Every year Tiger Muay Thai holds tryouts. It is an opportunity for aspiring mixed martial artists to secure a spot on the fight team.

But the tryouts aren’t open to just anyone. The Phuket based camp will review applications before deciding which prospects to invite, and UFC lightweight Dan Hooker didn’t make the grade in 2013.

Among the winners that year were Kai Kara-France and Ben Nguyen, who would both go on to enjoy success with the UFC. But Hooker didn’t even make it to the tryout, let alone secure a spot on the team.

This type of rejection can sting. But the New Zealander saw it as a challenge rather than a slight, and in 2016, weeks after winning his fifth UFC fight, he flew back to Phuket to participate in another Tiger Muay Thai tryout.

The 30 year old explains the story in his own words,

“Kai got in there very early in his career so that was a big part of his development as a fighter and I actually applied for the same season that Kai won it but my application wasn’t accepted by Tiger Muay Thai.”

Established star

Having established himself as a force in the UFC’s featherweight division Hooker was told he didn’t need to attend the tryout to secure a spot on the team. But that’s not how the New Zealander likes to do things,

“So after training in Denver I was already an established UFC fighter. I went back and I had a lot of friends at TMT and I was like, ‘Look I’m gonna do the tryout,’ and they were kind of like, ‘Dan, you’re already a UFC fighter, we’ll just give you a scholarship,’ and I said, ‘No, this is not how that works.'”

Tiger Muay Thai head coach George Hickman recalls being astonished that an established UFC star would want to go through the tryout process,

“When he came I remember telling him, ‘Look mate you’re in the UFC, you don’t have anything to prove. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,’ and he was adamant that he wanted to do it. And not only did he do it, but he, as a UFC fighter, performed well above everyone else.”

Hickman knows all about the tryout process, having applied successfully in 2014. He was very impressed by Hooker’s attitude,

“I felt that was a true testament to his character, what type of guy he is and not only did he blow everything that we put in front of him out of the water but he also lifted everybody else up with him that was around him. I think that was very motivating I think for all the other contestants in the tryouts that year.”

Hard working and humble

It must have been intimidating for the other aspiring mixed martial artists at the tryout to see an established star competing with them for a spot on the team. But Hickman says Hooker’s presence actually had the opposite effect,

“It really motivated them to do well when you see a guy like that, like Dan Hooker that’s already in the UFC crushing the workouts and then motivating other people along the way I think that’s really a testament to his character and it was really cool to see.”

Now competing at lightweight, Hooker has won seven out of his last eight fights. He is currently ranked at #5 in the UFC’s lightweight division.

The New Zealander is close to the pinnacle of the sport. But it is a humble, hard working approach that has helped him get there and he believes opportunities should be earned and not given,

“You can’t one year be not good enough, and then the next time be too good. That’s not an option for me and that’s why I wanted to do the tryout, I wanted to earn the spot and I wanted to earn my place,” he recalls.