UFC on ESPN 12: Hooker Looks to Take Poirier’s Place in the Rankings

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UFC Glendale: Dustin Poirier
Dustin Poirier Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Dustin Poirier is looking to work his way back to another shot at the world title, but he has a surging contender from New Zealand in his way in Dan Hooker at UFC on ESPN 12.

While the fight game is often enamored with undefeated powerhouses that surge their way to stardom, Dan “The Hangman” Hooker (20-8) is a testament to the athlete development process.  The 30 year-old fighter from New Zealand entered the UFC in 2014 as a featherweight and alternated wins and losses before a return to the lightweight division revitalized his career.  While his time at featherweight saw him face then up-and-comer Yair Rodriguez and former Shooto star Hatsu Hioki, his 7-1 run at lightweight beginning in 2017 has put him on the cusp of a breakthrough in the shark tank that is the 155 pound division.

After racking up victories over veterans such as Ross Pearson, current welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns, Jim Miller, and James Vick, Hooker was given a step-up in competition as a marquee attraction.  “The Hangman” took full advantage of the spotlight, stifling UFC veteran Al Iaquinta in front of a crowd of over 50,000 at the Marvel Stadium in Australia and then headlining in his home country against Paul Felder in a back-and-forth Fight of the Year candidate.  The victory has led to his biggest fight to date and a chance to break into title contention.

Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier (25-6) has had to wait a month longer than expected to return to action, but he is hoping to regain the momentum he had going into his shot at the belt last year.  Poirier entered the UFC as part of the WEC merger in 2011 and quickly became one of the brightest prospects in the organization.  Transitioning from featherweight to lightweight during his time in the Octagon, Poirier put together several impressive win-streaks but became known for suffering setbacks just as he was on the cusp of earning a shot at UFC gold.

That all changed two years ago when Poirier rattled off one of the best win-streaks of his career.  “The Diamond” stopped former champions Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez, and current interim champion Justin Gaethje in consecutive fights.  This led to an interim title fight for Poirier where he ended the 12 fight win-streak of then featherweight champion Max Holloway last April.  In September, Poirier faced undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a historic event in Abu Dhabi where he came up short in his bid to unify the titles.  Against a surging contender in Hooker, Poirier is looking to catapult himself back into matches against the stars of the division and pursue another shot at UFC gold.

Stylistically, the stopping power of Poirier figures to be the biggest threat on either side.  Hooker is a technically sound striker coming from a team led by the Coach of the Year in Eugene Bareman, but the one-shot finishing ability of the former champion will force Hooker to fight more defensively.  Apart from using a more multi-faceted attack to make Poirier more weary of closing the distance, Hooker should look to get the fight to the mat where he can test Poirier’s grappling off of his back.  For Poirier, a high volume attack where he keeps Hooker against the fence figures to be the most effective way to wear-down the New Zealander and create openings for Poirier to do more damage.

The winner of the bout would find themselves in a strong position in the lightweight division going into the latter half of 2020.  The title picture is currently locked as current champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier are set to unify the titles later this fall and MMA superstar Conor McGregor likely awaits the winner.  That said, a bout against former champion Tony Ferguson with major title implications would likely be on tap for either Poirier or Hooker in the final quarter of the year.

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