By Alistair Hendrie
Edson Barboza brutalized Dan Hooker to the body, landing five kicks without reply. “We can stop this fight right now,” cried Daniel Cormier, commenting on round three of Saturday’s UFC Milwaukee co-main event. Barboza chased the back-peddling Hooker, scoring a vicious elbow over the top. “Why? Why? Why?” Cormier continued.
The Brazilian landed 29 to 13 significant strikes in the third and finally grabbed the KO in the same round with a salvo of strikes to the liver, with Hooker put out of his misery and crumpled up on the canvas. Cormier was right –Hooker should have been pulled out and he shouldn’t have had to endure such punishment.
Indeed, Hooker should have been rescued by either the cageside doctor, referee Rob Hinds, or his City Kickboxing corner, and in the end, it was no surprise that he reportedly suffered a concussion. After the bout, Hooker stayed at a Milwaukee hospital overnight for observations.
Warnings of his downfall arrived in round two as the New Zealander ate jab after jab to the face and temple, his nose bloodying and his hands lowering. Beset by leg kicks from the off, he stood square-on and invited knees in the clinch. Hooker threw enough punches to show that he was competitive but Hinds should have warned him more during the prolonged rallies.
Next came a doctor’s intervention. “Where you at?” the doctor asked Hooker at the end of round two. “Milwaukee.” “What year is it?” the doctor probed. Ominously, on television at least, it was difficult to tell whether Hooker answered: “2018” or “2019.” Was the doctor confident of how Hooker replied, and could he have asked him another question? Either way, Hooker followed the doctor’s finger and was allowed to continue into the third round.
In all honesty, the climax was difficult to watch. You had to empathize with Cormier’s calls to stop the bout. Barboza slammed rapid-fire kicks to Hooker’s body. Three times Hooker doubled over before standing bolt upright again, open to attacks with his hands by his sides. The six-foot lightweight had no chance of recovering by the time of the stoppage, and while the doctor and Hinds may have to be challenged on their actions, so should Hooker’s corner.
Indeed, as Jon Anik mentioned in commentary on Saturday, MMA is developing a culture of corners such as Hooker’s who are unwilling to pull their fighters out of thrashings. Featherweight Brian Ortega and light-heavyweight CB Dollaway both suffered ferocious beatings in recent times from Max Holloway and Khalid Murtazaliev, respectively, yet neither man’s corner stepped in.
City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman, who wasn’t in Hooker’s corner this weekend, said: “He [Hooker] was visibly concussed several times, I believe… We have a very good set of protocols within the gym to take care of him. It’s a ruthless game we play. Painful for me to watch that from a distance, but we have been here before many times, so I’m looking forward to the return.”
Although the evidence in the cage stacks up against City Kickboxing, none of us know the protocols Bareman and company have in place, presumably crafted through evidence and research, to protect their fighters. Bareman would be wise to reveal these measures, and it’s important that gyms underline how they prioritize safety and to what extent they determine with their fighters when to say enough is enough to prevent an onslaught.
Fighter preservation is already a focal point for the sport, it must be said, and that’s why Hooker will receive a medical suspension from the Wisconsin Athletic Commission. Anik and Cormier should nevertheless be commended for asking why Hooker wasn’t protected adequately this weekend, and let’s hope these issues are scrutinized further so we no longer see fighters shipping excessive punishment.
This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports. Check out a free chapter of Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain.