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Dan Hooker ‘tried to fight absolutely everybody’ in the rankings, ‘dumbass’ Armen Tsarukyan was already booked

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Dan Hooker has been looking for a fight since June but he hasn’t had much like finding any willing takers.

Following a first-round knockout loss to Michael Chandler back in January, the 31-year-old lightweight contender was anxious to compete again after taking time off to rest and recover but the UFC matchmakers were struggling to get him an opponent.

According to Hooker, he was originally targeting UFC 263 for his return to action so he could share a card alongside his teammate, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Despite his best efforts to score a ranked opponent, Hooker says the UFC wasn’t able to book him in a fight, which left him twisting in the wind without knowing when he would compete again.

“They tried everyone,” Hooker told MMA Fighting. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been trying to fight since June. I tried to get on Israel’s card in June and they told me no one was ranked and available to fight me on Israel’s card in June.

“To be in that same position in September and then potentially not to fight again until next year is something that I can’t do. The competitor in me will not allow it, will not allow me to waste this time when I feel so hungry to compete.”

Due to travel restrictions in New Zealand because of the global pandemic, Hooker had to plan his fight ahead of time in order to book a travel voucher that would allow him to return home in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s why Adesanya’s rematch against Robert Whittaker was delayed because “The Last Stylebender” was expected to fight at UFC 268 in November but the inability to secure a voucher that would allow him to return home could have kept the middleweight champion out of New Zealand for several months.

Hooker explained that’s what he was attempting to avoid after getting lucky with the travel lottery in his home country that would allow him to get back into New Zealand in early October.

“That’s why I was so adamant about this date, I was so adamant about this Sept. 25 date,” Hooker said about competing at UFC 266. “Last time I came home, I was away for two months all together for the Chandler fight, away from home for two months. This time it will only be a month. I’ll go over [a week] before the fight and then my ticket back into quarantine in New Zealand is only a week after the fight.

“So I only spend a week in Las Vegas after the fight and then two weeks in quarantine and I’m back home. That’s why I pushed so hard for this date. I’m the reason that this whole fight came together because I pushed so hard for this date.”

As September was drawing nearer, Hooker was still waiting to hear from the UFC on an opponent and he was asking for just about anybody and everybody in the lightweight rankings.

One fighter in particular who got into a verbal sparring session with Hooker as he was seeking out a fight was lightweight prospect Arman Tsarukyan, who has now won his last four bouts in a row.

The lightweights exchanged a few heated messages over social media about potentially facing off and that’s what led to Hooker asking the UFC for that fight along with several more but all of his requests were denied.

“I asked the UFC to fight [Islam] Makhachev and he’s fighting [Rafael dos Anjos] and I completely understand it,” Hooker explained. “He wants to fight RDA, that fight’s been supposed to happen. I understand that. I tried to fight Gregor Gillespie. He wasn’t ready to go. I tried to fight Armen. The dumbass already had a fight booked or he signed a contract real quick once me and him got in a little dispute.

“So I can’t understand that. To say that I’m unwilling to fight a wrestler, that’s just silly. If you think that, you’re kind of kidding yourself. I put my hand up to fight absolutely anyone. The only reason they couldn’t fight is they didn’t accept the challenge.”

Once it became clear that a ranked opponent wasn’t available, Hooker told the UFC to just find him anybody willing to step up to the challenge because he needed to fight in September.

That’s what eventually led to his current matchup at UFC 266 as Hooker takes on Nasrat Haqparast on the preliminary card.

“I tried to fight absolutely everybody,” Hooker said. “I put my feelers to absolutely everybody to see if they were interested in a fight. Unfortunately, I got a call from Sean Shelby a couple of weeks ago and he said ‘I’ve tried calling top to bottom, everyone’s either matched or they’re washing their hair on that date and they won’t be available to fight.’ I said well get someone unranked.

“I’ve seen news stories here in New Zealand of people being away stuck without a voucher and trying to get back into the country for four, five, maybe six months. They’ve been stuck out of the country because they can’t get a spot in quarantine in isolation. It’s a risky move. That’s why I had to push so hard for this date. Lucky enough, Nasrat stepped up to the plate. Nasrat took the challenge. I take my hat off to him and I look forward to getting out there and competing against him.”

Over the past few years, Hooker has worked hard to earn his place among the best lightweights in the UFC but he also understands how the number next to his name can be both a blessing and a curse.

Ideally, Hooker — like almost every other fighter on the UFC roster — would like the chance to fight opponents who would give him the opportunity to move higher in the rankings to eventually get into position to battle for a title.

That’s exactly what Hooker wanted this time around as well but when that couldn’t happen, he sent the UFC a clear message on his choice of opponents and when Haqparast was the name presented to him, he was quick to sign on the dotted line.

“For me to turn down this fight because he’s not ranked and then not fight, that would be silly,” Hooker said. “It’s a funny situation but everyone’s either booked or injured or just unavailable to kind of make that date. You could list off the names. I tried literally everyone.

“Nasrat was the best fighter I could get my hands on. To me, at the end of the day, I will fight the best fighter I can get my hands on. That’s it. Nasrat is the best fighter in the world that I can get my hands on in September. That’s why the fight’s happening.”