New Zealander Daniel Hooker will have another opportunity to push towards the upper echelon of the UFC when he fights on the undercard of the organisation's event in Melbourne next month.
The Auckland featherweight, who has been training at the Tiger Muay Thai gym in Phuket for the past seven months, will fight American Jason "The Kid" Knight, a 24-year-old with a 1-1 UFC record, on November 26. It is a bout in which Hooker, the former doorman nicknamed "The Hangman" for his liking of a submission finish, hopes to display his vast improvements as a fighter.
Hooker famously talked the UFC into letting him fight on the card in Auckland two years ago in a campaign boosted by his supporters in New Zealand. Having won that fight against Ian Entwhistle, Hooker now has a 3-2 record and a greater understanding of the sport. Once impetuous, the now 26-year-old, a professional MMA fighter since 2009, said he has become a more intelligent operator inside the octagon.
"I've had such a quick development in my UFC career," he told the Herald from Phuket. "I've made changes so quickly that have had such a drastic effect. When I first got into the UFC I still had this chip on my shoulder - I was trying to prove myself. I thought I could become world champion by just going out there and proving that I was the toughest guy.
"I would walk forward, take damage, take shots, and it's really not the path of least resistance. I've come to educate myself and come to the conclusion that being the smartest guy is going to get you where you need to be.
"My goal is to prove I'm the smartest and most intelligent fighter in the UFC and I'm going to have a long and storied career. Being tough, you don't last very long.
"Even Mike Tyson has been quoted as saying 'tough men don't last long in this business, this is a thinking man's game'. That's where I've come to now. I'm done trying to prove I'm the toughest in the world, that got me to a certain stage in my carer. If I want to beat the best in the world I have to do it with an intelligent approach."
Hangman has quickly taken to a training regime at the Tiger Muay Thai gym which has him living and breathing the sport. He said he lives "30 seconds" from the gym.
"Being in such a central location [Thailand] you get so many different looks [styles] and so many different training partners. There are a lot of fighters in Asia, great stand-up fighters, all the Thai fighters. Brazilians come, Americans come, fighters from Africa. The opportunity to train with everyone means when I step inside the cage there are no surprises, no look that I haven't seen before."
At 1.82m, Hooker is tall for a featherweight, a division with a 65kg weight limit. However, he said making weight was rarely a problem.
"I diet year-round. It's not a 9-5 job where I go home and relax and stop thinking about fighting. I think about it 24-7. Everything I eat, everything I do, the time I go to sleep - it all revolves around being a professional and that one goal. When you focus on that it's easy to diet."