Chase Hooper has found himself in a unique position one fight into his UFC career.
Unfortunately for Hooper, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has indefinitely paused the entire sports world. UFC president Dana White is pushing to reboot the promotion’s live event schedule, starting a targeted May 9 return and possible weekly events once the action resumes.
The 20-year-old joined MMA Fighting’s What the Heck and revealed he lost a booking due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But with the organization’s new plans, he remains hopeful he can compete on the same date.
“It was the San Diego card (on May 16),” Hooper said of his initial booking. “It’s kind of weird with all of the quarantine stuff trying to still train and diet down when my training scheduled is super minimal now because everything.
“Like, it’s illegal to go to the gym and train. It’s a weird dynamic to try to diet down when all you’re doing is sitting in your house all day, and also prepare to fight somebody else in a cage, who’s also preparing to do the same just as hard as you are when you can’t go to the gym.
“It seems like a lot of the fights are going to be rescheduled, so hopefully I can keep the same opponent and maybe get on a private island. That would be cool.”
Although he wouldn’t reveal the opponent, Hooper said the matchup is still on the table. Once he’s given the green light, the unbeaten featherweight prospect hopes to make that announcement in a unique way.
“I signed the contract, so hopefully it still happens,” Hooper said. “I guess we’ll try to figure that out. If the fight is still on the table, we’ll find a fun way to announce it, I think. I was talking to a couple of buddies over at UFC Fight Pass, and we were kind of spitballing ideas. We’ll see.”
The Washington native earned an opportunity with the UFC when he was given a developmental deal on Dana White’s Contender Series. He picked up a unanimous decision over Canaan Kawaihae at the August 2018 event just before his 19th birthday.
Following a split draw under the CFFC promotional banner in his next fight, Hooper scored a second-round TKO win at Island Fights 54. His career began to take off after the final fight on his developmental deal, a Titan FC 55 fight that he won by first-round finish.
Prior to that bout, Hooper worked on promotional videos with the production team at UFC Fight Pass, which streamed the fight card. When his octagon debut ended with a rousing success, the UFC and its digital network continued push him by putting him on camera for on-site videos at NASCAR events, UFC event media days and interviews with the likes of Mike Tyson, among other opportunities.
With a disarming brand of humor, Hooper has found a newfound popularity among UFC fans.
“(I didn’t think it would happen) this quickly,” Hooper explained. “I know that the UFC likes me. I know that I have something different. I don’t look like the standard fighter; I’m not this jacked dude with tattoos and a beard or something. I’m this skinny kid with an afro, with a little bit of peach fuzz going on. I think that kind of sticks out.
“There’s only a few notable exceptions for people who have been getting this much exposure after just one fight, so I’m definitely super appreciative of that. It’s moving quick.”
With the promotional push, Hooper is very aware the target on his back has gotten exponentially bigger. As he prepares for his sophomore appearance in the octagon, the former IBJJF Pan American champion knows the UFC can only do so much to make create the Hooper brand.
“My thing now is, they’re helping me out in pretty much every way they can besides the fights and winning the fights,” Hooper said. “That’s the only part I’ve got to do on my own. That’s on me right now. For me, it’s all about keeping the momentum going, self-preservation like. I don’t want to get beat up, you know?”
In a strange and unprecedented time in the world, answering a question about competitive goals can be difficult to answer. Should the UFC move forward without any schedule hiccups, Hooper hopes to make 2020 a big year in and out of the cage.
“It’s hard because of the coronavirus stuff, because I don’t know how it’s going to affect these upcoming cards,” Hooper stated. “I’ve seen Dana say that they’re still trying to make all the fights happen and have the same schedule of fights throughout the year. So if that happens, I’d like to get two or three fights this year depending on if the fight that I already signed for still happens.
“I’d like to stay busy. As long as I can get three good fights, three good wins in, I’d be happy with that. Outside of the octagon, I want to start branching out a little bit more. Just making myself more valuable to the company, doing more interviews and that kind of stuff with Fight Pass, maybe jumping on the UFC streaming stuff more.
“If they need another skinny kid with an afro for a Reebok model, I’ll jump on that if I’m not too beat up by the end of the year.”