The UFC’s global push has opened the doors to the premier stage in mixed martial arts to numerous fighters from around the world. With each new country the Octagon touches down in, a handful of fighters from that region are selected to compete under the bright lights of the UFC banner. For those who get the opportunity, it is undoubtedly the biggest moment of their careers, and one Daniel Hooker is determined to make the most of.
The Auckland native will be on the bill when the UFC makes its debut in his hometown for Fight Night: Te Huna vs. Marquardt on June 28. The passion for mixed martial arts has been thriving “Down Under” for the better part of the past decade, but this event will mark the first time a card has been held on New Zealand soil. “The Hangman” is ecstatic to make his inaugural showing inside the Octagon, but he’s equally elated to have the biggest organization in the sport finally come to his country.
While there may not be a large of amount of New Zealand fighters currently lining the UFC roster, he believes the sport is surging in his homeland and it will only be a matter of time before his country has a strong number of fighters representing on the UFC stage.
“I’m proud to represent the growth of the New Zealand fight community,” Hooker said. “I’m home grown so there are a lot of people behind me that will have my back on the night. As soon as I heard that UFC was coming to my hometown, I saw my opportunity. It’s sink or swim but I love that about this sport. High risk equals high reward. I didn’t get to this point by playing it safe and I don’t intend on changing that.
“MMA in New Zealand is very well-established, with some killers coming up in the ranks. We have a strong history in combat sports with some of the greatest strikers in history. There is a wealth of knowledge with some great specialists; the next generation is making its way through now so the future is bright. The world will learn.”
Where making his official debut at just 24 years old has the potential to create a pressure-filled scenario, Hooker is no greenhorn when the cage door closes. In a relatively short amount of time he’s made 15 professional showings and picked up victories in 11 of those bouts. But what is perhaps more impressive is the run that took him from the stomping grounds of the regional scene to the steps of the Octagon.
In two crisp years of work, the Strike Force Auckland-trained fighter picked up five consecutive victories, with each fight ending by way of stoppage. Throughout his recent run Hooker showed the impressive ability to finish the opposition in a multitude of fashions, and his high-caliber work earned a call up to the big leagues.
“I wouldn’t take back a single fight, whether it was a win or a loss because mentally I have grown and strengthened,” Hooker said. “I’ve had a number of knock down, drag out wars, and that’s the kind of fight I thrive in. Yeah it’s cool to get a quick win without any bumps and bruises, but that’s not what gets me out of bed in the morning; fights that test character is what I’m after. You are not going to find someone that wants to be in there as much as me, and the win streak is just the result of the fighter I have become.”
Nevertheless, the “Octagon jitters” have given even the most experienced fighters fits when they step into action under the UFC banner, but Hooker has a razor-sharp focus locked on earning a victory over Ian Entwistle on June 28.
“It’s an opportunity, I really haven’t put too much thought into it at this stage,” Hooker said. “I’m focused on the fight and my preparation, doing everything in my power to win. I’m sure after the event I will have some time to reflect, but all I know is I must win.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s just a name; there’s nothing personal. Everybody wants to win but that’s not how this system works. I think you have two very hungry guys out to prove a point and make statements; it will be a very volatile mix.”
Where Hooker will be carrying solid momentum with him into the Octagon next Saturday night, Entwistle will also enjoy some solid steam of his own. The 27-year-old Englishman has won eight of his nine professional outings, including a run where he’s collected four consecutive victories by submission.
When two young fighters are eager to make a lasting impression, that is a formula for an explosive collision. Both Hooker and Entwistle want to keep their current streaks alive and will scrap it out to determine supremacy. While there have been some shots launched across the bow in the pre-fight build up between the two men, Hooker believes he’ll have what it takes to get the job done when things truly matter.
“He specializes in techniques that a lot of people neglect, so in that sense he’s unorthodox,” Hooker said. “I like to get after it from the bell and so does this kid. That’s great because it’s what the fans want to see. There will be no time wasted.
“He says it’s easy money – man, I’m six foot with a vicious hook. I guarantee 100% the judges will be staying out of this one. It’s my backyard so I’m in there to show the world how we get down in my part of town. This has Fight of the Night written all over it, two hungry young guys that will go after it.”
In addition to his fight with Entwistle being the biggest moment of his young career, the fight will also be his first step into the deep waters of the UFC featherweight division. The 145-pound collective has grown to become one of the most talent-rich weight classes under the promotional banner and is commonly described as a “shark tank” loaded with proven talent.
While he has no doubt there are huge challenges ahead of him in the lightweight ranks, Hooker couldn’t be more excited to dive in and get to work.
“Bring on the tough fights, it doesn’t matter,” he added. “I don’t pick my fights, so nothing changes in the UFC. If I didn’t think I could cut it with the best of the world I wouldn’t be here. I don’t fight nearly as much as I want to because it’s hard finding fights, but the UFC has a full roster and that is music to my ears.”
To watch UFC Fight Night: Te Huna vs. Marquardt exclusively on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday, June 28, sign up here
Daniel Hooker: Ready to Scrap at Home
"I’m proud to represent the growth of the New Zealand fight community. I’m home grown so there are a lot of people behind me that will have my back on the night." - Daniel Hooker