Dan 'The Hangman' Hooker returns to octagon at UFC 266 against Nasrat Haqparast

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

After calling out anyone and everyone for a fight inside the octagon for weeks, Dan Hooker now has a fight booked at UFC 266, less than five weeks away on September 26 in front of what will no doubt be a packed T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

As the New Zealand Herald reports, with no other ranked fighters available, Hooker was happy to take on whoever else was willing to sign on the dotted line. That signature came from unranked lightweight Nasrat Haqparast, who has almost cracked the lightweight rankings in the past.

Haqparast (13-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) enters UFC 266 on a two-fight winning streak, which includes unanimous decision victories over Alexander Munoz and Rafa Garcia. He’s won five of his past six, with his lone loss against Drew Dober in January 2020.

This will be the second time that the No-8 ranked lightweight Hooker has fought ranked fighters in five of his last six bouts, the last being former Bellator champion Michael Chandler in his co-main event debut back in January, which Hooker lost.

This time, when Hooker makes the trip he won't be going alone. Fellow Aussie City Kickboxing teammate and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski defends his title in the main event against No-2 ranked Brian Ortega.

Both Volkanovski and Ortega were the coaches of the newest season of the reality series The Ultimate Fighter, and it will be Volkanovski's second title defence since July last year against Max Holloway. City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman will also be there as one of Volkanovski's cornermen.

'It would have been very dicey'

Travelling overseas for work in the pandemic era is a risk for UFC fighters in Aotearoa, knowing that they would need a MIQ voucher upon returning home. Fellow City Kickboxing teammate and Te Ao Toa presenter Kaiwhare Kara-France has taken that risk when he makes the journey to Las Vegas in December later this year, unable to book a voucher as all bookings have been taken.

For Hooker, managed isolation vouchers were part of the reason for him setting the date for his next fight at UFC 266. When he made the journey to Abu Dhabi in January to fight Michael Chandler earlier this year he was unable to return home until late February due to no vouchers being available. This time, he has planned ahead. "I have a voucher for a week after that fight for October 4. 

"It would have been very dicey had I not got that fight.

"You hear stories of Kiwis getting stuck overseas for four, five, six months trying to return home, burning through money on accommodation and living overseas. That's not a risk I wanted to take, so I'm just thankful that this fight came together and it's all locked in now."

Dan gives his first interview after his fight announcement. Credit: YouTube/Its Time For Sports


His matchup against Haqparast is also part of the prelims, his first time in a while in many fight cards where he has been part of the main card. 

"I pushed for this fight, so I pushed for myself in that situation knowing the risk. But to not take it because a fighter is unranked, or to not take it because you're going to be on the prelims - what does that hurt?

"Does it hurt me physically? No. Does it hurt me financially? Definitely doesn't hurt me financially. 

'It hurts my ego'

"My ego is pretty much a liquid," he laughs. "A lot of people's egos are like glass - they get it shattered and they can't put it back together.

"As you've seen, I've had my ass kicked many times and I always bounce back and truly believe that I'm the best fighter in the world. That is something that has taken a lot of experience tro reach that kind of level of understanding."

The prelim bout is also free to view on ESPN.

"It's free, brothers. What's the problem? No one from New Zealand is complaining about it."