Three years after her first appearance at Madison Square Garden, Katlyn Chookagian returns to the arena feeling like a true New Yorker.
Chookagian will face Jennifer Maia in the early prelims at UFC 244 on Saturday at the Garden, her second fight in the arena, but her first since making Long Island her home last September.
“It definitely feels like I’m a little bit more at home this time,” Chookagian said. “My license says New York, so I’m a real New Yorker now.”
A Pennsylvania native, Chookagian (12-2, 5-2 UFC) attended Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey and originally settled there, training with striking coach Mark Henry while traveling to Manhattan to work on jiu-jitsu and wrestling at Renzo Gracie Academy. With few roots in New Jersey, the flyweight contender moved to Amityville with her husband Kyle Cerminara, a wrestling instructor at Long Island MMA in Farmingdale. Chookagian, 30, still drives to New Jersey twice a week to work with Henry and rides the railroad into the city for her jiu-jitsu, but also does strength and conditioning work at LAW MMA in Garden City while teaching kickboxing at Long Island MMA.
“I've always trained at Renzo's in the city on 30th Street, which is like basically MSG, but now being that I live on Long Island I train there a lot more often,” Chookagian said. “I take the train, go to Penn Station, every day come out and walk right by [the Garden].”
Chookagian’s other MSG fight —which was the very first bout at UFC 205, the first MMA event at the Garden — was a loss to UFC veteran Liz Carmouche. Since then, Chookagian has established herself in the fairly new flyweight division, climbing to the No. 1 contender spot in the official rankings.
While her game in the cage has evolved since her last MSG appearance, Chookagian said the most important development has been her improved confidence.
“When I came into the UFC, I saw girls that were in the UFC for a long time, maybe they were in the UFC before I even turned professional, and I kind of put them on a pedestal for that,” Chookagian said. “The more experience you get you realize that doesn't matter. If your skills are there, it doesn't matter how many fights or how many experiences the other person has, it's all about what skills you bring.”
With a title shot potentially on the line, Chookagian expects she’ll bring more to the cage than Maia can handle.
“I think I'm just gonna pick her apart wherever it is,” Chookagian said. “Striking, I think I'm just too smart, too fast, and too high-IQ. My IQ for fighting is just above her. If she wants to go to the ground, that's easy. I don't take any punches there for the most part. So that's even easier.”