Dan Hooker never lost focus on UFC Fight Night despite visa challenge

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The reason the UFC secured a venue it calls Fight Island was to make it easier for international fighters to compete without coronavirus-related travel restrictions in the U.S. But New Zealand’s Dan Hooker didn’t get a ticket to Fight Island, he was booked for Saturday’s main event against Dustin Poirier in Las Vegas. So he needed a visa to the U.S., and time was running short.

“Wednesday last week I got like a random number was calling me,” Hooker told ESPN on Wednesday. “I don’t usually answer random numbers, but I answered the phone, and he said, ‘I’m the U.S. ambassador. What do you need from me?’

“I was like, ‘I need a visa. I’m in the main event of the UFC next week. I need a visa to get into the country.’ He’s like, ‘Alright, I’ll do whatever I can to sort it out.’ The next day I had an appointment, the day after that I went and picked my visa up. Usually, that process alone takes a couple of weeks, booking and processing the visa. … The boss can pull some strings, let’s just say that.”

UFC president Dana White has been doing everything he can to keep the sport active, even when the pandemic shut down nearly every other sport. One of his more creative concepts was Fight Island, which actually is Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The first of four cards there is July 11.

“[Visa problems were] not something I was concentrating on,” Hooker said. “I have to prepare for a UFC fight. I have to do my best with training and that. You can’t do that with one foot in the door, one foot out the door.

“Mentally I was 100% committed to the fight, I knew it was going to happen. My only real concern was for my team and the people coming with me. And their sacrifice and the time they’re spending away from their family. Because they have to be with me fight week, they’re taking the risk coming over here, they got two weeks in isolation when they get back. I’m very grateful they made the sacrifice.”

New Zealand, which is almost entirely free of COVID-19 after strict lockdown measures, requires a two-week quarantine for people arriving in the country. That means it’s going to be a long trip for New Zealand-based coach Eugene Bareman, who trains Hooker. Bareman also corners featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski, who defends his title on the July 11 card in Abu Dhabi against Max Holloway. So Bareman will fly straight to Abu Dhabi from Las Vegas because the two-week quarantine won’t allow him to first go home to New Zealand.

“Luckily we’re living in times where we’ve got the technology, like Zoom chats,” Volkanovski said. “He’s bringing up screens and slowing down videos, still breaking things down. It’s no worries.”

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