Dan Hooker's scheduled bout in Las Vegas next weekend hangs in the balance due to visa issues for the Kiwi lightweight contender.
Hooker, the No 8-ranked lightweight in the UFC, is expected to take on Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266 on September 26, but with his flight out of New Zealand booked on Sunday, Hooker admitted things aren't looking great heading into the weekend.
"I'm hoping for a Hail Mary," Hooker told the Herald.
The visa system was delayed with Auckland forced into level four lockdown last month, with Hooker having to mail in the appropriate forms with his passport, which would then eventually be mailed back to him.
Hooker said the last update he had would be that they would be sent to him next week, which would be too late.
It's a similar situation to the one Hooker found himself in last year when he travelled to Las Vegas for his main event bout against Dustin Poirier in June. For that bout, Hooker said he was able to go through the visa process within a matter of days thanks to then-ambassador Scott Brown.
"I thought if it got to this point, [I'd say] this is out of my control, I've done everything I possibly can to stay in this fight," Hooker said.
"Now I'm at that point, I'm not accepting it. I'm just not accepting it – I will try absolutely everyone I can because I know from experience that it's possible; I know the ambassador can get the job done."
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The embassy has my passport and all the completed documentation, all I need is it to be processed and returned.— Dan Hangman Hooker (@danthehangman) September 16, 2021
This is an absolute last resort. 🙏🤞
It's the latest obstacle to come up on Hooker's road to his next bout. The 31-year-old had been preparing for a fight for some time before he was finally matched up against the unranked Haqparast, and toward the back end of training camp he was twice warned by police for training with teammates – despite having created a bubble at Auckland's City Kickboxing before the level 4 lockdown came into force.
While heeding the warnings of police and taking training to zoom meeting with coaches and working on his fitness, Hooker said he had received many messages from people in Auckland who were looking to him for inspiration through lockdown.
"Trust me, if you live around the suburbs where I live, you would've seen me running around like crazy. Everyone in my local neighbourhood, I think, knows where I live; they're tooting out and supporting me.
"I did a lot of heavy lifting pretty early on; I've been trying to fight for the last five or six months so I've been in the gym really grinding. I feel like I have all of the hard rounds in the bank, I just need to stay fit, stay sharp, and I need to get over there.
"For me to just turn around and quit when I've got all these people looking at me, it's just not an option as far as I'm concerned."