Hooker and Felder square off in Auckland ahead of February UFC Fight Night

By James Perry

As the headline acts of UFC Fight Night Auckland faced off for the first time in today, neither fighter was going to back down.

Ngāti Maniapoto’s Dan “Hangman” Hooker and Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder stood face to face outside Spark Arena, the venue of their February 23rd Lightweight match up.

It's a fight both fighters have been wanting for a while for.

While being interviewed by him after defeating Jim Miller in New Jersey last year, Hooker called Felder out to be his next opponent, thinking Felder did not have a fight scheduled at the time.

Felder said today he was unable to disclose then that he had, in fact, had been awarded an upcoming fight.

Since then, however, things have turned sour, and Hooker culminated with Hooker declaring he wants to “smash his face in” when announcing the fight last week.

Today, he backed up his sentiment again, “it couldn't have been more respectful the way that I approached him and the way I called him out. And after my last fight, he starts making fun of me and things around me. So now, that's off the table, the gentleman’s agreement is off the table, now it's I'm coming for you,” before saying there is an element of bad blood between the pair.

Felder though says it’s just part and parcel of the fight game, and while he admits they aren’t best friends at the moment, maybe they could after ‘beating the crap out of each other.’

“I mean we are going to fistfight at the end of the day, so it's not like we need to be high fiving each other and giving each other little butt slaps. So if he says he's going to smash my face and I poke fun back at him, it's all in good fun man. It's MMA,” he said.

It will be Hookers third fight at home, and his first time headlining a UFC card. He says that has made getting into the right frame of mind for the step up to a five-round main event easier than some of his other camps.

“Some, if you're against a lesser opponent or you're fighting away in the middle of nowhere, and no one cares, you still train hard just as hard but it's harder to motivate yourself. I feel this fight's going to be a breeze to get out of bed in the morning.”

Felder is currently ranked 6th and Hooker 7th in the lightweight division. A win will potentially propel one into the top 5, from which they are within a chance of a world title shot.

Felder says they’re both at a point in their respective careers where they’ve proven their ability, and deserve a chance to step up another level.” He's proven it, I've proven it and now it's time to move up the rankings and get that shot. The winner of this is definitely going to get either a main event spot or maybe a co-main on a pay per view with title implications on the line,” he says.

Hooker trains out of the world-renowned City Kickboxing Gym, where one teammate Israel Adesanya is the Middleweight Champion, and another, Alexander Volkanovski is fighting for the Featherweight title next weekend. He says he wants his title shot, and he wants it “like, yesterday.”

Fighting in front of a home crowd, Hooker says, is the best feeling, and most deafening atmosphere he has experienced. His last fight, in front of a UFC record 57,127 fans at Melbourne’s Marvel Arena, pales in comparison to when he knocked out Ross Pearson in Auckland 2 years ago.

“I went deaf for a full 10 seconds,” Hooker says.

Hooker is looking forward to getting in front of his home fans, and says getting a win at home is his biggest focus and motivation, “If he breaks both arms, I couldn't care less as long as I get the win here. I feel like it's getting my hand raised at the end of this fight is all I'm focussing on whether that be via a fraction, or a mile I couldn't care less.”

The war of words will come to a head-on February 23 next year at Spark Arena, Auckland. Tickets go on sale this Friday, 6th of December, and more fights are expected to be announced shortly.