Michael Chandler calls Dan Hooker his toughest matchup, but wasn’t on ‘radar’ prior to UFC 257 booking

Michael Chandler didn’t think he’d be fighting Dan Hooker for his UFC debut.

The former Bellator champion and recent UFC signee thought he’d be taking on a top-five name in UFC’s lightweight division for his first bout with the organization. Instead, Chandler is set to fight Hooker, who’s No. 6 in the UFC’s official lightweight rankings, at UFC 257.

Chandler (21-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) admits Hooker (20-9 MMA, 10-5 UFC) wasn’t an opponent he had thought of, as he was previously linked to bigger names in the division.

“Here’s what I would say: Dan Hooker wasn’t on the radar, or the highest run of the radar, mainly because of the pecking order of the UFC’s rankings,” Chandler told ESPN on Monday.

“Obviously, when I came in, the UFC wanted to give me a test right away – throwing around names like (Tony) Ferguson, like (Dustin) Poirier, and (Charles) Oliveira, who are No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the division. Obviously, aside from Khabib (Nurmagomedov), because he’s semi-retired right now, we’re not sure what he’s doing yet. But these were the names that they were trying to get me booked against, so it wasn’t that Dan Hooker wasn’t a formidable opponent.”

UFC 257 takes place Jan. 23 in Abu Dhabi. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.

Chandler was linked to Ferguson, Poirier and Justin Gaethje throughout late 2020, but nothing came to fruition. He also served as the official replacement opponent in the title fight between Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje at UFC 254 in October.

Despite not considering Hooker as a potential opponent, Chandler said he has deep respect for the New Zealand native and labels him as his toughest matchup at 155 pounds.

“Truthfully, he may be one of the saltiest, nastiest, toughest challenges both physically and with his attributes inside of the octagon than any of (the top-ranked fighters),” Chandler said. “I think that I match up better with Poirier than I do Hooker. I think I match up better with Gaethje then Hooker. I think I matchup better with Ferguson than Hooker.

“So at the end of it all, I signed with the UFC to get to the top. In order to get to the top, I have to have a fight, I have to get inside the UFC octagon.”

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