Dan Hooker before UFC 281: Claudio Puelles ‘a good test to prove where I belong in the division’

NEW YORK – After dropping four of his past five, Dan Hooker thinks Claudio Puelles will gauge where he stands at lightweight.

Hooker (21-12 MMA, 11-8 UFC) meets Puelles (12-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC 281 main card opener at Madison Square Garden. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPNews and early prelims on ESPN+.

His recent losses came to the likes of current UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev and top featherweight contender Arnold Allen. But the major difference for Hooker this time is that he’s had a full and proper training camp with his entire City Kickboxing team.

“I definitely feel like I learned from all of those things,” Hooker told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at media day. “These are not mistakes. These are holes in my game that have been there the whole time, but they’ve been covered up by incredible coaching and incredible preparation being surrounded by the best team in the world.

“So when you take that away, these are like flaws in my game that were shown. So now to have processed those kind of things, fixed those holes, improved myself as a fighter and a martial artist and then to re-introduce incredible coaching, to re-introduce phenomenal preparation back into it, and I feel so much better as a fighter because of those challenging circumstances.”

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In Puelles, Hooker faces a leg-lock specialist who’s won five straight and three by kneebar submission. “The Hangman” thinks a young, rising contender like Puelles is the right kind of challenge to stake his claim as a top lightweight.

“This is the perfect fight, this is the right fight,” Hooker said. “After a couple of losses, questions start to get asked by people: Does he belong here? Does he belong there? So I’m happy to answer them. This is a young, hungry kid on a good streak, a lot of finishes. This is a good test to prove where I belong in the division, to prove that I stand my ground. These are the guys I should be competing against, so I’m more than happy to take on Claudio.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 281.

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Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie