UFC 257: Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler – The Breakdown

Hooker
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

Finally, after years of questioning and speculating, lightweight force, Michael Chandler is going to showcase his skills under the UFC banner. 

Constantly linked with a move to the Dana White led promotion, the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion lands in the Octagon against a ferocious litmus test from the get-go. 

Riding a two-fight knockout run into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Chandler faces a nasty, durable, gritty, and technical welcoming party as he draws Kiwi striking talent, Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker. It’s a severe test for Chandler upon his promotional landing, in a spot which attracts mass attention to boot. 

Featuring as the co-main event beneath the return of former two-weight world champion, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor, and former interim titleholder, Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier, It’s a massive landing spot for the Sanford MMA mainstay, and spoils available to the debutante are potentially massive with a victory. 

A ten-year Bellator MMA veteran, Chandler has been to the very top of the mountain time and time again. Achieving championship honours on three separate occasions, the Missouri native has bested former UFC lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez, Patricky ‘Pitbull’ Freire, and Brent Primus to sit atop the promotion’s lightweight list. 

A phenomenal wrestler and scrambler, Chandler plys his trade under the tutelage of renowned head coach, Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA in South Florida, alongside the likes of fellow wrestling and grappling outliers, defending welterweight best, Kamaru Usman, and UFC 258 challenger, Gilbert Burns. 

It’s a massive stage for Chandler’s first Octagon appearance and against a gritty opponent like Hooker, the former will need to bring his ‘A’ game with him in his second trip to ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi, UAE in four months.

Watchful eyes may be fixed on the Octagon debut of Chandler, however, Hooker has a massive point to prove as he plays welcoming party. 

Tasked with laying out the proverbial red carpet for Chandler, the City Kickboxing hitman battled with event headliner, Poirier to a Fight of the Year contender at UFC Vegas 4 in June last. Pouring wilting pressure on the Louisianan, Hooker himself wilted in the later rounds — having outstruck the former with barrages that would’ve likely put an end to most other lightweight opposition. 

Given the fact Hooker and Chandler start each of the three sanctioned rounds on the feet, that’s already a distinct advantage for the former. A very lengthy kickboxer with an unorthodox stance and series of flowy combination with his hands, Hooker will utilise front kicks to maintain sufficient distance between himself and Chandler, as to not invite the supreme wrestling base of the 2009 Division I All-American Missouri University captain. 

Worst case scenario besides finding himself on the end of the power Chandler can generate with his hands, is if Hooker ends up on bottom with the smothering style and top-pressure of the newcomer. 

A stout wrestler with a punishing style, Chandler is quite traditional in his setups and scrambles, powering through with a grinding approach. And it’s this wrestling base that on paper separates these two, and come fight night, could be the deciding factor. 

Disciplined entry to range for Chandler is paramount against somebody of Hooker’s kicking and actual overall striking proficiency. The debutante has himself already claimed how on paper, it seems to him that Hooker presents the most difficult challenge for him to solve out of the current lightweight top-ten. Fail to make the right entries with caution, especially in the early goings and Hooker is most certainly one who can switch off your lights. 

Chandler has quite sufficient power in his hands as well there’s no doubt about it, however, history tells us putting Hooker away is an arduous task, to say the least. Demonstrating an otherwordly grit and durability against the above mentioned, Poirier in his last outing, as well as his February headliner in Auckland against Paul Felder — even Edson Barboza, who is the sole competitor to finish Hooker via strikes, had a tough time getting the Kiwi out of there.

With many more tools on his work belt when compared to Chandler, Muay Thai ace, Barboza ripped the body with hooks and kicks over their December 2018 three-round matchup, and after a multitude of shots to the body of Hooker, the Kiwi eventually keeled over in agony, resulting in an eventual finish. Put Hooker away and Chandler will most certainly produce that special something that undisputed champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov has teased would entice him from retirement. 

A lot has been made of the possible takedown setups brought to the table by Chandler usually, but particularly, how shots down the middle within range of Hooker’s mobile knees put him in danger. As noted, Hooker is quite tall for 155-pounds, and Chandler is a stout wrestler, leaving him susceptible to that straight knee up the middle which we’ve seen Hooker utilise to dispatch Ross Pearson, Jim Miller, — as well as setup up his right-hand knockout of the above-mentioned teammate of Chandler, Burns. 

I believe we’re in for a war of attrition in this one, and that’s something that I also believe both Hooker and Chandler fully embrace, and to a certain extent, welcome. Hooker’s got an ungodly resilience to him while Chandler comes from the gritty, grinding wrestling background. A major factor could prove to be Chandler’s ability to close the distance on Hooker without finding himself on the receiving end of some real significant damage. 

Over the course of three-rounds, I personally don’t feel that’s something that he can totally avoid. I’m picking Hooker to serve as a tough welcoming party for Chandler, on his way to a decision victory — arguably the most high-profile win of his career to date. 

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