While UFC 205 is lacking some of the local flair originally expected on the card, the first mixed martial arts fight at Madison Square Garden will feature some area roots.
MMA’s debut in New York City will kick off with former title challenger Liz Carmouche and undefeated prospect Katlyn Chookagian in a women’s bantamweight bout on UFC Fight Pass.
Chookagian (8-0, 1-0 UFC) fights out of northern New Jersey and trains across New Jersey, New York City and Long Island. She is one of five fighters from the New York/New Jersey area taking part in the event.
“Being the only girl from the East Coast in the UFC, I definitely feel like I have to represent a little harder,” Chookagian said.
Chookagian believes New York’s longtime ban on mixed martial arts may have slowed some of the growth of women’s MMA in the area, but she hopes more young girls will take interest now that pro bouts are legal, a fact that’s still hard for her to believe.
“Even just now, still seeing all the cameras and everyone here and hearing it and stuff, it seems so surreal,” Chookagian said. “It just doesn’t seem real, it’s so crazy, but this is awesome and so exciting.”
Carmouche (10-5, 2-3 UFC) has her own New York connection. She fights out of San Diego, but her mother’s family originally was from New York City. When her fight is over, she is hoping to do some sightseeing here for the first time since she was 6. But first, she wants to take in the historic event.
“It’s a really big deal, not only just because we have roots here and listening to my mom talk about Madison Square Garden, but you talk to boxers, talk to all those people, Madison Square Garden has always been this big deal,” Carmouche said. “Once you’ve been here, you’ve arrived, you’ve really done your due diligence, so now to be a part of that is huge.”
Carmouche has been on historic events before. She was the first female fighter to enter the UFC octagon when she challenged Ronda Rousey in the promotion’s first women’s fight at UFC 157 in 2013. Carmouche believes being one of the first two fighters to make the walk at MSG will be just as big a moment for her.
“My coach Manolo (Hernandez) is the one who really kind of hit home with it, saying it’s making history,” Carmouche said. “Not only did I make history with UFC 157 with Ronda, but now again here at Madison Square Garden, I’m the first fight of the night, so I’m like sealing and opening that history-making moment.”
The moment is not lost on Chookagian either.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Oh this is the first UFC,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but I’m going to be the first actual person,’” Chookagain said. “That’s definitely going to be cool, something to put on my résumé.”