Mike Angove: Modern-day Samurai, Daniel Hooker has finally found a home

OPINION: Modern-day Samurai, Daniel Hooker has finally found a home.

In feudal times in Japan, a wandering Samurai was known as a Ronin. For several years, the 'Hangman' was a later day Ronin, a man who travelled the world in a quest to satisfy his thirst for martial arts knowledge.

Two years ago, the 28-year-old laid down roots at City Kickboxing in Auckland and according to head coach, Eugene Bareman is reaping the rewards.

"He's currently on a four-fight tear in the UFC and with his next fight against Edson Barboza, is on the cusp of entering the top 5 in the lightweight division," Bareman said recently.

"This is the result of having a stable base, a planned program and sustained development which continually develops his skill set. This is something that is harder to do when you don't have a team dedicated to you."

Mike Angove: Modern-day Samurai, Daniel Hooker has finally found a home

Something has certainly clicked for Hooker, he's a man at the peak of his powers, enjoying his prime, and still improving. The fight against Barboza, the co-main event on the UFC Fox 31 card, this Sunday in Milwaukee, is his chance to prove he is ready for the elite of the division.

The UFC number 14 ranked lightweight enters the bout as a heavy underdog, the Brazilian is regarded as one of the best strikers in the division and has a string of highlight-reel knockouts to his credit.

But that estimation could prove misguided, as the kiwi, in my opinion, is a better striker than anyone in the top five, including Connor. If Barbosa is sleeping on Hooker’s pedigree, he'll find himself taking an unscheduled nap on the octagon canvas.

In a gym full of other world-class strikers, Hooker stands out as a dominant figure. He is one of the few men I've seen in the gym take it to Israel Adesanya, a legitimate elite world champion and at times come out on top.

His technical prowess combined with a prodigious fight IQ make him an extremely dangerous proposition. He is unerringly precise and his ability to dissect an opponent has seen him win each of his seven UFC victories by stoppage or submission.

More importantly, he is confident in his abilities to dispatch the number 5 ranked lightweight in the UFC.

"Edson will be a huge feather in my cap if I can get it done on the feet by knockout that sends a very loud message to the UFC," Hooker told me.

But, he warns, "I am a true mixed martial artist, and I can adapt and switch my approaches. He is very strong on the feet but the same things that can make us strong make us weak.

"He's set in his ways and I'm more versatile and can adjust. Whereas he has shown he's incapable of changing his plan in the heat of battle."

Hooker has certainly left no stone unturned in his preparation covering of all his bases.

Whether it's his strength and conditioning programme with the Mr Miyagi like Japanese exercise science guru, Makato Endo, grinding on the ground with Romanian wrestling coach, Andrei Paulet or his secret sessions with the reclusive, one time world super heavyweight title challenger, Tristam “Twister” Apikotoa hidden away in his Mangere garage.

"Twist is my secret weapon. Its real honour to be his student. Somehow I got past his 2 or 3-year screening process before he'll coach you," he laughs.

"It's hard to explain, he knows my style better than I know it myself, so when he speaks I'm all ears because even a very small key detail makes improvements in my game and incredible impacts in the fight."

Although teammate Adesanya is garnering world attention with his deeds in the middleweight division, the more reserved Hooker is every bit his equal and perhaps the better-rounded mix martial artist with his submission and wrestling game.

The lightweight division is one of the toughest divisions in the sport, with a top five including the champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson and Connor MacGregor.

If Hooker, can dispatch Barboza, it will elevate him into this stratospherically elite group, and it is here that composure will pay dividends. One thing that characterises the UFC number 14, is his ice-cold resolve and complete lack of fear in the heat of battle.

He does not falter under pressure and refuses to back away from a challenge. One of my earliest memories of Hooker is watching him give away more than 30 kilos as he soccer kicked a super heavyweight opponent to oblivion in a 'Pride rules' matchup (allowing head kicks and foot stomps on the ground).

This was followed up shortly after by a tag team match where he traded toe to toe against two-time King in the Ring and Heavyweight World Champion, Antz Nansen. Frankly, Hooker doesn't care about who's in front of him, all he's interested in is finding a way to take you out.

Just prior to departing for the Milwaukee bout, he showed that instinct remains firmly intact. Having run through several top class welter and middleweights in sparring, he spent his final round with a 130kg wrestler who hoisted him six feet in the air with a high crotch wrestle'’s lift. Rather than be overwhelmed, Hooker displayed the natural skills of a cat to dive-roll out of the hold, FROM SIX FEET IN THE AIR, spring to his feet and issue another of trademark beat downs for the final two minutes of the round.

It's in these moments, truly exceptional athletes reveal themselves, somehow summoning otherworldly skill and grit which transcends other mere humans. For mine, the UFC has been sleeping on Daniel Hooker, but come Sunday morning the MMA will wake up to his deadly talents.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Hangman.

Mike Angove is a Sky Sports MMA and Boxing analyst.