Chase Hooper has known nothing but success since entering the octagon.
The Enumclaw mixed martial arts fighter — an 18-year-old who has been tagged with the colorful nickname “The Teenage Dream” — improved recently to 6-0 since entering the professional ranks. That follows a quick but successful run as an amateur, where he posted a 6-0 record.
Training out of Combat Sports and Fitness in Enumclaw, Hooper had landed a spot on the July 24 card at Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Fighting in Las Vegas, the 6-foot-1 Hooper, a 2017 graduate of Enumclaw High School, earned a unanimous decision over Canaan Kawaihae, who entered 4-0 as a pro.
As those streaming the event on UFC Fight Pass witnessed, Hooper survived a tough first round to earn the win. His Hawaiian opponent delivered plenty of blows early, but Hooper turned things around in rounds two and three, emerging with a victory on all three judges’ scorecards.
Sitting down for an interview after returning home, Hooper admits that first round was tough. In particular, he said, he was sorry his girlfriend, who was sitting ringside, had to witness those first few minutes.
“I definitely took a beating,” he said.
In Vegas, his post-fight interview involved a large pair of mirrored sunglasses that hid a couple of black eyes and took away from a face starting to get puffy. A week later, a small bruise remained, along with stitches that mended two cuts above Hooper’s left eye.
Hooper received generally-positive reviews for his Nevada effort. The mmajunkie website graded the bout a C+ but noted, “We got a solid glimpse of young talent.”
Three of the five winners on the July 24 fight card received UFC contracts and, while Hooper wasn’t among them, the night still proved successful. He signed a UFC “development contract” instead.
What that means, Hooper said, is that he will likely continue fighting regionally while being developed as a pro worthy of the big time. When the conditions are right, he can be delivered into the UFC fold.
Despite his youthful age and appearance, Hooper has a long history with mixed martial arts. His father was a friend of Jeff Hougland, at one time a UFC pro who now owns and operates Combat Sports and Fitness. He started with lessons in jiu-jitsu and kickboxing and things evolved from there.
“I had a lot of success in jiu-jitsu tournaments,” Hooper said, mentioning a 2016 title in the Pan-Am Championships, staged in Long Beach, California.
Fascinated by the world of mixed martial arts, he stepped into the amateur ranks after turning 16. Those bouts are often staged in reservation casinos, he said, because there’s less bureaucracy to contend with.
Once he turned 18, he and Hougland began talking in earnest about turning pro and how he should proceed. Before too much time passed, a talent scout for the UFC contacted Hooper, letting him know he was on the UFC radar.
“Just to get that recognition was a big deal,” Hooper said.
It wasn’t long before the UFC sent Hooper to Las Vegas, about a month before his July 24 bout in the Contender Series. There, he experienced the world of photo shoots and being the subject of videos.
“I thought, ‘this is the big show, right here,’” Hooper said. “It’s a well-oiled machine.”
Fighting in Vegas also is a different world that squaring off in a Western Washington casino. Nevada is the home to big-time fighting and, before Hooper stepped into the octagon, he was subjected to a physical exam, brain scan, an eye exam and drug testing. He passed on all counts.
Getting the victory in Las Vegas was a huge step for an aspiring fighter, Hooper said, not necessarily financially but in terms of name recognition. Having a development contract, he said, means he can use UFC facilities, if desired, and has other benefits; but, he said, he’s still on his own to fight regionally.
The hope for anyone in his position, Hooper said, is to continue winning. Then, the UFC will come calling.
For now, Hooper scrapes by, living independently and dedicating his days to training. Most of his early fights brought a $1,000 payday because he won; his vanquished opponent made just $500. In Las Vegas, the stakes are higher and Hooper received a $10,000 winner’s check; he’s quick to remind everyone that wasn’t for a single night’s work. It was the result of three tough months of training.
Back home, after taking a bit of time to recover from the Vegas victory and let his battered eye heal, Hooper is ready to resume a full-time training regimen. That means hours of training in the morning, a mid-day break, then several more hours of training that can stretch into the evening.
“It’s a lot more boring than it seems,” Hooper said, also mentioning his dietary limitations. While many his age gorge on pizza, he fuels his body carefully. His “walking around” weight is 165 pounds — not unreasonable on a 6-1 frame — but hard work and dedication can take him to a fighting weight of 145.
The goal is peak conditioning and constant improvement.
“I have all the basic skills I need,” Hooper said, explaining that he’s looking for “constant, little, micro-improvements.” The strength of his game is the grappling — thanks to his jiu-jitsu background — rather than raw punching power.
All this development comes under the watchful eye of Hougland, the former pro who serves as trainer, agent, mentor and father figure.
During an interview with MMA Today, Hooper said, “It’s sometimes like I’m going in there blind, and he can kind of give me a picture of what’s going on and what he went through. He’s got a lot of experience and is a great coach.”
Together, they have a goal of landing a UFC contract by the time Hooper is 20. Looking long-term, Hooper said the ultimate desire is, “to be one of the best, if not the best, in the world.”