AS the old adage aptly prompts, a dangerous man is one who has nothing to lose.
In the case of Damien Hooper, this expression couldn’t be more fitting. Having parted ways with his career-long promotional team at Hatton Promotions and management, the former Olympian entered his unified regional title challenge against undefeated Russian Umar Salamov as a heavy underdog for the first time in his professional career.
While it would take some performance to have outshone his former Olympic teammate Jeff Horn at Suncorp Stadium, there is an argument that Hooper (now 13-1, 8 KOs) was the biggest winner of the afternoon behind the recently crowned WBO welterweight champion.
On the untelevised portion of the Pacquiao vs. Horn card, Hooper, 25, edged the Kevin Barry schooled Salamov (now 19-1 , 14 KOs), who had previously been tabbed as a potential world title challenger in the near future. But as fate would have it, the underestimated Indigenous firebrand stood up when it mattered most, lifting the IBF and WBO International straps.
In a recent interview with Aus-Boxing, Hooper admits that it was a meticulous training camp under reunited trainer Gareth Williams that laid the foundations for his career-best performance.
“I had a great preparation with Gareth and my new strength and conditioning coach Rob Schyff,” said Hooper. “Gareth is a very good technical coach and he came up with the perfect game plan to beat Salamov, we work great together. Rob had me fit and strong to go the ten rounds,”
“I felt great, even going into the tenth round. I may have been an underdog to most people, but me and my team were extremely confident about winning,”
Given the lengthy odds and the anonymity of the title challenge, it is easy to see why there were plenty of sceptics doubting Hooper. Salamov had been groomed for world level opposition while Hooper had been inactive due to issues plaguing his career from outside of the ring.
But as Hooper freely declares, fights like the aforementioned against Salamov were necessary as he attempts to work his way towards an eventual world title challenge.
“These are fights you need to take to improve and step up to world class,” he continued. “To be honest, I expected a tough fight and that’s what I got. Salamov was world class and I needed to show that’s where I belong.”
“I feel I have the great team now that can take me to the top, they believe in me. This has all come at the right time as I now have a great manager, trainer and I’m settled in life. This next twelve months is going to be big for me.”
“The win was just what I needed, a big challenge, and now I’m ready for anything,” he concluded. “The two international belts with the WBO and IBF will now place me in the top fifteen. I’ll sit down in the next week with my management and work out next steps from here.”
“I want the big fights – I want to be world champion – that’s my dream.”
Hooper will meet with his management, led by Matt Rose from No Limit Boxing Promotions, to discuss his next move in the coming weeks.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images