'He'll try to take my head off' - Allen on Hooker fight and potential UFC title shot

Arnold Allen

Arnold Allen will fight Dan Hooker at UFC London on March 19 at the O2 Arena - Credit: UFC Europe/Twitter

Suffolk UFC star Arnold Allen says his upcoming clash with Kiwi superstar Dan Hooker will cement his place among the world's elite fighters.

Allen (17-1 MMA, 8-0 UFC) welcomes Hooker (21-11 MMA, 11-7 UFC) back to the featherweight division in a fight which is likely to serve as the co-main event of UFC London at the O2 Arena on March 19.

Hooker is known in the sport as being a wildly-exciting and incredibly game fighter, a dangerous striker who only comes up short against the very best on the planet - his last three losses have come to Michael Chandler, Dustin Poirier and Islam Makhachev, two former world title challengers and a likely future title contender.

And Allen, 28, sees this fight as the one in which he can really make a statement after years of flying under the radar, despite his spotless record and incredibly-rounded skillset.

Suffolk's Arnold Allen will face Dan Hooker at UFC London on March 19

Suffolk's Arnold Allen will face Dan Hooker at UFC London on March 19 - Credit: UFC

"Obviously physically he poses issues - he's about 12-foot tall and he's as game as they come," said Allen.

"He's lost to elite fighters only and he's got some wins over some massive names - he knocked out (former welterweight title challenger) Gilbert Burns, he was in a war with Dustin Poirier, who just fought for the lightweight title.

"If this fight doesn't raise my profile and put me up with the big boys, I don't know what will.

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"And also, the division is in a kind of funny place. 

"I think I'm number six or seven at the minute, and all the guys in that top five are tied up or are only going to fight someone in that top five, so this fight makes more sense than someone ranked below me.

"He's a bigger name, he's a bigger person, he's coming down from lightweight - I think this does more for my stock than fighting someone at the bottom end of the rankings."

Of the much-taller and longer Hooker as an opponent, Allen added: "He's the opposite of everything - other than Sodiq Yusuff - that I've fought in the UFC.

"It's been short stocky wrestlers who pretty much try to take me down - even Gilbert Melendez, who's a bit taller than me, was shooting takedowns, so it was a lot of counter striking.

"For that you have to be a lot lower and sort of match the takedown.

"With this, he's a lot taller, he's very long with his knees, so you have to keep your head out of that danger zone - little strategical adjustments."

Arnold Allen

Arnold Allen, right, has his hand raised after beating Sodiq Yusuff in Las Vegas tonight - Credit: UFC

Allen is coming off a very impressive win over the aforementioned Sodiq Yusuff in Las Vegas last April, a fight in which he dropped the hotly-tipped Nigerian twice and handed him his first UFC loss, breaking his hand in the process as he looked for his first KO finish.

And he thinks Hooker will be another opportunity for him to score the highlight reel stoppage which his UFC resume is currently missing.

"I think I'll win with my well-roundedness," he explained. "I think I've got tools everywhere, I'm very versatile with my style, I've shown a counter-wrestling/striking style in most of my fights and I think this one will be a fight where I can let my hands go a bit more and not have to worry about over-reaching.

"I absolutely could get the knock-out in this fight. He comes forward, he's pushing the pace, he's going to try to take my head off.

"It's not someone who's going to be shooting takedowns from the offset or running away and moving.

"I thought that would be the case with Sodiq, but he's tough as nails - and I broke my hand!"

Arnold Allen, right, is unbeaten in the UFC Picture: PA SPORT

Arnold Allen, right, is unbeaten in the UFC Picture: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

While Allen's expecting the same outcome from this fight as all his other dances in the UFC octagon, his preparation will be different.

He's usually based at the world-famous Tristar Gym in Montreal for his fight camps and training, but Covid means that he'll be in the UK for this one, splitting his time between BKK Fighters in Colchester - where he started his MMA journey - and Team Renegade in Birmingham.

Much-respected coach Firas Zahabi will still be overseeing his preparation, albeit virtually from Canada.

"I'm still working very closely with Firas - he's a mastermind, the best strategist I've ever worked with," Trimley's Allen explained. 

"But I'm back in the UK for this one and I've been travelling all over the place.

"I'm obviously in Colchester at BKK Fighters, training with all my coaches there, and a few times a week I'm travelling up to Renegade in Birmingham to train with the top guys up there.

"Jai Herbert's there, obviously Leon Edwards, the list goes on - there's so many top guys up there."

Arnold Allen (right) will now face Nik Lentz at UFC Raleigh on January 25. Picture: PA SPORT

Arnold Allen (right) will now face Nik Lentz at UFC Raleigh on January 25. Picture: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Of the remote working with Zahabi, he added: "It's become a bit of a norm for the team now.

"I send him a lot of sparring footage, he tells me what to do and I'll get to the gym and do it, send him the footage and then he breaks down the tape and tells us what we need to be working on and defending against.

"Just having him overlook things is great. He's one of the best guys at watching someone fight and watching what they do, recognising patterns and things for me not to do, as well as things that I do well.

"Having him watching tape and giving tips is such an advantage."

A win over Hooker would undoubtedly shoot Allen up the featherweight rankings and closer to a title shot - he's currently seventh in the world, with Hooker's friend and team-mate Alex Volkanovski holding the belt.

Suffolk's Arnold Allen fights Jordan Rinaldi at UFC London at the O2 Arena this Saturday. Picture: P

Suffolk's Arnold Allen fights Jordan Rinaldi at UFC London at the O2 Arena this Saturday. Picture: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

So where does he see himself in the title picture?

"I'm in kind of a weird spot," he said. "I'm one of the top-rated guys, but you've got Max Holloway, (Brian) Ortega, (Yair) Rodriguez, (Josh) Emmett, Calvin Kattar - they're all above me and they knock people out, they've been more active, all of those things.

"So I think a win over Hooker puts me in that conversation with those guys and it validates me to fight one of those people.

"There was actually a main event offer last year against Kattar, but I had to turn it down because I only had one hand - I think I'm good, but I don't think I could beat him with one hand."

Did he consider putting his hand up as an opponent for Volkanovski when his planned title defence against Holloway fell off due to an injury to the latter?

Arnold Allen enters the octagon ahead of his career-best performance at UFC London. Picture: BRETT K

Arnold Allen enters the octagon ahead of his career-best performance at UFC London. Picture: BRETT KING - Credit: Archant

"Yeah and no," he said. "Having those guys ahead of me, I knew they'd all want to take it.

"I know I'm not going to get it ahead of someone like (Korean) Zombie (Chan Sun Jung) or someone like that.

"But if it was offered - 100% I'd be down for that."

Allen added: "I believe I can beat any of the top guys. This is what I've trained for, I believe in myself and I'm not really looking at anyone thinking I can't beat them.

"I look at people and think maybe stylistically this one suits me better or whatever, but I don't look at anyone and think 'I can't beat that guy.'

"I was always the biggest fan of the Korean Zombie. There's was a lot of talk that it was going to be me and Zombie this fight, but he's got the title call-up.

"Obviously if he goes and gets the belt, I get the win - that could be cool.

"I think two good wins and I don't see why not (for a title shot).

"A win over Hooker it's only going to put my stock up, I'm only going to be fighting guys above, title contenders or to be a title contender.

"I don't think I'm too far away."