Dan Hooker knows what it’s like to spend an extended period of time in the Octagon with Dustin Poirier, and he believes Conor McGregor will get a similar experience in the UFC 257 main event.
Hooker started quickly in his matchup with Poirier at UFC on ESPN 12 this past June, as he attacked with a variety of left hooks, low kicks and uppercuts to the body and rocked his foe with a knee and flurry of punches at the end of Round 2. As time wore on, however, Poirier got stronger over the final 15 minutes and relied on a blend of powerful punches to the head and stout takedown defense to capture a unanimous decision triumph.
It was a far different scene when “The Diamond” first squared off with McGregor at UFC 178 in September 2014. McGregor’s power quickly took hold, and he polished off Poirier via technical knockout just 1:46 into Round 1.
With many more years of experience and fighting at 155 pounds instead of featherweight, Hooker expects Poirier to be able to drag McGregor into deep waters on Saturday night.
“It’s not gonna go lilke the first fight. I feel like it’s not gonna be an early stoppage like the first fight,” Hooker said during a virtual media day. “Dustin Poirier is a completely different fighter at this weight class. He’s one of the most durable, one of the fittest, which matches up well with Conor. [McGregor] uses so much energy trying to knock out his opponents, his energy does wane at some points in the fight — whereas Poirier’s does not.
“I feel like they match up incredibly well. I feel like we’re going to see a five-round battle.”
Before Poirier and McGregor make the walk to the Octagon, Hooker will welcome former Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler to the UFC. While he respects his opponent’s resume, “The Hangman” believes his skillset is unlike anything Chandler has faced thus far.
“The excitement and hype around Michael Chandler is deserved,” Hooker said. “Once you take a good look at his career and what he’s achieved in the Bellator cage — multiple-time world champion, competing at a high level for a very long time — it’s definitely warranted. I feel like I’m more experienced at a high level and I’ve fought many types of opponents. I truly feel like he’s never fought anyone like me — a tall, rangy striker who can defend takedowns well. I’ve studied his whole career and I can’t point out a single fighter who is the same style as myself.”
Hooker is well aware that his upcoming fight could have more eyes upon than any other — including his recent headliner with Poirier — in his career to date. That said, the New Zealand native believes most of the pressure is on the evening’s headliners.
“There’s a lot of excitement around this card. There’s definitely more excitement than there usually would be around some of the bigger cards I’ve fought on,” he said. “There’s more excitement, but I feel like there’s less pressure. The pressure is on the main event. You’re carrying the weight of the whole event, you’re carrying the show. I’m just getting motivated by the excitement of the event, but I don’t feel like there’s much pressure on me to perform.”
Still, Hooker has a unique opportunity to catch the eye of lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Dagestani star retired after his last fight in October, but told UFC president Dana White in a recent meeting that he could be swayed to come back if he is impressed by one of the main lightweight competitors on Saturday. Hooker would be a dark horse in that race, but he knows what kind of effort will be necessary to make an impression.
“I feel like who I ask for after this fight or who I call out after this fight will completely depend on the nature of the performance,” Hooker said. “If you get a close decision victory, it’s not justified. That’s not what the champion [wants], that’s not the terms of his conditions of coming back and giving you an opportunity. I feel like the performance will warrant the callout.”