Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

UFC: 'The Hangman' prepares noose

Dan  Hooker (right) in action.
Dan Hooker (right) in action.

As a featherweight in the UFC, Dan "The Hangman" Hooker has a unique perspective on life as a professional MMA fighter, and in particular the phenomenon that is Conor McGregor, the motor-mouthed Irishman who occasionally fights in the same division.

Whereas Hooker, a 26-year-old who trains at the famous Tiger Muay Thai gym in Phuket, Thailand, is an earnest, apparently hard-working Aucklander committed to his profession, despite the lack of a significant media profile, McGregor is wealthy beyond most people's dreams, a man redefining the sport with each of his blockbusting bouts.

McGregor, a two-weight champion and relentless self-promoter who took his popularity and bargaining power to a new level when knocking out lightweight Eddie Alvarez in UFC 205 recently, also has the potential to annoy rivals with his antics.

Several days ago, the Irishman known as "The Notorious", posted on social media a picture of himself treating a wad of cash like a telephone, with the caption: "Hello, I'd like to order some competition please, I don't have any."

It's a good line but unlikely to endear him to his fellow fighters. McGregor has already been criticised for not defending his featherweight title but you won't hear a bad word about him from Hooker, who recognises the need to make some noise but also to back it up in the octagon.

Hooker gets his chance this afternoon in Melbourne when he fights American Jason "The Kid" Knight.

"He's at the top of the game in terms of the draw he brings to the sport," Hooker said of McGregor. "A lot of people are trying to emulate his style, and trying to start talking more nonsense or calling other fighters out ... but I genuinely think he's just being himself. That's what fans want to see ... to see more fighters coming out of their shells. It's not about putting on a character - there's nothing a fan hates more than being lied to. If you say, 'oh no, I was just saying that to promote the fight', they don't like that and will turn on you.

"That's the key to it," he said of the need to back up the talk, as McGregor does. "You can talk as much nonsense as you want, as long as you're winning fights."

It's in this spirit that Hooker said he had enjoyed his week in Melbourne ahead of his sixth UFC fight.

"I used to want to get it out of the way and feel that relief but now I look forward to it so much. I'm excited to talk to the media, catch up with fans, and I'm looking forward to putting on a show."

Hooker, who has a 3-2 UFC record, wants to take those fans with him to the top, starting with a win over Knight, who is 1-1. Nothing else will do, and in that, he could take a leaf or two from McGregor's book.

"It was good to see a guy who holds the title in our division go well a weight class higher," Hooker said. "I was a bit worried about that. If Conor had lost, it would have taken something away from the featherweight division ... to see him take the [lightweight] champ out highlights the level of talent in the featherweight division.

"I feel that's where my career is heading," he said of his ambition. "Holding the UFC title is a goal of mine ... if my career falls short of that, I would have failed myself."

- NZ Herald

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