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Dan Hooker readies himself for five more rounds of UFC brutality

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Felder, Hooker slug it out (0:32)

In the final seconds of Round 2, Paul Felder and Dan Hooker let their fists fly, with each landing strong punches. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc. (0:32)

New Zealand's Dan Hooker says the camp for his fight with Dustin Poirier has tested him like no other, but that he will head into their lightweight showdown full of confidence and ready to emerge from another five-round slugfest if necessary.

Hooker (20-8) will face the American at UFC Fight Night Las Vegas on June 27, the matchup at last confirmed following months of uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

And it looks set to be another potentially brutal contest for Hooker, who claimed a split decision victory over Paul Felder at UFC Fight Night Auckland earlier this year -- the battle so tough, both men were stretchered straight to hospital from the city's Spark Arena.

"Looking back on the fight, it was incredibly tough contest; Felder's an incredible opponent and I feel like I gained more from that one single fight than I did in experience from the previous five fights," Hooker told ESPN.

"Just going the full five rounds, being under the pressure of a sold-out arena in your hometown -- I gained a lot of experience going through that.

"It's something that you can mentally prepare for, but in terms of actually going through it, being in that kind of fight, being in a back-and-forth war for the full 25 minutes, I was glad I got to experience that in such a setting."

Hooker has been mentally tested in the meantime, too.

While New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 crisis has been among the best in the world -- the country is now coronavirus-free -- the strict lockdown measures certainly presented Hooker with some challenges.

And the general uncertainty the virus has created around the world meant he couldn't get a straight answer from the UFC about when his fight with Poirier might actually take place.

"This fight camp, there was a lot of uncertainty, so it was very difficult to stay focused," Hooker said. "It took a lot of mental energy to stay ready, to push yourself when everything is up in the air; the UFC telling that the fight's off or the fight's postponed; the fight's back on, the fight's back off; there was a lot of uncertainty.

"With this fight, we weren't sure if we could get a visa or get a flight out of the country, but everything's coming together and I'm really glad that mentally I was able to stay focused the entire time."

Hooker rode out the early weeks of New Zealand's Level 4 lockdown -- when residents were confined to their homes and could exercise only in their local areas for short periods of time -- by running the streets, parks and hills of his neighbourhood.

On May 14, the country's restrictions were eased to Level 2, and Hooker was able to return to City Kickboxing, the home of UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and fellow countrymen Kai Kara-France and Brad Riddell.

"We were able to expand our bubble a little bit to a few training partners," Hooker said. "We were able to get back to sparring, get back to wrestling, get back to all of our skill work; it felt good to get back in the gym.

"It was a little bit repetitive running around the same block every single day, I'm not going to lie, but I was glad I was able to stay mentally focused throughout the lockdown so that when we came back to the gym I was still sharp and I was still fit."

Poirier (25-6) hasn't fought since he was defeated by lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 in September, making it a nine-month absence from the Octagon compared to Hooker's four-month interlude.

But the New Zealander knows the scope of the battle he is in for, and that time away from the Octagon means little when you have the experience Poirier possesses.

"He's incredibly tough, incredibly durable; very well-rounded; strong wrestler; very strong striker; good boxing; I'd say one of his best assets would be his experience in this position," Hooker said of Poirier.

"His experience as a UFC main-event headliner, he's been in there competing for the world title, so he's definitely to be respected for the things that he's achieved within the sport."

As for the fight following the same "stand-and-bang" script as the Felder bout, Hooker added: "It's not really how I go into them; it's just how they turn out.

"I go in there to win and win convincingly -- that's always the objective going forward into these contests, but if he's tough and he's stays in there, then I expect this to be one heck of a contest."

And as long as he stays hungry, Hooker is confident he will climb even further up the UFC's lightweight rankings.

"I feel like it's coming together, I feel like I just keep improving and getting better," he told ESPN.

"I feel like as soon as I have the mental attitude that I'm the best fighter in the world, it's a sure sign that you've stopped developing as a fighter and the wheels are falling off. So I am always focusing on how I can improve and not just repeating the same things that I do.

"I'm constantly improving in the gym and I still have a lot that I want to work on and I'm willing to stay in the gym and improve."