Chase Hooper is different from the average MMA prospect.
Unlike many of those that came before him, he has been molded for this from a young age. And, on top of that, he’s flourishing ahead of schedule.
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At just 20 years old, Hooper will make his UFC debut on the preliminary portion of UFC 245. The young featherweight will take on Daniel Teymur in his biggest test to date.
But Hooper won’t tell you that this is a case of a young kid being thrown to the wolves.
No, he’s been preparing for this moment.
“I started training when I was probably like eight years old,” Hooper told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock, “so I’ve been at it for like 11 or 12 years now.”
Hooper surrounds himself with experience. His head coach Jeff Hougland is a UFC veteran, competing in the bantamweight division from 2011-2012. Hooper also trains with Joey Pierotti, a 12-1 welterweight who recently inked a deal with ONE Championship.
And though he is youthful, he has started to build his own experience up until this point.
“My first amateur fight was like three years ago, you know, that was my very first fight,” Hooper said. “I’ve only been a pro for around two years also … but I’ve been training for a while for this.”
Chase Hooper on his own growth
Hooper is a beneficiary of a UFC developmental deal. He was brought in to Dana White’s Contender Series as a 19-year-old, and, after impressing the UFC President with his unanimous decision win over Canaan Kawaihae, received the contract.
Hooper improved to 6-0 as a professional on season two of Contender Series, and while the developmental deal didn’t earn him the official title of “UFC fighter,” he knew he was on the right track.
From there, building experience was his main goal, and he’s done enough to warrant a promotion.
“There’s been such a huge difference in my game since Contender,” Hooper said. “I probably had like a little over a year in the developmental program until they like bumped me up. But I feel like it’s been great to get to know my own fighting style to sharpen all my tools up.”
He fought to a draw in his first fight after Contender Series but won his next two by stoppage to earn his clean 8-0-1 record.
Hooper has also grown outside of the cage.
One of the factors that is often overlooked by fighters is media obligations. That was certainly something that the 20-year-old needed some time to adjust to, but he has managed to get a bit more comfortable with it in time for his UFC debut.
“I think it’s fun, especially once it gets close to the fight. Like all the fight week stuff is a nice distraction from being hungry or being dehydrated or having to fight some dude in a cage in a couple days,” Hooper said. “I like doing this type of stuff and kind of trying to develop myself as a human being I guess, because, I don’t know, I’m trying to work on my social skills.”
While Hooper believes he is nowhere near his peak form, he is appreciative of the opportunity to grow that he was given by the UFC.
“I was able to kind of like get the practice in using the developmental contract, and yeah, it was great,” Hooper said. “I don’t think I’d be as ready for the UFC if I just got pulled in right after the Contender as I am now.”
Building something more
As an up and comer, Hooper has looked up to a number of the sport’s biggest names. He likes to model his own game after the Diaz brothers, but he tries to mix in a bit of Demian Maia in there as well.
Hooper has also taken note of the ways in which fighters conduct themselves outside of professional competition. One of his biggest influences in that realm is former WEC champion and UFC veteran Urijah Faber.
Faber has returned to fighting and will be competing on the same card as Hooper, but the MMA legend’s ventures — the most notable being his gym Team Alpha Male — have allowed him to live comfortably and pursue competition simply because of his love for the game.
Hooper got the chance to meet Faber in Las Vegas and tried his best to capture some of what has allowed him to be so successful.
“He’s a super cool dude,” Hooper said of Faber. “He’s been in the game for a long time, and he’s been able to establish himself in a lot of different areas; not just in fighting but in like sports nutrition and training and all that stuff.”
At the ripe age of 20, he is already making plans for his own life beyond fighting.
“[Faber is] like a smart businessman,” Hooper said. “I think that’s kind of what I want to do; have a long career, but not just rely on getting punched in the face to make money.”
Of course, he does have a bigger task at hand right now, though.
“I want to like establish myself, focusing on the fighting foremost as of right now,” Hooper said. “But yeah, it’d be nice to kind of diversify stuff and not have to just rely on getting beat up and stuff for money, because I think that’s what a lot of fighters do is they don’t think about life after fighting.
“Your opportunity to fight is so short in your life and you have to live for like, you know, 60 or 80 years after that.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.