Headline act for Hangman Hooker

By James Perry

Ngāti Maniapoto fighter Dan Hooker will headline the main card when he takes on 6th ranked American Paul "The Irish Dragon" Felder. 

The UFC will return to Auckland with a UFC Fight Night announced this morning to take place on February 23.

The Lightweight bout will be Hooker's first time as the main event and fight sports commentator Mike Angove says it's a deserved reward for the determination and perseverance Hooker has shown in the UFC.

He's had two victories in 2019, stopping John Vick in the first round in July, and taking a unanimous points decision victory over Al Iaquinta in October, which has seen "Hangman" rocket up to 7th in the Lightweight division.

"And now he's truly World Class. He's just outside the top five, and you've got to remember those are names like [UFC Champion] Khabib [Nurmagomedov], Conor McGregor, [Dustin] Poirier, [Justin] Gaethje so this is huge for Dan Hooker. He is poised to move into the same kind of area that Israel Adesanya is, so for him to be commanding the main event in front of his home crowd is absolutely massive," Angove says.

Hooker is familiar with the Spark Arena venue, he made his first UFC appearance there in 2014, on the preliminary card to James Te Huna vs Nate Marquardt, where he stopped he walked away with a TKO victory over Ian Entwhistle. He also appeared on the last UFC event in Auckland two years when Mark Hunt fought Derrick Lewis, Angove is expecting to see a similarly determined Hooker next year,  "[he] has had a couple of knock out wins here, against Ross Pearson and Entwhistle, you know so you can expect similar fireworks from him."

Hooker is one of a handful of City Kick Boxing fighters who have taken the UFC by storm in recent years, including Israel Adesanya, and Māori fighters Shane Young and Kai Kara-France. While Adesanya is almost certainly likely to defend his Middleweight belt in the US, the likes of Young, Kara-France and fellow CKB stable mate Brad Riddell could all be in the mix to feature in February.

Angove says the UFC's return to Auckland could also mean fighters from other gyms could have a chance to force their way into the professional ranks, "there's a couple of young guys over at Oliver MMA, there's this weekend obviously there's MMA World Champs here with a number of World Titles on the card, there could be a couple of guys coming out of that.

"We are a breeding ground now, we've proven that we have the coaching talent and the horses in the stables to bring up to a world-class level. So this is a reward for that," Angove said. 

So far four fights have been announced. In addition to Hooker facing Feldon, Tyson Pedro (Australia) takes on Brazilin Vinicius Moreira, Aussie-based Kiwi Ben Sosoli locks horns with Rogerio de Lima of Brazil and another Australian Jake Matthews and Emil Meek of Norway face off. There are more bouts expected to be announced in time. 

Angove says "expect for damn sure it's going to be sold out. It holds only about ten thousand people here and you got to remember you got to stick a cage in that. It's going to be hugely popular."