UFC 257: Can Chandler Replicate Bellator Success Against Hooker?

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Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler, UFC 257 face-off
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 21: (L-R) Opponents Dan Hooker of New Zealand and Michael Chandler face off during the UFC 257 press conference event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 21, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Former Bellator champion Michael Chandler has arrived in the UFC with a win-now mentality, but Dan Hooker has championship goals of his own that will be close to materializing with a win at UFC 257.

If you’re not familiar with Michael Chandler, let me bring you up to speed.  A veteran of the fight game since 2009, Chandler is best known for being the longtime Bellator MMA lightweight champion.  In his ten years in the promotion, he became the most prolific lightweight champion in company history and tied records with featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire for most victories in championship fights and victories overall under the banner.  Along the way, he built a reputation as one of the best fighters to have never competed in the UFC and had signature moments such as splitting a pair of epic fights with former UFC and Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez and recording victories over the likes of Benson Henderson (twice), Patricky Freire, and Brent Primus.

At age 34, Chandler is at the precarious height of his powers.  Per his own admission, he signed with the UFC with a win-now mentality as opposed to expecting another lengthy chapter in his career.  He is still at the top of his game and is unanimously considered a force to be reckoned with.  However, he also enters the UFC lightweight division at a time when it has arguably never been more competitive.  A win over Hooker is expected to be enough to catapult him into a title fight.  A loss, however, would leave him to regroup and unlikely to challenge for championship gold in 2021 with names like Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje, and the winner of Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor ahead of him.

It is not often that one finds themselves with an arguably bigger opportunity coming off a loss, but that’s exactly where Dan “The Hangman” Hooker is.  A UFC veteran since 2014, Hooker alternated wins and losses for years before turning things around in 2017.  The New Zealand product training out of City Kickboxing under renowned coach Eugene Bareman went on a 7-2 run that brought him from the fringes of the rankings to the cusp of the elite.  In 2020, he followed up a Fight of the Year candidate against Paul Felder with an even more entertaining war against Dustin Poirier.  Though he came up short against Poirier, his performance in the fight asserted his place amongst the top lightweights in the world today.

He enters the fight with Chandler at a great point in the history of the lightweight division.  Should he manage to turn away the former Bellator kingpin, he would be within reach of a title shot and likely be a backup for the expected fight between Charles Oliveira and the winner of Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier for the (presumably) vacant belt.  Depending on the timetable of all parties involved, a title shot for Hooker in the latter half of 2021 can not be counted out.

Stylistically, the wrestling of Chandler figures to be the biggest weapon on either side as his ability to get the fight to the mat could be the x-factor if he can’t put down Hooker in a fire fight.  Hooker will enter as the taller and lengthier fighter and has proven himself to be a durable and effective striker.  The New Zealander will look to maintain the fight at a distance where he can counter and keep his opponent at the end of his strikes.  Chandler is more explosive with one-shot power, devastating kicks, and will look to get inside where he can use more of his physicality to wear down Hooker with power shots up close.

The winner between McGregor and Poirier in the main event is expected to fight for the lightweight title next.  Though there is still some hope that it will be against undefeated powerhouse Khabib Nurmagomedov, it is expected that it will be against Chandler should he prevail or against Charles Oliveira if Hooker is the one who wins on Saturday.  This fact holds especially true if Poirier wins as he recently defeated Hooker a little over seven months ago.

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