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Chase Hooper wants to be MMA’s next Demian Maia

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Preliminary-card fighters can’t leave the arena before the end of events, so Chase Hooper didn’t go to M&M’s World after his Octagon debut.

Hooper, 20, had come to Las Vegas on business, fighting in the UFC for the first time in a bout against Daniel Teymur. But he also wanted to mix in some fun, and for him, that meant getting his own custom M&M, a decidedly wholesome activity after nearly getting asphyxiated.

With time to kill, “The Teenage Dream” took a few laps around the T-Mobile Arena, feeling entirely uncomfortable with fans who lined up to take pictures with the curly-haired kid from rural Washington. In the rush of everything, he decided to scrap his original post-fight plans.

In spite of his age, Hooper looked very much like a veteran in the Octagon, delivering a sharp comeuppance to his mean-mugging opponent in the first round. Afterward, though, he was a newb in the spotlight.

”I just feel a little awkward, like a little bit of imposter syndrome, like I don’t deserve people to want to take pictures with me,” Hooper said.

That’s the gig now that Hooper is a bonafide UFC fighter, so he’ll have to figure it out. At 16, he decided he would make this MMA thing into a career. He spent most of his free time on the mats growing up. He was “pretty anti-social” and “didn’t have too many friends” in high school, he said.

Four years later, he’s a homeowner and a professional fighter. He’s still getting used to the idea of the latter.

”I mean, it is kind of a ridiculous sport,” he told MMA Fighting. “It’s a ridiculous lifestyle to live, and it’s weird to think this is what I actually do.”

Hooper nevertheless fought hard to get to this point. He earned a spot on Dana White’s Contender Series, where he didn’t earn an immediate contract, but instead signed a development deal that kept his Octagon hopes alive. At the time, he reportedly had $30 in his bank account.

As a fighter, Hooper knows pretty well who he is. As a personality, that other all-too-important part of a career in MMA, Hooper is still figuring things out. But he’s got a pretty good handle of how things work when you’re trying to claw your way up.

”You have to realize that it’s entertainment,” he said. “It’s not purely just a sport. People aren’t just watching to see how well you do.”

And so far, he’s managed to get a fair amount of attention. He joked about his age on the UFC’s social media account and started another running gag about being Ben Askren’s son. Photoshops followed.

According to the UFC, he’s also the most-watched fighter to ever appear on the Contender Series with five million views. Not bad for a guy who was 5-0 at the time.

Professionally, Hooper wants to follow the footsteps of another standout grappler, Demian Maia, who later this year will compete in his 31st UFC fight.

”He’s been able, for the most part, to avoid taking too much damage and avoid damaging himself too much,” Hooper said. “I think if I can force the grappling, but just get everything better overall to compensate, I think that would definitely help out.

”I definitely don’t want to be someone like Sage Northcutt, who had a couple of easier fights and then jumped right up to some of the higher level guys, didn’t do so well, and then had to move over to ONE.”

As the time of his writing, Hooper remains unbooked for his next fight. He estimates he only needs to compete once a year to cover his bills; he renegotiated his deal after the Teymur win. But of course, he is on a winning streak and wants to strike while the iron is hot.

And right now, the UFC has his back. The promotion took the liberty of printing out those M&Ms and sent them to his house.

”I’m trying not to have any misconceptions about it,” he said. “If I didn’t win that fight, the UFC might have just cut me. It’s a cruel sport, but it’s fun as long as you’re doing well.”