Dan Hooker's sacrifice embodies human cost to fighting amid a pandemic

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read

Coming off the toughest bout in his career, a five-round decision loss to Dustin Poirier in June in a Fight of the Year contender, Dan Hooker now faces the most difficult fight of his life.

It’s one there’s almost no way he can win, and which will take a great deal out of him.

On Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 257 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, Hooker will face former Bellator champion Michael Chandler.

And while Hooker respects Chandler greatly, he’s not about to say that Chandler will be his toughest fight.

It’s what comes after the bout that will be so hard.

Hooker is from New Zealand, which has some of the strictest regulations in the world to defend against the coronavirus pandemic. It is working — there were only five new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand on Tuesday compared to 185,070 in the U.S. — but to make it that way, the country is tough on travelers.

Hooker will have to stay in Abu Dhabi for nearly a month after the fight with Chandler. He won’t be able to travel to New Zealand until Feb. 21, the first time a slot was available for quarantine.

But when he arrives, he won’t be able to immediately see his wife, Isabella, or his daughter, Zoey. He’ll have to go into a two-week quarantine before he’ll be able to go home.

So Hooker won’t be home until March after fighting on Saturday. When fighters talk about sacrificing for their careers, this is what they’re talking about.

“I thought a 14-day quarantine the last time was difficult, but this time is far worse,” he said. “ ... So I’ve got six weeks when I’m not able to see my family.

“It’s harder now than it was last time when I left because my daughter was more of a baby then and she wasn’t aware I was going away. This time, she knew I was going away. She knew I was leaving, but she didn’t know where I was going or why. She doesn’t understand, but she knows Daddy is leaving and won’t be back for a long while. Maybe if she were older and could understand, it would make it easier, but she just knows I’m gone and doesn’t know when I’ll be back.”

That’s the sacrifice that so many fighters have to make to compete during the pandemic and there are real human costs to it.

But Hooker needs to put that aside because the Chandler fight represents a critical bout in his career. Hooker is ranked sixth in the lightweight division and a win over Chandler would likely move him into the top five.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 27: Dan Hooker of New Zealand warms up prior to his fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Dan Hooker is facing a six-week quarantine after his fight Saturday at UFC 257 against Michael Chandler. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

With champion Khabib Nurmagomedov likely to remain retired, the title will be vacant and that will open another spot. In an interview in Russian with the YouTube channel Sport24ru, Nurmagomedov reiterated his plans to retire.

So that means that the Poirier-McGregor winner will fight for the title next and Hooker will remain in contention with a victory. A second consecutive loss, though, would put a severe dent into his title aspirations.

But Hooker believes he matches well with Chandler and feels his striking will be the difference.

“I feel he’s a little bit careless or a little bit reckless,” Hooker said of Chandler. “The same things that make him weak make him strong. He’s very dangerous early on just because he is like that. You generally don’t see fighters at this level or fighters of this experience that come out guns blazing like that.

“You go through stages of that in your career, but you’ll eventually settle down once you realize, ‘I’m getting clipped with everything.’ You see most fighters settle, but he has not. You still see him come guns blazing and I’m not expecting him to figure out a reverse gear. … I like the fight, but I understand that in this sport, at the level we’re at, you’re only as good as your last fight. It comes with the sport but when you get to this point, when the lights go on, you have to perform.”

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