The can't-miss fight of UFC 266

9/22/2021 3:42:21 PM EST

With two title fights and the return of fan-favorite Nick Diaz, UFC 266 could not be more loaded.

There are standout fights throughout the card, but the event doesn't begin with the main event.

From a viewer's perspective, the can't-miss lightweight fight between two of the division's most entertaining competitors is a headliner in its own right.

Ninth-ranked New Zealander Dan Hooker will look to defend his place in the lightweight top 10 against Afghan native Nasrat Haqparast, who has won two straight in the Octagon.

Hooker, 31, debuted in the UFC in 2014 as a featherweight, a weight that current fans may find surprising given Hooker's stature. The 6' tall competitor alternated wins and losses - including defeats to Yair Rodriguez and Jason Knight - before bumping up a weight class to lightweight.

At 155 pounds, Hooker has been a much more successful fighter. He began his UFC tenure in the division with four straight victories against Ross Pearson, Marc Diakiese, Jim Miller, and future welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns; Hooker finished all four men, earning highlight-reel stoppages in the process.

He did suffer a brutal third-round defeat wrought with damage at the hands of Edson Barboza in 2018 but strung together three straight wins over James Vick, Al Iaquinta, and Paul Felder in a 2020 main event to cement himself as a true contender in the division. The Felder fight garnered Fight of the Night honors and was ranked fourth in fight database Tapology's Best MMA Fights of 2020.

In a consecutive main event appearance, Hooker drew former UFC interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier during the summer of 2020. While Hooker would find himself on the losing end of a unanimous decision, he had moments of success throughout the fight and once again put on a phenomenal performance. Again earning Fight of the Night honors, the Poirier fight landed second on Tapology's Best MMA Fights of 2020, Hooker's second bout of the year to crack such a distinctive Top 5.

Hooker then suffered a first-round defeat to former Bellator champion and future UFC title challenger Michael Chandler in the latter's promotional debut, a fight that took place on the pay-per-view main card of the Conor McGregor-led UFC 264.

Coming off of back-to-back losses for the first time in his UFC career, Hooker will look to bounce back against Nasrat Haqparast.

Haqparast, 26, signed with the UFC in 2017 after dominating the regional scene in his adoptive Germany. After dropping his promotional debut to Poland's Marcin Held by unanimous decision, Haqparast rattled off three straight wins en route to becoming known as one of the lightweight division's top prospects.

Decision wins over Diakiese and Thibault Gauti were followed by a second-round TKO of Joaquim Silva, priming Haqparast for a step up in competition against Elevation Fight Team standout Drew Dober at the blockbuster UFC 246 event.

Haqparast stumbled against Dober, dropping the fight by first-round TKO on the January 2020 show. The Tristar product returned to the Octagon seven months later, when he scored a unanimous decision over Alex Munoz, taking the Dana White's Contender Series winner's ‘0' in the process.

Haqparast followed up the Munoz win by taking yet another touted prospect's ‘0,' handing Combate Global champion Rafa Garcia his first loss in the latter's UFC debut in March of 2021. The win kicked off Haqparast's 2021 campaign, the second fight of which will be against Hooker.

Given the penchant for putting on exciting fights and the technical prowess on their feet, the lightweight fight between Hooker and Haqparast is one of the can't-miss fights set to take place on UFC 266.

--Field Level Media

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