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Dan Hooker defends Israel Adesanya, City Kickboxing possibly moving from New Zealand to United States

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Like teammate Israel Adesanya, Dan Hooker could soon be coming to America.

With COVID-19 safety restrictions in New Zealand making it difficult for the country’s fighters to properly prepare for upcoming matches, the City Kickboxing team—which houses UFC champions Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski as well as Hooker, a top-ranked lightweight—could soon make the U.S. it’s new home.

On Sunday, Adesanya announced his plans to move to the U.S., citing New Zealand travel restrictions and lockdown measures that are interfering with his plans to book a rematch with Robert Whittaker. Hooker has had his own issues with COVID-19 restrictions, as there were questions whether he and opponent Nasrat Haqparast (who fights out of Germany) would be able to secure visas in time to compete at UFC 266 this past Saturday.

Hooker and Haqparast both made it to Las Vegas just two days before fight night, and Hooker picked up a unanimous decision victory. He’s sticking around Las Vegas for another week, but when he returns home he faces a two-week quarantine and an uncertain training situation after that.

Should his gym end up moving, Hooker supports the decision and he’s standing by Adesanya, who has faced criticism for his comments regarding the New Zealand government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

“The media in New Zealand, the way that they kind of portrayed what Israel said and how they’ve portrayed us saying that we’re forced to make the shift over New Zealand, I would say the majority of the media that did stories about it in New Zealand painted it in a negative light,” Hooker said on The MMA Hour on Monday. “They painted it like we’re leaving because we don’t like New Zealand or we’re looking for special treatment, like we’re complaining we want special treatment because we’re sports stars. They’re not heeding the call, I think, they’re just portraying him in a negative light, saying that he’s asking for too much or asking for special treatment.

“How can asking to go to work be asking for special treatment? It’s the craziest thing to me. That guy has done more for New Zealand than any one of those people having a go at him. That guy has put New Zealand in an absolute spotlight. Israel has made the world sit and watch New Zealand combat sports and for that they say he’s this and that and that he doesn’t like New Zealand. It’s just the worst.”

Hooker has proudly flies the New Zealand flag during his UFC walkouts and doesn’t want his team’s potential move to be misconstrued as anti-patriotic. But he’s also hoping to avoid lengthy quarantines and visa headaches in the future.

The way things are going, Hooker thinks that the growth of MMA could slow down in his home country.

“I feel like we would have to keep our sport moving in New Zealand, to keep MMA in New Zealand, to keep the wheels moving,” Hooker said. “If we just stay in New Zealand, they’re not allowing us to train, so what happens if Israel, whatever fight he’s got next, he starts his training camp and New Zealand goes into a lockdown? We just can’t train.

“You’re not giving any kind of exemption to MMA people. You’re not letting us back into the country. You’re making it impossible for us to train, you’re making it impossible for us to compete, so we’ve got no option but to make a shift. Continue to make sure that we keep the balls rolling for MMA in New Zealand.”

Having snapped a rare skid, Hooker is ready to get back into action, and he’s already called out fellow lightweight contender Beneil Dariush. Hooker is looking forward to booking his next fight as soon as he can get back in the gym.

When that will be he’s not sure, but he’ll be ready to move his whole life to the other side of the world soon if the situation calls for it.

“I’m prepared to,” Hooker said. “I would take the family with me. It’s not my call. It’s up to [City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman], it’s up to the coaches, they’re the ones that will make sure everything’s sorted out. I’m just another body on the mat at City Kickboxing. I’m just one of the boys on the team that does the training. I don’t make those kinds of decisions.”

Volkanovski also appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday and confirmed that a City Kickboxing move is a distinct possibility.

“It is a real thing,” Volkanovski said. “Because again, it’s just traveling, it’s so much harder. Even before the COVID and I was going to fight Ortega, look how long it was in between fights anyway. It’s purely because of these lockdowns and all that. It’s a whole process, it’s not easy. It’s tough. That’s why it’s hard to even get out of the country and get back in and then you’ve got to do a two-week quarantine and all that type of stuff. It is difficult, so it’s definitely something that we’re looking into.

“I’m in my prime and I need to fight as much as I can. We’re losing so much of our prime to everything that’s going. Hopefully that’s gonna change soon, but we’re thinking of just riding out this whole chaos until things are back to normal.”