June 26, 2018
June 26, 2018
Maurice Hooker

Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

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FIGHTING for a world title in your opponent’s country isn’t ideal — unless you’re from Texas and the opponent is from England, which is what Errol Spence Jnr did last year, stopping Kell Brook in Brook’s native Sheffield. This June, fellow Texan Maurice Hooker followed suit, travelling to Manchester and defeating local Terry Flanagan by split decision.

Hooker, 28, is used to adversity, owing to his upbringing in Oak Cliff, Texas. “Fighting Flanagan in England was like fighting in my old neighborhood,” the newly-crowned WBO 140lbs champion told Boxing News. “Everyone stands around, watching and being loud as hell. At the end of the day, it’s you and the other guy knuckling up.

“At the weigh-in, I was headed to the restroom and this guy was screaming at me. I can’t even repeat what he said. I said, ‘Come to the restroom with me so we could talk about it like men.’ But he didn’t. I would’ve gone 2-0 that week [laughs].”

Hooker, 24-0-3 (16), never left Oak Cliff. The neighbourhood hasn’t changed much, but Hooker has, except when talking trash. If playing the dozens were a sport, Hooker claims he’d be the G.O.A.T. Yet he is for the most part reserved and polite. He speaks in a mellow tone, accented by his Texas drawl.

Today, he’s sporting a “Mo Hooker” fitted hat casts a shadow over his chiselled features, along with a title belt slung over his gangly 5’11” frame, and a new Gucci handbag.

“Is that your mama’s bag?” jokes a gym mate at Maple Avenue Boxing Gym.

“You better not go back to the ‘hood with that,” another advises.

Hooker knows better. Crack houses and gangbanging were rampant in Oak Cliff. Both his mother and brother succumbed to substance abuse. Hooker often took his anger out on others. As the street fights mounted, his frustrated stepfather dragged him to House of Champions, a boxing gym started by Texas’ first world champion, Curtis Cokes.

maurice hooker

“He figured I needed an ass whupping,” Mo explained. “I went in that gym and beat them up. I fell in love with boxing then – I could fight and not get in trouble. And it helped me control my anger. It takes a lot to make me mad now. Even in the ring, I try to stay relaxed.”

When Hooker was 18, Sultan Ali, a volunteer at House of Champions, brought him to Maple Avenue Boxing Gym and introduced him to Arnie Verbeek, the gym’s owner and Hooker’s future manager.

“Maurice wasn’t considered a blue-chip fighter or in any Olympic program,” Verbeek says. “He was a skinny kid who that could barely do a pull up. He didn’t understand the meaning of true work ethic, but he desired to.”

Hooker eventually expressed an interest in turning pro. Verbeek had reservations.

“He had 33 outstanding warrants,” Verbeek reveals. “I told him, ‘That’s not normal, man!’ But when I investigated it, it was mainly traffic violations. We took care of them. I told him that I didn’t want to hang with people who can’t take care of themselves or may be in jail next week. That’s not a good use of my time.”

Hooker was 97-7 as an amateur. Former world champion Jesus Chavez initially trained him. But Chavez is a stocky 5ft 5ins fighter who specializes in in-fighting.

“Mo is tall and rangy,” Verbeek says. “He needed someone who suited his boxing style and his physique. His trainer, Vincent Parra, complements him. We both feel that Mo could be deadly from a distance. It’s really worked out.”

Hooker turned pro in 2011. His first bout was a four-round draw.

“No one was interested in promoting him, so he didn’t have that support,” Verbeek says. “Before we got a promoter, we did it ourselves. We would create shows in Dallas in any venue we could book.”

In January 2014, Hooker drew with then-undefeated prospect Abel Ramos. “Maurice had different ideas about conditioning,” said Verbeek. “He was gassed after five rounds.” Hooker concurs: “I never wanted to have that feeling again. After that, I was always in shape.”

In December 2015, Hooker signed a promotional deal with Roc Nation, landing on the undercard versus Darleys Perez on the first Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev bout. Two weeks prior, Hooker punctured his eardrum during sparring. He struggled versus Perez, escaping via disputed draw.

Nothing was left to chance for the Flanagan fight.

“We utilised a service called Perfecting Athletes,” Verbeek says. “It’s expensive, but worth the investment. They did all the cooking and watching Mo’s nutritional intake. But it doesn’t work if you don’t follow the program. Maurice has that discipline. He was never cranky, never hungry, never emaciated.”

And never in any serious trouble versus Flanagan. Hooker used his praying mantis-like 80” reach to set up his right. Meanwhile, the Manchester crowd cheered the hometown fighter’s every miss, which was often. Still, Flanagan kept pressing.

“Flanagan was tough,” Hooker admits. “He’s a dirty fighter, but a good one. One round, I got hit with a headbutt and lost focus. But I didn’t want to fight with my emotions. My coaches told me, ‘Go get it, they ain’t gonna give you nothing.’ I calmed down after that.”

Hooker controlled the last quarter of the fight, repeatedly banging rights on Flanagan’s stubborn dome. “Going to England, I just knew I wasn’t going to get a fair shake,” he says. “I have to salute the judges. They really surprised me.”

When the verdict was announced, he fell to the floor, overcome with emotion. Hooker watches the fight every morning, although not for reasons one might expect.

“I’m not admiring it. I just know someone is going to study my mistakes. So, I’m watching it to see what I can improve. I’m hard on myself. I think I did good, but I could’ve done a lot better.”

“If Maurice were to fight Flanagan again, he’d knock him out,” Verbeek declares. “He’s just starting to understand his capabilities. He’s going to be 30% better the next fight.”

Hooker is already back in the gym. After a light workout, he’ll return to Oak Cliff, where his eight kids — ranging from ages two to eight — and his high school sweetheart girlfriend await.

“They’re my inspiration and my motivation,” he says. “This is the beginning. You’ve got a lot of good fighters at 140, but I’m the best. It’s just that simple. I can’t wait to show everybody. The skills, not the Gucci bag.”

This article is published in this week’s Boxing News magazine. The digital version is available to download now.