He's talking the talk. Will The Hangman walk the walk in Sin City?

New Zealand's next top title hope Dan Hooker believes his time has arrived as he takes on former interim champion Dustin Poirier in Las Vegas this weekend.

Published: 1 July 2020 - 12.50pm
UFC

Dustin Poirier

There are few gyms in the world of MMA with as much momentum as City Kickboxing right now.

Profile

  • Born 13 February 1990 in Auckland, New Zealand
  • Two-time lightweight MMA champion outside the UFC
  • Has fought at heavyweight in kickboxing
  • Coaches at City Kickboxing gym in Auckland when not competing
  • Won seven of his last eight fights - including four stoppages

The Auckland stable, headed by fabled coach Eugene Bareman, enjoyed a breakout year in 2019 as both Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski conquered the middleweight and featherweight divisions respectively.

This weekend, team-mate Dan Hooker will be hoping he can build on that winning form to keep City Kickboxing on track for a stunning championship hat-trick with victory over one of the lightweight division's most exciting fighters, Dustin Poirier.

'The Diamond' finally ended his long wait for championship honours in 2019 as he defeated Max Holloway to become the interim 155lb king, outpointing the Hawaii man in a gruelling five round thriller.

But after the ecstasy of that win at UFC 236, Poirier's year ended in heartbreak as, on his maiden attempt at the undisputed crown, Khabib Nurmagomedov strangled him into submission at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking to BT Sport's Adam Catterall after that fight, an emotional Poirier reaffirmed his desire to conquer the division.

"I worked 14 years of mixed martial arts to get here. 41 fights," the Alabama man said. 

"I'm not fighting just to fight, I'm fighting to be the world champ."

Now, almost ten months on from that defeat, Poirier returns to face one of the division's dark horses in Dan 'The Hangman' Hooker.

Since dropping a points decision defeat to Jason Knight in 2016, Hooker has quietly pieced together an impressive run of form that has seen him go 7-1, including wins over current welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns, former lightweight title challenger Al Iaquinta and, most recently, Paul Felder.

There is little doubt, however, that Poirier represents the toughest test of his career to date - but the 30-year-old Kiwi is not short on confidence heading into the bout.

“I feel like I can put Dustin away. That's not any knock on his ability”
- Dan Hooker

In a Twitter exchange with Justin Gaethje earlier last week, Hooker snapped "Put your money where your mouth is, when I KO Poirier we fight in August for your plastic title!", after the interim champion claimed Hooker would "get merked" in this weekend's showdown.

Poirier himself was quick to shut down suggestions that the fight would be a walkover, telling MMAJunkie's Mike Bohn: "I don't like that honestly, man.

"This guy is dangerous, he's a top opponent and a top-five ranked opponent for a reason. I don't look past anybody.

"This guy is the only thing I'm focused on right now. 25 minutes with Hooker and we'll see what happens man but I don't like the fact that fans are passing him over because this is a dangerous guy and I've been preparing very seriously for him."

His words came as no surprise to Hooker, who suggested Poirier had enough on his plate without needing to talk trash ahead of Saturday night.

"It's a risky enough fight for him," Hooker said on the Ariel Helwani show.

"He's risking a lot, he's a big name guy. I'm just coming into the top five and making my way up so it's a huge risk for him so he doesn't want to add to that by talking a load of s***.

"That would just add fuel to the fire because I think it is a tough fight and it is a risky fight for him."

When pressed for his prediction on fight night, Hooker replied: "I go out there, get the job done.

"I feel like I can put Dustin away. That’s not any knock on his ability. I come back to my hotel, pack my stuff, get on a plane and go back to the greatest country in the world."

But what do the experts make of the main event in Las Vegas?

Dustin Poirier fighting against Khabib Nurmagomedov
Poirier came up short in his last outing against undisputed lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242

Speaking on his YouTube series ‘The War Room’, BT Sport’s Dan Hardy suggested Hooker should be cautious in showing too much aggression against Poirier.

"It would be foolish of Dan Hooker to just walk forwards and try to get into a firefight with Dustin Poirier,” Hardy explained.

“I'm not saying he's not going to do that - and I think it's less risky if he does that against Poirier than against Edson Barboza.

“Barboza has a whole range of techniques that he can throw at you, so you would push forward on him to try and smother the more dangerous techniques.

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"Poirier is really a headhunter. Most of his strikes are aimed at the head. Very rarely does he look down the body for other targets. When he's approaching a fight in a calmer, strategic way like when he is fighting a power-puncher like Eddie Alvarez or Justin Gaethje, then he does tend to jab and work the lead leg, move a little more.

“He might just come wading forward against Dan Hooker, he might just try and put him on the back foot and start trying to knock him out like he did against Max Holloway. That wouldn’t surprise me.”

With the prospect of the number one contender spot awaiting the winner – or even a fight against the likes of Tony Ferguson or Conor McGregor – the stakes could not be higher heading into Saturday night.

Who will bolster their claim to the next title shot in one of the UFC’s most talent-rich divisions? Tune in on Saturday night to find out.

UFC Fight Night: Poirier v Hooker begins at 11pm on BT Sport 1 HD. If you're not yet a subscriber, click here to find out how we can get you set up in just 15 minutes.