In addition to being the reigning, defending, undisputed UFC FIGHT PASS Journalist of the Year, Chase Hooper might also be one of the most self-aware fighters on the UFC roster.
Five years removed from his appearance on Season 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) and preparing to make his eighth appearance inside the Octagon this weekend opposite Jordan Leavitt, the 24-year-old from Enumclaw, Washington has reflected on his initial experiences inside the Octagon to craft an approach that he believes will allow him to have a long, successful, entertaining career at the highest level.
“My second fight in the UFC was against a 20-fight vet in (Alex) Caceres, and I felt like he was more savvy than me; he had a better skill set than me,” began Hooper, who lost to “Bruce Leeroy” by unanimous decision at UFC 250. “I think I had been a pro for two years at that time versus a guy that has been in the UFC for a decade.
“At 155 (pounds), I’m in the same weight class as these vets like Dustin Poirier, Conor (McGregor), Tony Ferguson — these guys that have 20, 30 fights; a crazy amount of professional experience at the highest level. So I’d like to stick to guys that are like myself — still gonna make some mistakes, still gonna rush in there a little — not like these vets that are gonna fight like a vet would: win on points, play the game because they know the sport so well.
“I like fighting people with as much experience as I have because I think it makes for better fights, better matchups.
“I’m trying to bide my time, move up the mountain a little slower, and make sure I’m still here for another 15 fights in the UFC,” he added. “It’s all about taking my time. This is definitely a marathon if you want to make a living off of it.”
It’s a mature, and frankly novel, perspective in a sport where many are touting their desire and readiness to not only fight for, but also win, the title in their respective weight class prior to even setting foot inside the Octagon for the first time.
While some of that can always be chalked up to fighter speak and confident athletes making it clear that they believe in their own skills, there is something important and meaningful about hearing a competitor like Hooper, who has had a somewhat unique experience competing at this level, reflecting on the lessons he’s learned along the way and discussing the adjustments he’s made as a result.
“I’m trying to close that experience gap and I feel like I’m definitely settling in, getting more used to the process of being in the UFC,” said Hooper, who first touched down in the Octagon as a 20-year-old with a 9-0-1 record, defeating Daniel Teymur at UFC 245. “Fighting on the local shows, you show up to weigh-ins on Friday and fight on Saturday; that’s about it.
“I never did any interviews until Contender Series, so it was a huge jump for me, and then you go in and have to do all these photo shoots, you might have to record some video stuff, you’re doing interviews with people that work for some of the biggest media outlets in the world before you fight on TV for people around the world, with your friends and family watching.
“It’s just another level of exposure in a sport where you’re already very exposed,” he said, smiling. “I mean, we’re fighting in our underwear.”
In addition to getting comfortable with all the secondary and tertiary pieces that come with a UFC fight week that are absent on the regional circuit, Hooper has also continued to grow, both physically and in terms of his skills inside the cage.
Supplementing his efforts with Jeff Hougland at home with occasional trips to South Carolina to work with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and treks to Spokane to work with Rick Little, Michael Chiesa and the Sikjitsu crew, the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt has shown clear progress in the development of both his striking and wrestling.
He’s also just grown up, transforming from a wiry babyface with a curly mop of hair on his head to a six-foot-one 24-year-old with a little more mass, a little more definition and a slightly more tamed mop of curls on his head.
After kicking off his UFC run at featherweight, Hooper made the move to lightweight in his most recent outing and turned in one of his best efforts to date, dominating the action against Nick Fiore of the New England Cartel to earn a clean sweep of the scorecards and his fourth UFC victory.
“It’s kind of an ego thing, but I feel like I was able to prove some people wrong,” he said sheepishly, not wanting to pat himself on the back or acknowledge the pleasure derived from largely silencing his critics with his performance against Fiore. “I’ve been trying to move past that part, but it’s nice to not hear anything about the striking any more when I put up a record amount of strikes in a fight; it was nice to be able to do that.
“It was nice to feel like I have a gas tank and energy the whole time, too,” continued Hooper, who admitted that the cut down to compete at featherweight was taxing both mentally and physically. “I’ve had fights at ’45 where I’ve felt like I couldn’t push myself on the ground with ground-and-pound because the energy wasn’t there — I felt held back a little bit — but at ’55, I think it’s more natural and that performance showed (all of that).”
This weekend, the burgeoning lightweight gets a matchup that fits his wish list, as he’s paired off with Leavitt, a fellow DWCS alum with six prior UFC appearances and 13 professional fights on his resume.
Like Hooper, the Syndicate MMA man and Las Vegas native is more comfortable in the grappling realm, but making progress with his striking, coming into Saturday’s engagement off a first-round TKO win over Victor Martinez where he put his improvements in the standup game on display.
“When I started fighting, I didn’t want to see my opponent until we stepped into the cage,” began Hooper, who carries a 12-3-1 record into Saturday’s main card fixture. “Looking at their record, trying to watch film, that stuff would get me super-anxious, super-amped up.
“But this fight, I know Jordan — we’re friendly, we’re familiar; I’ve hung out with him a couple times, which is just what happens at the Performance Institute. He’s a good guy and so am I, but we’re professionals and they’re not paying us to be buddies.”
Quite the opposite, of course, and when the lightweights do step foot into the Octagon and get about the business of punching each other in the face, Hooper is hopeful that this weekend’s outing looks comparable to his last appearance, though he certainly wouldn’t object to getting things done a little quicker either.
“A successful night for me would be not catching anything dumb on the feet because I know Jordan will throw some crazy strikes,” began Hooper, explaining what comprises a successful business trip to Las Vegas this weekend. “Keep that high defense up like I was hoping for last fight, hopefully getting the better of the scrambles with him; staying on top, not letting him hold me down.
“For me, it’s similar to the last fight, really,” he added. “A finish is always nice, but I’m happy with anything. I’m prepared for that 15 (minutes) and hoping I can put a pace on him that he’s unable to keep up with.”
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