Chase Hooper is one of the most interesting prospects in the sport right now and at just 21 years old, he has a legitimate shot at becoming the future of the UFC. He started training Jiu-Jitsu when he was just eight years old and fell in love with MMA when he watched his coach, Jeff Hougland, make his UFC debut back in 2012. He was only 11 years old at the time but that one fight was all it took for him to know this is what he wanted to dedicate his life to.
Hooper made his amateur debut in 2016, and in less than a year he amassed a 5-0 record with five first-round finishes. Then a month after turning 18, Hooper went pro and has achieved a 9-0-1 record with seven finishes since 2017. Hooper might not look like your average fighter, but in reality, we might be witnessing the rise of the next superstar of MMA.
Hooper’s lack of experience is most evident in his striking. It’s awkward and forced at times and you can see what he’s trying to do but he doesn’t have the experience to put it all together. He seems to go into the fight with a plan and doesn’t deter from the game plan even when getting abused on the feet. But this is something that all young fighters go through. At the highest levels, you must know how to simultaneously force your game plan on the opponent while adjusting and reacting to the opponent’s response. Having the awareness to make mid-fight adjustments only comes with experience, and Hooper has already gotten better at it as seen in his fight with Lashawn Alcocks. Early in the fight Hooper was jabbing him up from the outside and keeping him at distance with his kicks. But when Alcocks started to catch the kicks and end up on top, Hooper mostly abandoned them and relied on his long straight left from a southpaw stance.
What’s impressive about Hooper’s standup is his ability to turn bad situations into grappling exchanges. In his contender series fight with Canaan Kawaihae, Hooper was getting destroyed on the feet. He ate nearly every left hand Kawaihae threw and he was not used to dealing with fellow southpaws. But every single time he was rocked and Kawaihae rushed in for the finish, Hooper would somehow grab a leg or an underhook and force a grappling exchange. And although his striking has looked much better since this fight, his biggest advantage is always on the ground.
Here’s another example of Hooper turning a bad sequence into a grappling exchange in his most recent fight with Daniel Teymur. Hooper attempts to close the distance with a body kick and then grab double collar ties immediately after. But Teymur’s punch on the shoulder stumbles him and he gets caught in a guillotine. Hooper nearly breaks his own neck by pushing off the cage, but he defends the choke and attempts a single leg against the cage.
Instead of shooting for takedowns or looking for trips and throws in the clinch, Hooper likes to pull guard. If you are predominantly a grappler, pulling guard is a great option because often the opponent will follow because they think they might have an advantage on top. Once you reach the notoriety of a Demian Maia or Ryan Hall, opponents are wary of jumping in your guard, but for now, pulling guard is Hooper’s best bet at getting the fight to the ground.
Most fighters aren’t comfortable enough off their back to pull guard, but Hooper is an exception and this clip is the perfect example. He starts in full guard trying to trap the opponent’s arm and spends the next 30 seconds transitioning between an armbar, triangle, and briefly a leg lock before using the triangle to sweep into full mount. The constant transitions and submission threats force the opponent to be defensive on top which allows Hooper the time to work for a sweep.
Here’s another notable example of Hooper starting on his back and quickly transitioning to a dominant position. He again uses the triangle attempt from side control to sweep, but this time he takes the opponents back.
Once Chase Hooper gets on top is when he truly shines as a fighter. His ability to flow through positions while maintaining control on top is years ahead of where it should be. The constant submission threats along with a healthy dose of ground and pound slowly break opponents down and if you give him enough time, he’s eventually going to catch one of those submissions or throw down elbows until the referee has seen enough. Although Hooper is only 21, he already has a decade of grappling experience under his belt and it shows in his control and ability to chain together various submission attempts and sweeps to eventually get full mount which is his ultimate goal.
From his skills in the cage to his loveable character outside of fighting, and the intelligence he shows in interviews, Hooper has all the assets to be a superstar in this sport. But we have seen this story before and more often then not it ends in tragedy. Promising young fighters like Sage Northcutt and Paige Vanzant were supposed to be the next big thing, but the UFC threw them to the wolves too early and all it took was a couple of losses to derail the hype train.
So far it seems the UFC has taken the right steps to build Hooper up by giving him favorable matchups. But this weekend, at UFC 250, he takes on longtime UFC veteran Alex Caceres in what will be the toughest fight of his career on paper. When Caceres made his UFC debut in 2011, Hooper hadn’t even seen his first MMA fight. Caceres is far from an elite fighter but with a decade of high-level experience, he’s seen just about everything you can inside the octagon. 21 of his 28 career fights were with the UFC, and he’s one of the few fighters on the roster that completely grew up in the UFC which is going to be the new trend with young fighters like Hooper coming in.
When it’s all said and done, Hooper will have a better career but I’m afraid giving him someone like Caceres is too much too early. Hooper is currently sitting at a -160 and rising favorite and in my opinion, that’s too close of a fight to give someone like Hooper who they should be building up as a star. Caceres has great cardio and quick footwork that he uses to stay on the outside and evade, albeit a bit sloppy at times. Hooper has a clear advantage on the ground but it going to be tough catching Caceres motionless for enough time to land a takedown or pull guard. The UFC and most of the fans are pulling for Hooper in this one, but don’t be surprised if Caceres edges out a decision with his movement and ability to land just enough strikes from the outside to win rounds.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance MMA writer who specializes in pre-fight breakdowns and analysis. He has been an MMA fan since 2007 and has been writing about combat sports since he was 17 years old. His work can be found on Sherdog, MMA Today, and now MyMMANews!