UFC Vegas 63 Fighter to Watch: Chase Hooper

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 21: (R-L) Chase Hooper battles Felipe Colares of Brazil in a featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 21, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Young grappler looks for second straight victory when he takes on Steve Garcia on Saturday night

Name: Chase Hooper
Nickname: The Dream
Record: 11-2-1 overall, 3-2 UFC
Division: Featherweight
Team: Combat Sport & Fitness / Upstate Karate
Opponent: Steve Garcia

How We Got Here

Now a few years removed from his win on Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) and settled into life on the UFC roster, Chase Hooper remains an intriguing prospect in the featherweight division as he readies to return opposite Steve Garcia on Saturday night.

Dropping a pair of fights and dealing with some growing pains was honestly the best thing that could have happened for the Pacific Northwest native, as the setbacks pushed him out of the spotlight and allowed him to simply be another inexperienced, but developing young fighter on the roster. While he still has a little more star power and name value than some of his contemporaries, few are watching Hooper like a hawk, waiting to judge him — and therefore the DWCS machine — for being undeserving of his place in the UFC any longer.

The way his first five fights inside the Octagon have gone are a quality representation of where Hooper was at in his development at those moments, and a sound guideline for assessing where he’s at heading into Saturday’s meeting with Garcia.

Getting launched into the cage with Alex Caceres for his sophomore showing was like throwing a kid that just passed their first swimming class into the deep end without any floaties. Though he didn’t drown, Hooper was thoroughly outclassed and didn’t need to get done dirty like that.

The reason I say that was is because after his late-stage rally to beat Peter Barrett, he got out-worked by Steven Peterson, and while “Ocho” is a solid veteran from a good camp (and missed weight), he’s a step back from Caceres and Hooper still struggled.

Spending nearly a full year on the sidelines, growing into himself a little, and starting to work with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and his father down in South Carolina clearly paid dividends for Hooper last time out, as he was able to eventually finish Felipe Colares in May. It was another tough fight and good test, but showed some of the progress the 23-year-old is making, as well as some of the areas where he can still improve, but felt like the right level of matchup for where he’s at in his career.

The same holds true with Saturday’s pairing with Garcia, a 30-year-old Albuquerque native with a 1-2 record in the UFC and a solid resume on the regional circuit. Rather than giving Hooper a step up off a win, he’s holding steady, which affords him the chance to keep logging invaluable cage time as he continues to progress.

What There Is to Like

I think there is a lot to like about what Hooper brings to the table.

First and foremost, he’s six-foot-one and fighting at featherweight, which means he’s got very good size and solid reach, which is sure to serve him well in general, and especially given his focus on grappling.

Secondly, his grappling as very good and of the variety that you want to see in MMA these days, even if there are still pieces of it that he needs to work on.

Thirdly, he’s 23… and while he’s been at this for a handful of years, he’s also still just growing into his body and getting quality coaching on the other elements of the sport that maybe weren’t quite as sharp or prevalent in his home gym. And that’s not a knock on Jeff Hougland and the crew at Combat — everyone has their specialty and Hooper became a very good jiu jitsu player and submission fighter there; now he’s learning to add other pieces to his game by working with superior striking coaches like Ray Thompson.

I also like that he’s had five fights in the UFC and lost a couple of them, because those things build character, toughness and grit, and you don’t necessarily get that when you’re coasting through weekenders on the regional scene.

And to his credit, at no point did Hooper break, look for a way out, or stop trying to execute his own offensive game plan in those losses to Caceres and Peterson; he took his lumps and kept coming, which speaks to his competitiveness, his drive, and his heart, and those are the kinds of things you need, but also can’t teach.

Remaining Questions

There are three that stick out to me right now:

  1. How quickly can he develop a solid, reliable striking game that can keep opponents honest?
  2. Can he shore up and build out the other pieces of his grappling game?
  3. Will he learn to be more patient in grappling situations?

These elements are all connected, and improving one will lead to improvements in the others.

Hooper doesn’t need to become the best striker in the world to be successful — he simply needs to get to a point where people can’t completely dismiss his striking, because if they don’t have to worry about it at all, it makes getting into his grappling that much harder.

With his frame, a sharp jab, a clean cross, and solid kicks will do wonders for allowing him to get inside, change levels, get opponents moving backwards. and that’s really all he needs form a striking standpoint.

Now, the next piece is whether he can bolt on some wrestling and additional grappling elements to his game that will further help him get into his jiu jitsu, because getting there is what often stands out as the problem from folks from a BJJ background. What good is terrific jiu jitsu and submission attacks if you can’t ever get your opponent to the ground?

The gold standard is Demian Maia, who had outstanding wrestling and reached a point where all he needed to do was get his hands on you in order to start working his game. While I’m not expecting Hooper to suddenly morph into Maia, developing a body lock game, some trips, some takedown setups and entries, et cetera will all give him a greater opportunity to get the fight where he wants it and into his vast array of attacks no the ground.

And the last piece — the patience.

Go back and watch his fight with Colares and count the number of submission attempts Hooper — pardon the phrasing — chases during the course of the fight.

While UFCstats.com only credits him with three official submission attempts — one in each round — there are a bunch of different moments in the scrambles, in the interactions where Hooper takes a quick look at something, but doesn’t have anything. The three he really attacked were great, but there were other points where if he settled a little more, controlled the body a little more, those openings might have produced greater finishing opportunities.

His length and size are going to make him a threat in positions that aren’t usually threatening, and he should absolutely play to that strength. But taking a beat or two to settle into a position before hunting for a neck or an arm or a leg would serve him well.

Why This Fight Is Important

The last fight felt like the first for this current version of Hooper — the bigger, stronger incarnation — and Saturday’s contest is a chance to see what kind of positives come from a quality performance like that.

Hooper did a lot of good things in his fight with Colares, but there were still plenty of things for him to work on. Now we get to see the work that he’s done, how much he’s grown, and figure out what kind of further reads we can make when it comes to forecasting his future in the Octagon.

This is the first fight in a couple where there is an expectation that he wins, rather than it being an “I could see him winning” situation like his last couple have been, and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles that as well.

Mostly, I just want to see him compete again because he’s still only five fights into his UFC career and only turned 23 a month ago, and I still think he has a ton of room to grow and develop.

I’m a long-term investor when it comes to prospects, and Hooper still has a long way to go before his game has fully matured.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.