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The Weekly Takedown: Paddy Pimblett has plenty to prove

paddy-pimblett

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every Thursday, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

The explosive Paddy Pimblett returns to action this Saturday, stepping in the octagon in a lightweight bout against Kazula Vargas.

Pimblett (17-3 MMA, 1-0 UFC) enters the fight an enormous favorite, expected to make quick work of Vargas (12-4 MMA, 1-2 UFC)) at The O2 Arena in London, England for UFC Fight Night 204.

"My skill set is much improved since my last fight," said Pimblett, who knocked out Luigi Vendramini last September. "Saturday is going to be unbelievable. The atmosphere is going to be very special.

"I'm going in with the same fire. I know I need to prove myself."

As the magnetic Pimblett continues to make his ascent as a contender, he is garnering attention from fans – and fighters. He has drawn the ire of Ilia Topuria, who is also on the card this weekend, and the two engaged in a physical altercation earlier this week at the hotel.

Topuria, a German-born Georgian, expressed contempt over comments made by Pimblett about Georgians. Topuria believed Pimblett made light of the casualties suffered 14 years ago in the Russo-Georgian War, an accusation Pimblett denies.

"I never poked fun at the Russian-Georgian war," said Pimblett, who tweeted last April about Russians terrorizing Georgians. "I never said nothing about a war. He's just spreading fake news to make himself look good."

When Topuria approached Pimblett at the hotel, Pimblett bounced a bottle of hand sanitizer off Topuria's head during the ensuing fracas.

"From now on, he's Mr. Hand Sanitizer," Pimblett said. "He's a nobody and nobody knows him, and he's not going to be known by his name anymore. Mr. Hand Sanitizer is trying to ride my coattails and use some of my clout. He's trying to jump on my hype train. He can eat sh-t."

If Topuria (11-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) defeats Jai Herbert (11-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) on Saturday, which would extend his undefeated streak to 12, a matchup against Pimblett would be must-see. For now, however, Pimblett says he is not interested.

"My only focus is beating Vargas," Pimblett said. "I'm not concerned with the opinion of sheep like Mr. Hand Sanitizer. He's beneath me, and he's going to get knocked out on Saturday. I'll be laughing about that in the back while I'm warming up."

Entering this Saturday, the goal for Pimblett remains unchanged: keep winning fights, get ranked, and climb to the top of the division.

"I'm going out there to take another step to my destiny," Pimblett said. "I'm excited to put on a show and give the fans what they've been waiting for so long."

Dan Hooker returns to octagon for first time since loss to Islam Makhachev

Fighting only one month after winning his bout at UFC 266 in September, Dan Hooker returned on short notice at UFC 267 last October looking to defeat the seemingly unstoppable Islam Makhachev.

That seemed like a good idea, right up until the fight started.

Makhachev dominated, needing only 145 seconds to make Hooker tap.

"That loss is unacceptable," Hooker (21-11 MMA, 11-7 UFC) said. "I'm hungrier and more motivated than I've ever been. I've been in the gym every single day, improving, making sure it never happens again.

"This whole thing, it's me vs. me. It's a constant battle within yourself. I let myself down in the last fight, and I will correct that in the next fight."

Hooker has a chance to back up those words in a fight against Arnold Allen this Saturday at UFC Fight Night 204. The bout marks Hooker's return to the featherweight division for the first time in six years, and he will look to make a statement against Allen (17-1 MMA, 8-0 UFC), who is seventh in the featherweight rankings and riding a 10-fight win streak.

"The move back down to featherweight has added another level of focus, another level of discipline," Hooker said. "That's a great factor to bring out the best in me. This is like baking a cake. It's all about finding the right ingredients. But one wrong flip of the spoon and you could spoil the perfect recipe. I'm looking to bake the perfect cake."

Culinary parallels aside, a victory against Allen would immediately place Hooker in contention for the featherweight title currently held by Alexander Volkanovski.

"This fight, without a doubt, puts me in a position like that," Hooker said. "He's on a win streak, he's ranked seventh, so to take his momentum, it's going to put me one or two fights away from the title.

"I'm nothing but excited. I want to put on an incredible fight on Saturday, and I really feel like this has all the makings of it. And no matter how the fight goes, I can feel it in my bones. I'm getting my hand raised."

The Pick ‘Em Section:

Here are my picks for this Saturday's UFC card, which will be held in London:

UFC Fight Night main event: Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall

  • Pick: Alexander Volkov

UFC featherweight bout: Arnold Allen vs. Dan Hooker

  • Pick: Dan Hooker

UFC lightweight bout: Paddy Pimblett vs. Kazula Vargas

  • Pick: Paddy Pimblett

UFC lightweight bout: Ilia Topuria vs. Jai Herbert

  • Pick: Ilia Topuria

UFC women's flyweight bout: Molly McCann vs. Luana Carolina

  • Pick: Molly McCann

Last week: 3-2

2022 record: 33-12