold Allen, my fellow writer Jesse Holland brought up the following quote from 2017 via MMAFighting.
“Let’s just put it this way, it’d take a million bucks to get me back down to Featherweight,” Hooker said. “I ain’t going back. I was stepping in there at Featherweight and I just felt like I was taking away from my abilities. I think the most was mentally. I felt not clear-headed in there and I couldn’t think, and my skill and my ability to out-think the other guy is what separates me from the rest of the pack. Drunk, I fight better than that.”
That brings us to question No. 2: what’s changed? Hooker pointed toward the UFC PI and a smarter weight cut system, but ... that’s pretty optimistic. Hooker never missed the Featherweight limit, after all. His problems came in the cage, as opponents were quicker and sharper to the point that his size advantage didn’t really help, and his power advantage was only theoretical since his shots weren’t often landing.
None of that changed last night. Arnold Allen was dwarfed by Hooker in the cage, but he was so, so much faster. He danced in-and-out, digging quick kicks and only taking about a minute to walk Hooker into some really painful counters. Allen immediately had his opponent’s timing, which is a credit to his kickboxing skills to be sure, but it was also a consequence of Hooker being at the wrong weight class.
After getting hurt, Hooker never really recovered, nor did Allen lose track of his chin. The result? Allen’s first win via knockout since Nov. 2014.
A devastated Dan Hooker leaves the octagon with a towel over his head after dropping his featherweight return. #UFCLondon pic.twitter.com/L4JEQcp1wG— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) March 19, 2022
In short, everything the majority of us thought would go wrong for Hooker did indeed go terribly wrong. As the collective “we” all knew — a group which may just include some of Hooker’s team and perhaps even the man himself — Hooker does not belong at Featherweight. He’s simply worse at 145 pounds.
So, why did Hooker try? Why roll the dice on the improbable chance that he somehow improved at cutting weight or would miraculously get sharper with a harsher weight cut? Why do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result?
The answer is not stupidity or stubbornness. It’s no fault of Hooker’s character or decision-making. He took this unlikely gamble because his Lightweight title run was ruined by recent and definitive losses to Michael Chandler and Islam Makhachev. Those two are fixtures of the Lightweight Top 5 right now, so Hooker had to go elsewhere to keep the dream of gold alive.
That’s the message here: chasing a world title might just make you go f—king insane.
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