Dan Hooker has been waiting like a caged animal for his opportunity to get back into, well, a cage.
The Kiwi UFC star has been in unfamiliar territory this year. After facing a medical stand down period due to a concussion suffered in his December loss to Edson Barboza, the 29-year-old lightweight has had to sit through the longest inactive streak of his mixed martial arts career.
"It was kind of a blessing in disguise," Hooker said. "I've never sat on the shelf for seven months before and it's kind of starting all over again. It's completely reset me, I feel like a new fighter after that amount of time.
"I'm itching to get back in there. I've wanted this for a very long time; to get another chance, another shot to get back on track and here it is."
While waiting to finally make his return to the octagon, Hooker has spent the majority of the past seven months training as usual. While he couldn't fight, he watched as a large number of his City Kickboxing teammates prepared for and went into fights in their various disciplines; the most notable of which being Israel Adesanya who won the UFC interim middleweight championship in April.
"I was back to training pretty soon after the last fight, so everything's been building up for such a long time. Seeing everyone else doing fight camps, seeing everyone else do fights… it makes you even hungrier," he said.
"I've put my soul into this camp. I've done everything. I've been waiting for it for so long."
Hooker heads to Vick's home state of Texas for what might well be one of the longest lightweight bouts the UFC has ever booked, with both fighters standing at 1.8m or taller. Like Hooker, Vick comes into the bout looking to get back on track.
The Texan has suffered back-to-back losses in his most recent bouts; being knocked out at the hands of Justin Gaethje before losing on the scorecards against Paul Felder.
"He's coming off two losses, but that's to Justin Gaethje who's ranked No.5 and Paul Felder whose lung he blew out," Hooker said.
"He's a tough guy. I have a lot of respect for James, he's a serious threat."
Dan 'the Hangman' Hooker v James 'the Texicutioner' Vick
Three-round lightweight (70kg) bout
UFC San Antonio, Sunday, July 21 (NZ time)
Tale of the tape