After eight UFC fights, Katlyn Chookagian has a blueprint of exactly what she wants to happen when she enters the cage.
Chookagian (13-2, 6-2 UFC), a Pennsylvania native now living in Amityville, consistently has used a high volume of strikes to overwhelm her opponents, and it largely has been successful. She has looked fresh going the distance in all eight contests, and her two losses were by split decision.
The strategy has placed her against champion Valentina Shevchenko (18-3, 7-2 UFC) for a shot at the flyweight title at UFC 247 on Saturday in Houston. As far as Chookagian is concerned, that game plan is her best chance at bringing home gold, even as oddsmakers give her little chance to do so.
“I think that the style that I've been fighting has put me in a position where I'm ranked No. 1 and I'm fighting for a title, so I just have to stay focused on everything that I've worked on for this camp and everything that I've done before,” Chookagian said. “I just have to be very focused for all 25 minutes if it goes that way for the fight and, you know, try to do what we've been what we've been working on and hopefully come out with my hand raised.”
Chookagian will compete in her first championship fight Saturday, and while she admits it’s her most important fight yet, she believes her mindset entering previous bouts will pay off on the big stage.
“You can't put these big fights on a bigger pedestal. For me, I think your next fight is always a bigger fight. So, I'm used to this, every fight is like the biggest fight,” said Chookagian. “Of course, each time you make little adjustments to just try to get better and improve. But for the most part, whether it's fighting Valentina or someone for their first fight, I'm preparing the same way. I prepare as hard as I can and train as hard as I can and I take every fight seriously. Yes, this is for the title fight, but my mentality is the same for every fight — train as hard as you can so you can be as prepared as you can for the day of the fight.”
Oddsmakers are less confident in Chookagian. As of Wednesday morning, she is a +750 underdog against Shevchenko, according to sportsbook William Hill. Shevchenko, a former Muay Thai world champion whose only UFC losses came against two-weight champ Amanda Nunes, is a -1200 favorite to successfully defend the flyweight belt for the third time.
“You don't want the easy fights, you want the hard fights to prove what you can do,” Chookagian said. “I'm excited about this fight and I'm excited that Valentina's the champ and the challenge is there. The harder the challenge, the more motivation it is during training and the more exciting it is.”
Chookagian, who trains striking with Mark Henry and jiu-jitsu at Renzo Gracie Academy, is doing her best to keep cool despite the unfavorable odds and the large stage. But the UFC title being in play also puts into her mind the long path she took to get here.
“This has been a lifelong goal of mine to be the best in the world. I'm about five days away from being able to reach that goal,” said Chookagian, who teaches classes at Long Island MMA in Farmingdale and does strength and conditioning with Tony Ricci at Longo & Weidman MMA. “It's not just the hard training that I put in for this specific fight camp. This is the hard training that I put in my whole life training martial arts. When I was a kid going to karate class and kids didn't think karate was cool, but I thought it was and I liked it. Now I'm like, 'OK, all that hard work and not listening to other people, it's paying off because I'm reaching my goals.' So yeah, a win on Saturday would mean a lot to me.”