Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Following a loss to Islam Makhachev at UFC 267, Dan Hooker had a decision to make about his future.

Despite finding success competing in the lightweight division, he was looking at a long road back to title contention after falling to 1-3 over his past four fights, including losses to Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. That’s when he started contemplating a return to featherweight after previously fighting there to start his UFC career.

Recognizing the mistakes he previously made while cutting to 145 pounds, coupled with his prospects at lightweight, gave Hooker all the motivation he needed to make a change.

“That’s the real motivating factor to go down to featherweight, is that I didn’t want to tread water at lightweight,” Hooker told MMA Fighting. “You want to be a world champion. That’s your goal, so you want to get there as quickly as you possibly can. This is the quickest path for me. If I would have stayed at lightweight, I would have had to kind of sit there and gatekeep the top 10 for the next 12 to 18 months.

“At this stage of my career, it doesn’t give me as much motivation as moving yourself towards a title. To just move down to a weight class where I feel I’m quite comfortable making and be straight back into the mix, is a big motivating factor.”

At first, Hooker’s coaches weren’t exactly certain that a return to featherweight was totally warranted, but it wasn’t because they were worried that he couldn’t make 145 pounds safely.

“They [didn’t] necessarily resist,” Hooker said on The MMA Hour. “They just believed that I can compete and beat the best guys in the world at 155. For me, personally, I just feel like 145 is the weight class where I feel the best competing at that level.”

Due to travel restrictions in New Zealand, Hooker was unable to fly home after his fight against Makhachev, which meant he spent additional time in the United States.

That led him to the UFC Performance Institute and the trainers there who were able to put Hooker through a series of tests to find out just how safe it would be for him to cut down to 145 pounds.

“Advancements in the science around weight cutting have really developed,” Hooker said. “It’s kind of incomparable when I used to be making it. The UFC didn’t even have a Performance Institute, let alone a nutrition department, let alone these guys who are weight cutting specialists and working with a fight dietician, who is kind of monitoring everything.

“I always knew I could do it, but it’s whether you could do it and still perform, or do it within a safe range. It’s not like I just eyeballed it.”

Hooker admitted that fighting at featherweight will require him to be very disciplined with his diet, which will need to continue even in the offseason when he doesn’t have a fight scheduled.

That said, he’s very confident that the change in divisions will be better for him in the end.

“I just stay lighter in that time between fights,” Hooker explained. “That’s another thing as well — at lightweight, you can kind of blow out and I could eat whatever I want. So it’s tracking your weight between fights so there’s no big yo-yo.

“I’m at the stage now where you’re a professional about it. Whether you have a fight or you don’t have a fight, you just treat it like a professional athlete. It’s not like these huge weight cuts.”

In his return to featherweight, Hooker will immediately draw a top-15 ranked opponent in Arnold Allen, who currenty sits at No. 11 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings while also having a perfect 8-0 record in the UFC.

Hooker had no hesitation whatsoever about jumping right into the deep end in the division, because he doesn’t want to waste any time as he continues to pursue a UFC title.

“You’re getting a guy like Arnold Allen, who’s on an eight-fight win streak — it’s kind of hard to deny that a guy on that win streak isn’t in title contention,” Hooker said.

“To take the momentum of a guy like that on a streak like that, that’s exciting for me. That’s motivating for me.”

If there’s one potential conflict for Hooker in his new home, it’s that his chase to become champion could put him directly in the path of his teammate, Alexander Volkanovski, who currently holds the UFC’s 145-pound title.

Rather than look at the downside of that situation, Hooker prefers to put a positive spin on what he considers an advantage to work with the best featherweight in the sport each day.

“We’re kind of in the position where we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Hooker said. “So many different things can happen. It’s such a volatile sport. To worry about a maybe in the sport of maybes is a difficult thing. It’s kind of distracting and sidetracking. He’s got fights, I’ve got fights. There’s no need to cross that bridge yet. To me, it’s a good problem to have.

“It’s the same thing as Brad Riddell was my teammate and training partner when he was making his way into the top 10 in the UFC lightweight division. I wanted him to win his fights. I wanted him to get as high as he can. You just want the best for them because they are your teammates. It’s a good problem to have that your friends are so good at fighting — that, in all the people in all the world, it might come down to you and your mate. To me, it’s a good problem to have.”

Hooker promises there won’t be any drama stirred up between him and Volkanovski, because that’s just now how the team at City Kickboxing operates.

If anything, Hooker plans to root for Volkanovski every step of the way, and if the day ever comes that they’re in line to fight each other, then they’ll deal with it.

“You just want all your friends to win,” Hooker said. “You want them all to be successful. I’ve seen some teams where it’s not even in the same weight class, but one person on the same team starts getting a lot of success and then other teammates, there’s maybe some jealousy creeping in. It’s just not like that for our team. Everyone just wants the best for everyone. Like we say, one of us wins, we all win; one of us loses, we all lose. That’s why we are in the position that we’re in. We really go out there and represent our team.

“Anything can happen. It’s such a crazy sport. Alex could end up being double champ and fighting at lightweight or something crazy like that. That’s what I want for him. I want nothing but success for him. I don’t want my success at his expense.”

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