By Daniel Richardson
Dan Hooker's UFC journey began three years ago after he lobbied the matchmakers to give him a shot at the big time in his hometown.
Despite being told he was at long odds to be on the first UFC card held in New Zealand he was given a chance and he made good on the opportunity.
It was the second fight of the night and Hooker, who dropped down to featherweight from his favoured lightweight, stopped Ian Entwistle (9-3) with vicious elbow strikes in the first round.
He announced himself to the MMA world that evening on June 28, 2014 and nearly three years on, he has another chance to produce a highlight-reel moment this weekend.
Hooker (13-7) has alternated wins and losses across his six UFC bouts and his wins have all come via knockout or submission but shedding all that weight to drop to the 66.2kg non-title featherweight limit eventually became too much.
On Sunday, he will return to lightweight (70kg) in a bout against Englishman Ross Pearson (19-13, 1 NC) when the UFC stages its second show in Auckland.
Hooker has struggled to find consistency throughout his time with the UFC and that's also been reflected in his training.
For the past three years he has bounced around the world training in Thailand and the United States, between stops in New Zealand.
But for all his travels, The Hangman found there's no place like home and he has done his camp for this fight under coach Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing in Auckland.
"I put a crazy amount of work into this camp. I'm ridiculously fit. I pushed it to the limit," Hooker said.
The lightweight division is the deepest in the UFC and Hooker can make a statement by taking out Pearson who has been with the promotion since 2009.
"He's fit, he's strong, he's tough, he's a veteran; he comes to fight," Hooker said of his opponent.
"I'm going to have to put on the fight of my life and it's going to have to be the performance of my life to get the win here."
Hooker will need to use his length and range to keep Pearson at bay and he'd probably like to throw a higher volume of strikes than his past performances to help push the tempo.
The 27-year-old will also feel more comfortable at lightweight.
"I think with the change in weight, I'll be able to consistently put together big wins."
For Pearson, who has been based in Australia full-time for the past year after joining his wife on the Central Coast, this is an important bout.
He has lost his past three contests, all by decision, and a three-fight losing streak often means you're drinking at the UFC's Last Chance Saloon.
But Pearson doesn't see it that way and he believes all the pressure is on Hooker.
"It's the biggest fight of his career," Pearson said. "He's stepping up to fight me.
Everything's on him, all the pressure's on him. It's his town, he's here to fight."
UFC Fight Night 110 will be headlined by South Auckland's Mark Hunt (12-11-1, 1 NC) who will meet fellow heavyweight slugger Derrick Lewis (18-4).
Kiwi welterweight prospect Luke Jumeau (11-3) will make his UFC debut against Dominique Steele (14-8) on the undercard.