SCOTO Bets Preview: Hooker vs. Chandler

Mike Chandler will be making his UFC debut on Saturday, following his ten-year, 23-fight run with Bellator, where he has spent most of his career. He’s a Strikeforce veteran of two fights, only having competed in one regional contest before earning his way into major promotions. He trains at Sanford MMA under Henri Hooft.

Chandler will be welcomed to the octagon by New Zealand’s Dan Hooker, who is 10-5 in the UFC with eight wins by stoppage. Training under Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing, The Hangman has earned some impressive recent victories, including first-round knockouts of Gilbert Burns and James Vick, and decision wins over Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder.

Hooker’s most recent fight was a unanimous decision loss to Dustin Poirier this past Summer, a bout which produced some of the most memorable rounds of the year. In that fight, Hooker stood in and showed he has the skills to box with the elites of the featherweight division. While his boxing skills are elite, Hooker will be faced with a possibly unfamiliar challenge in this fight; the elite wrestling ability of Michael Chandler.

Chandler was an all-American wrestler at the University of Missouri in 2009 while competing as a professional mixed martial artist. He is a three-time Bellator lightweight champion with nine career knockouts and seven submissions. He’s a well-rounded fighter and is immediately one of the more complete fighters in the UFC lightweight division.

Chandler is a forward-moving fighter with strong technical boxing and powerful straight punches. Even at 35-years-old, he is still getting better with each fight. He’s small for the division at 5’8” with a 69” reach, and takes a low, almost squatting stance. The low stance allows him to duck under opponents attacks, set up body blows, quickly change levels and shoot in, and, most of all, sit down on every punch he throws.

The power this allows him to generate has led to two straight first round knockouts in his last two fights, landing single shots to finish Sidney Outlaw and Benson Henderson. He is very patient in his striking approach, moving forward and cutting off the cage. He forces opponents to make the first move and has strong counter-striking.

Chandler throws some nasty shots to the midsection. He doesn’t throw very many kicks but his boxing is crisp and powerful. He uses his striking to time his level changes very well, and I anticipate him coming into this fight with a grappling-heavy gameplan. He has very strong wrestling technique and smooth, quick takedowns. He is very strong for 155 and is able to transition smoothly on the ground.
He has very nice ground and pound and is always looking to advance to the strongest possible position, usually his endgame is working up to a crucifix and raining elbows. On the way there, he gets some good work done from side control, which is where he usually looks to land on the ground.

He’s a very good scrambler and almost always comes out in favorable positions from grappling exchanges. This is going to be his biggest advantage in this fight.
The concern for Chandler is the amount of damage he takes. Though he has good head movement and remarkable footwork, his guard is very easily penetrated and he takes a lot of damage. It has taken a lot to finish Chandler in the past, but he does have a tendency to over-extend on his power punches. That tendency has really only cost him against Patricio Friere. He probably trades more shots than he ought to, but he is looking to move out of space after landing his. Overall, Chandler has a pretty high fight IQ.

Dan Hooker will be the much larger man at 6’0” tall, four inches taller than Chandler, and he will look to maximize what will be a 6.5” advantage in reach. He’s a power striker who swings from the hip and looks to use that reach to stand just outside his opponents range but just inside of his, trading shots and relying on his head movement defensively.
He has one-shot knockout power, throwing mean hooks with both hands. He has a nice jab and uses low kicks to keep his range when he isn’t looking to engage. Early in fights, he tends to keep that distance and try to take advantage of his range, but he almost seems like he’s fighting the urge to stand in the pocket and swing. He’s as tough as they come and has been in some brutal, back-and-forth fights against Edson Barboza, Paul Felder and Dustin Poirier. Though Hooker and Chandler have both displayed fight-ending power, it’s unlikely that either of them will be taken out with a single shot, less Hooker than Chandler, who was finished by that perfectly placed right hook from Patricio.

Hooker’s gameplan is simple: hit more than you get hit. Though he has clean technical boxing, he naturally wants to be in dog fights. Considering his reach advantage in this fight, he has an opportunity to display some patience and defensive prowess. Hooker tends to take a lot of damage, both to his chin and to his body. His midsection is an area of particular concern, as most of his opponents have found the target there, which cost him the Barboza fight and put him at disadvantages in the Felder and Poirier fights. He circles and picks his spots, but he likes to be planted or moving forward when he strikes, which is a problem in this matchup.

Chandler will likely come out with a measured, patient approach, cut off the octagon and pressure Hooker into swinging with him. This fight favors Chandler if the distance is closed. Though Hooker is longer and can better avoid damage in these striking exchanges, his takedown defense is not good enough to stop Chandler, and trading shots from close range will be Chandler’s path of least resistance to Hooker’s legs. Chandler has excellent timing on his outside level changes and can shoot in from distances well, personally I think he’ll find success either way. However, he’s an intelligent and well-rounded fighter who doesn’t really attempt takedowns, or power punches for that matter, without setting them up first.

The ground action in this fight will be one-sided if/when it gets there. Hooker has shown some decent grappling ability, but his toughest challenge on the canvas to date has been Al Iaquinta, who doesn’t posses the grappling acumen that Chandler does. This is likely going to be the difference in the fight.

I think the only reasons that Mike Chandler is being billed as the underdog in this fight are that UFC fans are unfamiliar with him and his abilities and, even if they are, they’re not willing to invest in him because they’re worried about the level of competition he has faced in his career. While Chandler himself has acknowledged that the top 5 in the UFC are the best competition he has been faced with in his career, he has dominated some very highly skilled fighters during his time in Bellator.

Chandler has more ways to win this fight than Hooker does, and I think that Chandler can negate Hooker’s size and reach advantage with his pressure, his digs to the body and, of course, his wrestling. Hooker’s guillotine is something to look out for on Chandlers entries, but Chandler has never been submitted and has worked out of bad positions against much better grapplers than Hooker.

It’s tough to tell whether this fight will see a finish or not, but I think the most likely result is Chandler by decision. He is a stylistic nightmare for Hooker, as he has good enough boxing to stand and trade, as well as elite, all-American wrestling skills, top control skills and ground striking. He’s going to move forward, mix up his striking to the body and chin, and maybe take some damage before timing up level changes and dragging Hooker into deep water.


In what I think is an early candidate for fight of the year, Michael Chandler is about to put the UFC lightweight division on notice. He is not just a gimmick, he is not just a replacement fighter, he is not less skilled or less talented than anyone in the UFC top five right now. He belongs here, and he’s going to prove that by defeating the #6 lightweight contender in the world.

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