Dan Hooker ready to spoil Islam Makhachev's party at UFC 267

New Zealander takes on crowd-favourite Dagestan native at Etihad Arena on Saturday

Lightweight contender Dan Hooker says he is relishing the opportunity to “spoil the party” in Abu Dhabi by defeating Islam Makhachev at UFC 267 on Saturday.

The New Zealander, the division's No 6-ranked challenger, goes up against the highly touted Dagestan native in the third final bout at Etihad Arena, knowing his No 5-ranked opponent will enjoy the majority of support from outside the octagon. Makhachev, who rides an eight-fight win streak, is a firm fan’s favourite in the capital and throughout the region.

However, Hooker said playing the underdog does not concern him at all.

“It’s equally as exciting to me, whether it’s main-eventing a show in your hometown, or going out there and everyone is against you,” he told reporters during the pre-event media day at Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island. "Everything is energy, whether it is 10,000 or 20,000 people screaming for you in support, or if it is 10,000 or 20,000 people wanting your blood. Both of those get me just as excited.

“I relish this opportunity like nothing else. That’s the way I am approaching this fight - that I am coming over here to foreign shore, away from home, and I am coming to spoil the party."

Open workouts at Yas Island

Hooker accepted the fight only last month, when he became a late replacement for former champion Rafael Dos Anjos, who withdrew through injury. At 21-10 in professional mixed martial arts, he agreed to step in only days following his convincing victory against Nasrat Haqparast in Las Vegas – visa issues meant both he and his opponent arrived only days before the bout - and had to remain in the US, away from his family, given the entry restrictions currently in place in New Zealand.

On whether he ever questioned taking the Makhachev bout, Hooker said: “There were never any regrets. Other than getting your [butt] kicked for a couple weeks in the wrestling room… was good, I was enjoying it the whole time. It’s just my mentality the whole camp. What bends doesn’t break.

“Championship mentality. A champion can adjust whether it’s in a fight, whether it’s in training. So that’s what I did. No matter what these challenges are I have a championship mentality and I’ve evolved past it. And I’ve made it work.

“I did it with the last fight and I’ve done it with this fight. I have absolutely no excuse. I am 100 per cent confident in my preparations for this fight and I’m excited to go out there and put on a show.”

The encounter with Makhachev, 20-1 as a pro and tipped by many as a future lightweight champion, is viewed as a match-up between Hooker’s supreme striking and his rival’s expert wrestling.

Asked about Makhachev’s stand-up, Hooker deadpanned: “He’s standing up. That’s why they say a broken clock is right twice a day. He’s got a couple of knockouts. He’s hurt some people. He can strike. Obviously, it’s purely to set up his takedowns.”

Quote
I have absolutely no excuse. I am 100 per cent confident in my preparations for this fight
Dan Hooker

Such was Makhachev's reputation, that for some time he struggled to get fights. Stock solidified by two submission victories this year, he is considered heavy favourite on Saturday to extend his winning run to nine.

“You can’t control everyone else’s perception of a fight,” Hooker said. “I can’t control the narrative of a fight. It’s just painted the way it’s painted. He’s a mix of both. He’s a very specialist skill set, was doing some pretty incredible things.

“Now the last couple of fights he’s getting the recognition for it, which has obviously caught the attention of the elite-level guys. Now it makes sense to get out there and fight him.”

Hooker, though, would not be drawn on whether Makhachev was deserving of the hype attached to him at present, saying: “I never understood discrediting an opponent’s achievements leading into a fight. Because then when you beat them, you’re just downplaying your own achievements. So I have no intention to nit-pick his past or nit-pick any of his achievements. That’s not even how I approach it mentally.

“I want to fight him because he is a specialist. I want to fight him because there is so much intrigue. I want to fight him because he is considered the best grappler in the division. I want to fight the best people in the world, and he is considered one of the best in the world. I don’t want to fight him because I think he’s an easy target.

“Doesn’t make sense to discredit him. So 100 per cent he has deserved everything he’s achieved. This is his party. I’m just here to spoil it. That’s my whole plan.”

Updated: October 29th 2021, 5:33 AM
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