UFC: Dan Hooker turns attention to potential Tony Ferguson fight

Kiwi Dan Hooker's shot at the summit of the lightweight division has become more intriguing, after the staggering result in the UFC 249 main event.

Justin Gaetjhe's dismantling of Tony Ferguson to claim the interim lightweight title means the American - whom Hooker called out after his win over Paul Felder in February - will move on to fight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, taking him out of Hooker's sights for now.

Hooker had been slated to take on Dustin Poirier at UFC San Diego later this month, until that event fell by the COVID-19 wayside.

While second-ranked Poirier is still a leading option for fifth-ranked Hooker, Ferguson's removal from the immediate title picture means he's now fair game and may offer the 30-year-old a faster path to the belt.

"The Poirier fight is definitely on the cards," Hooker tells Newshub. "I would take that fight, but Tony Ferguson, that's another interesting match-up.

"He was the No. 1 contender. We'll see how the rankings play out after that, if he's ranked higher than Dustin.

"I want the highest-ranked fight possible, so I would take that [Ferguson] fight in a heartbeat."

Be it Poirier or Ferguson, a win over a fighter of that pedigree would solidify Hooker's credentials as the rightful contender to the throne.

He now boasts the third-best win streak in the division (three) behind champion Nurmagomedov (28) and interim champion Gaethje (four).

"It's a really exciting division to be a part of... to be top five, and to watch the No. 4 go in there and have the world watching him, that's one step away from me. That's one guy away from me. 

"To watch what he did - beat the No. 1 contender on a 12-fight win streak - gives you a lot of confidence moving forward."

Hooker was less surprised than most at the outcome of Sunday's main event, given his emphatic predictions of a Gaethje victory, but even he was taken aback by how clinically 'The Highlight' terminated Ferguson's undefeated run, dating back to 2012.

The upset technical knockout win was founded on Gaethje's superior footwork and early striking statements, Hooker notes.

"Gaethje was dictating where the fight was taking place, where he wanted to move, which way he wanted to move, and when he wanted to stand his ground and get some respect from Ferguson.

Hooker has his hand raised after defeating Paul Felder in Auckland earlier this year.
Hooker has his hand raised after defeating Paul Felder in Auckland earlier this year. Photo credit: Getty

"He was able to frustrate Tony, which is a very difficult thing to do, because a lot of people get frustrated by Tony, as he doesn't stay in the same stance, he doesn't attack from the same position, and gives so many different weird and awkward looks.

"In the first round, he got Ferguson's attention and respect, so when it came to the fourth and fifth rounds - when Ferguson starts turning up the heat and turning up the pressure - he was a little bit hesitant, because he'd already been caught with a few hard shots.

"He respected Gaethje too much to just try to walk him down."

Ferguson suffered a broken orbital bone in his face in the fifth-round defeat, which will likely put him on the shelf for several months and remove him from consideration as an injury replacement for Gaetjhe's title bid against Nurmagomedov.

That would mean a considerable wait for Hooker, should he choose to bide his time to take on Ferguson, but also makes him a frontrunner for a late call-up, if either Gaethje or Nurmagomedov are scratched late.

More time is far from a disadvantage for Hooker, who admits the lockdown period and subsequent delay of his original May 23 fight date have been a blessing in disguise, after his five-round epic against Felder in Auckland.

"I was beat," Hooker laughs, referring to his post-fight ailments. "My legs were smashed.

"I was not in a good way to get back into camp. That [May 23] would've been an incredible test.

"This sport takes a lot out of your body… it takes a huge toll. A bit of time, in the position I'm in, is not a bad thing at all.

"I've taken that time off the hard rounds, off the hard sparring and just been in the gym, getting better as an athlete - getting stronger, getting faster, getting fitter.

"I feel like I'll be a better version of myself when I do get that opportunity, than if I'd had the quick turnaround and been back in there next weekend."

The fabled 'Fight Island' is still on the cards, although visa requirements will likely restrict the number of international fighters able to appear at those proposed events, which are still yet to be confirmed.

But whenever the call comes, Hooker insists he'll be ready and more than willing.

"I'm fit, I'm ready to go. Weight's good, I'm just hungry for opportunity, being that close.

"I'm so close, I can taste it."

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