Dan Hooker defeats Paul Felder by split decision in early Fight of the Year contender

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 23: (L-R) Dan Hooker of New Zealand punches Paul Felder in their lightweight during the UFC Fight Night event at Spark Arena on February 23, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(L-R) Dan Hooker of New Zealand punches Paul Felder in their lightweight during the UFC Fight Night event at Spark Arena on Feb. 23, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Dan Hooker (20-8) electrified the hometown crowd as he defeated Paul Felder (17-5) by split decision on Sunday in Auckland, New Zealand. The main event lived up to the hype as both men left Spark Arena bloodied and bruised after the back and forth affair.

Bad blood poured before any punches landed as Hooker refused to touch gloves with Felder. Hooker was comfortable and confident looking in the eyes of the ferocious Felder, who pushed the pace despite Hooker eating at his lead leg for most of the early rounds and having his right eye swollen shut after the first round. Felder's heart and grit showed as he never slowed down at any point in the fight.

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Home-field advantage played a significant factor as the crowd echoed with every shot landed by Hooker, but Felder got stronger as the fight carried on. The fourth round was the turning point as Felder bit down on his mouthpiece and landed massive strikes that stunned Hooker. Hooker refused to let down those who came out to support him as he maintained his composure even in the face of danger. Felder carried the momentum to the fifth round and continued to connect with big punches. The final minute of the fight may have been the difference-maker as Hooker secured a huge takedown that may have given him the slight edge in the mind of the judges.

As the judges made their decision, there was no way of predicting who they would award the victory to. It would be hard to make a case against either fighter as they each had their moments in the five-round war. The arena exploded with cheers as Bruce Buffer announced the final decision, giving the victory to the hometown-favorite.

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Hooker seized the moment to call out lightweight contender and human highlight reel Justin Gaethje. A great callout for Hooker and a fight that every fan can get behind.

In Felder's post-fight interview, he said it might be his last time-fighting in the Octagon as he plans to spend more time in the broadcast booth and with his family. Coming off a loss, it is hard to tell if Felder will stick with his gut or follow the route of many UFC fighters who returned to the game after retiring. If it is his last fight, he will be remembered as one of the most exciting fighters to step in the cage.

Both men showed respect toward each other in what is likely a Fight of the Year contender.

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