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Rise of “The Hangman”: Kiwi Dan Hooker guns for glory at UFC 219

Rise of “The Hangman”: Kiwi Dan Hooker guns for glory at UFC 219

Dan "Hangman" Hooker

27-year-old New Zealander Dan “Hangman” Hooker has been circling the turgid waters of the UFC fish-tank for a fair few years already. He may not be one of the sharks (hey, it’s a big tank, alright?), but he’s definitely no goldfish to go scooching off behind the plastic castle when the predators come lurking.

The lightweight division is crawling with shouters, trash-talkers, and chest-thumpers, but you won’t get much showboating out of Hooker. A class act with a classic Kiwi, “Yeah nah kick it in the guts Trev,” attitude, he fights, cashes his check and leaves by the back door, quietly climbing the rankings and doing his nation proud, even if few have ever heard of him. This approach was epitomized at the recent UFC 219 face-offs, where he was having none of the mean-mugging sass served up by his opponent. That fight, incidentally, will now take place on the event’s main card, another arrow to add to the young Kiwi’s quiver.

Hooker has already fought often enough to earn the “veteran” prefix, and he’s had his share of solid performances to back it up. Astonishingly, for a guy who stands a lofty 6’0”, he’s competed in all but his latest outing at 145 pounds. Whatever his normal weight is, that’s a substantial amount to shed. Surely he’s had to remove one of his legs for the weigh-in and put it back on afterwards.

The Kiwi Zombie

His fighting style may account for his current record within the UFC, which has followed the pattern of win – loss – win since his first outing against Ian Entwistle back in 2014. That one came by way of TKO, of which he’s had three to date. Hooker must surely have one or two of Nate Diaz’s chin genes, because by the gods he can take a shot. And he certainly walks into a lot of them, leaving his head high and fairly stationary while he plods inexorably forward like a zombie on the hunt for brains. Still, this by no means makes him an easy opponent. He has a well-rounded attack, throwing solid Muay Thai leg and elbow techniques into the mix, and he’s also got a pretty handy ground game. But with limbs that long and bendy, that’s not surprising.

His last fight against a very game Ross Pearson took place in the lightweight division, and Hooker never looked better. His striking was crisp, his movement fluid, and when the moment came he seized it, punting Pearson’s whole head into the back row with a blistering knee. It was surely a thing of beauty to make a man weep, like listening to a rousing piece of classical music, or eating a really nice sandwich. Between the plodding and brain-gobbling, Hooker definitely has the squeaky clean striking potential to sleep anyone in the 155-pound bracket.

Hooker’s toughest challenge

Going back to his zombie-esque pressure, he’s not afraid to eat fists to dish them out, his losses all coming by way of decision. And he’ll certainly need that iron chin for his next fight, where he’ll take on one of the tank’s marauding sharks, Marc “Bone Crusher” Diakiese, this weekend at UFC 219. This will be perhaps Hooker’s staunchest test to date, as Diakiese will have the advantage in both speed and power.

Hooker’s wins have come mostly by way of wearing people out after they break their fists on his face, but such a strategy is unlikely to prevail this time. His own advantage must be on the mat, where he has a proven submission record. If he can keep hold of the naturally explosive Diakiese and lead him into a trap with all those rubbery limbs, possibly behind the plastic castle where none of the other fishes can see, he has a strong chance at a quick victory. Will we see the Kiwi striker succumb to his first knock-out, or will his cage experience and high fight IQ prove too much for the surging prospect? Whatever the outcome, he’ll have the pride of a small but boisterous nation at his back.

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