'Hangman' stares down Islam Makhachev ahead of UFC 267 clash

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Mahkachev and Hooker face off for the first time. Credit: Getty Images. Video credit: YouTube/UFC 

It was only a little over a month ago that Dan Hooker (21-10 MMA, 11-6 UFC) was in the octagon with a dominating performance over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266.

Fast-forward to this weekend, he's back for another 'Sunday scrap' against #5-ranked lightweight Islam Mahkachev.

Makhachev was originally meant to fight Rafael Dos Anjos, who withdrew due to injury. 

After defeating Haqparast in late September, 'The Hangman' was offered a chance to fight Makhachev (20-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC), in a quick turnaround for the #6-ranked lightweight. It meant sacrificing his return home with his MIQ voucher but  Hooker took the chance. 

That chance means should he defeat Mahkachev this Sunday in Abu Dhabi [NZ time], he will be remembered as the one who derailed the Makhachev train and will bounce back into the top five and edge closer to a title shot. 

Hooker has since been living in the US, with the UFC giving him a place to stay in Las Vegas and unlimited access to the UFC Performance Institute to help him prepare better than he did in lockdown for his fight with Haqparast.

But Hooker's opponent is in the top five for a reason, not to mention the Dagestan native Makhachev trains with retired undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and has won eight fights straight in the UFC, rising in the lightweight ranks to take the No. 5 spot.

Mahkachev displays his skills inside the octagon. Credit: YouTube/UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship

"This is his party. I’m just here to spoil it."

Since media has started to build up closer to the date of their dance, Hooker has come out with a few choice words for his opponent.

In his solo media conference yesterday Hooker said, “I want to fight him because he is a specialist. I want to fight him because there is so much intrigue. I want to fight him because he is considered the best grappler in the division. I want to fight the best people in the world, and he’s considered one of the best people in the world. That’s why I want to fight him.

"I don’t want to fight him because I think he’s an easy target. It doesn’t make sense to discredit him. He’s deserved everything he’s achieved. This is his party. I’m just here to spoil it. That’s my whole plan.”

'The Hangman' breaks down why he took the fight. Credit: YouTube/UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship

Though the Ngāti Maniapoto descendant has utilised more wrestling as of recent with three takedowns in his match with Haqparast, he knows that Makhachev's Sambo background means it will make this more of a classic striker vs grappler clash. That isn't to say he will underestimate Makhachev.

“He’s standing up. That’s why I say a broken clock is right twice a day. He’s got a couple of knockouts. He’s hurt some people. He can strike. Obviously, it’s purely to set up his takedowns. His striking is to set up his takedowns.”

At today's official press conference, though a man of few words, Makhachev was cheered by fans in attendance as he said, "I think Abu Dhabi is my place. I have big support here."

With cheers for Islam, Dan says he knew what it was like to be in enemy territory. "You've got to be ready for everything in this game. I've main event-ed in my home town in a sold-out arena, that's a different kind of pressure.

"Now you're coming over by yourself into enemy territory, so I'm sure there'll be people out here supporting me. But I feel like I come in here on a bit of a raid."

Islam and Dan speak to media ahead of their bout. Credit: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship.

With the weigh-ins done just moments ago, these two lightweights get to deliver what will no doubt be a spectacular fight on Sunday.

Their match is part of a stacked card that features a bantamweight interim title bout with Petr Yan facing Cory Sandhagen, and light heavyweight champion and the only man to beat Israel Adesanya in the UFC, 'Polish Power' Jan Blachowicz defending against Glover Teixeira.

The main card for UFC 267, available on UFC Fight Pass and Sky Arena, starts at 7 am [NZ time] this Sunday.