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Dan Hooker looking to make splash at UFC Fight Night 168

Dan Hooker has his eyes on some pretty big fish in the deep pool of UFC lightweight contenders should he get through Paul Felder on Saturday night.

“I look at Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, any of them,” Hooker told reporters this week in his native Auckland, New Zealand, where he will compete in the main event of UFC Fight Night 168. “I respect their skills entirely, but I can see ways I get it done against all these guys.”

While the top five at 155 pounds is loaded, Hooker (No. 6 in the UFC’s rankings) and Felder (No. 7) want to take their place among that group.

“It puts you one fight from a title shot,” Hooker said. “You become top five in the world and you’re one fight or one injury from a title shot. That’s how much this means.”

Felder has said pursuit of the belt is what is keeping him motivated to keep fighting. The 34-year-old is a rising star in the commentating ranks and has an acting background that he could eventually fall back on. But five wins in his last six fights have him dreaming of a world title.

He would also like a shot at one of the big names in the division and doesn’t blame Hooker at all for thinking that way.

“Anybody in this division has to at least be daydreaming or thinking about what’s next,” he said. “So am I. My focus is on getting through (Saturday) night and then we’ll see, but those names are the names we both want.”

Felder knows he will also be up against a partisan crowd at UFC Fight Night 168, which will take place Sunday in New Zealand and air Saturday night in the U.S.

“Whatever happens, I’ll never forget this,” he said. “This is what I’m going to tell my daughter about how I made money when she was little and helped send her to college. I went overseas to people’s territory and fought them in a cage for you. I don’t care who’s town it is. It’s going to my town too and this crowd is going to feel it.”

Hooker acknowledged the hometown crowd adds pressure, but he welcomes it.

“I think half the crowd will be related to me in some way or another,” he joked. “I feel like I do my best work under pressure. Whenever you see me is in a tough spot is when you see me perform the best. After a loss, in front of my friends and family, a main event. Whenever you’ve seen me get in trouble is when I go in thinking it’s too easy.”

The main card, which also includes a light heavyweight bout between Jimmy Crute and Michal Oleksiejczuk, streams live on ESPN-Plus at 4 p.m.

Zhang cleared for travel to U.S.

Women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang has secured a visa to travel to the United States ahead of her title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk on March 7 at T-Mobile Arena.

Zhang left China earlier this month to train in Abu Dhabi, away from the coronavirus outbreak.

Jedrzejczyk, a former champion, was roundly criticized for making light of the epidemic on social media.

The bout will take place on a UFC 248 card headlined by a middleweight title bout between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero.

Zhang is expected to arrive in Las Vegas this weekend to complete her training camp.

Calderwood gets title shot

Las Vegan Joanne Calderwood will get the next shot at the UFC women’s flyweight belt.

Calderwood is expected to challenge Valentina Shevchenko on the UFC 251 card on June 6 in Australia.

Shevchenko retained the belt with a dominant win over Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 247 in Houston earlier this month.

Calderwood has won three of her last four fights and is coming off a split-decision victory over Andrea Lee in September.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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