Ahead of Katlyn Chookagian’s first career rematch, the perennial flyweight contender wondered whether she’d find the right motivation in camp. When she first fought Jennifer Maia at UFC 244 a little more than two years ago, Chookagian felt rather comfortable on her way to a decision victory.
Once she gave it some more thought, however, and considering how much she has developed as a fighter since then, the matchup seemed like a different animal altogether.
“It feels like I haven’t fought her before because I know how much I change per fight, let alone over two years,” Chookagian told UFC.com. “I expect that from my opponent. If we fought back-to-back, month-to-month, maybe it’d be a little different, but so much time has gone by, and me and Jennifer Maia have only fought top-level opponents, so having that experience, it definitely changes you as a fighter, and you improve a lot, so I’m expecting a totally different fight.”
Since their first bout, Chookagian is 3-2, and those losses only came to Valentina Shevchenko and Jéssica Andrade, who are widely considered the top two fighters in the division. Meanwhile, Maia went 2-1, her lone loss in that time also coming to Shevchenko.
Although there isn’t much to split the two since their first fight other than activity, Chookagian does believe she sees a lack of development from Maia.
“I haven’t seen anything different in her game since she’s gotten into the UFC until now,” she said. “She’s a very good fighter, always has been. She’s had a lot of experience even before the UFC, but I think she’s very experienced and good everywhere and very tough, but I don’t think she’s gotten really any better since the last time I fought her, but I know that I have.”
There’s an argument that Chookagian is fighting better than ever. In her most recent wins against Cynthia Calvillo and Viviane Araújo, Chookagian looked comfortably sharp and rarely in any real danger. Granted, that’s been a hallmark of her career, especially as one of the mainstays at the top of the flyweight division.
A win on January 15 would be her eighth at 125 pounds, and it would tie Shevchenko for the most in the division’s history. Currently, she is tied for second with Gillian Robertson. Despite the statistical company she is putting herself in with each performance, Chookagian is focused on capturing the belt more than anything, yet she’s unsure if a win over Maia gets her back to that mountaintop.
“It’s hard for me to argue for another shot at the title right now just because there are so many girls that people haven’t seen fight Valentina,” she said. “I’m realistic with that, but I do think that everyone talks about how Jennifer Maia went five rounds with Valentina. I think if maybe if I was able to get a finish, then maybe that would change the conversation a little bit because I could have the argument that I finished her but Valentina didn’t, so besides that, I don’t know. I just take whoever they give me, and I keep fighting. We’ll see what happens after that.”
Chookagian isn’t wrong about the fresh wave of fighters arriving in the flyweight division over the last couple years. Particularly, 2021 introduced fast-risers like Manon Fiorot, Casey O’Neill and Erin Blanchfield — three of the top five names on UFC.com’s Newcomers of the Year list. Chookagian is especially fond of Blanchfield, who she has trained with in New Jersey.
All those fresh faces have a little work to do before they’re fighting the likes of Chookagian, though, and so all “Blonde Fighter” can do is fight who the UFC gives her, which she is keen to do. Chookagian joked that the four-week break between UFC cards over the holiday season spot lit how much her life revolves around watching the sport. She didn’t mind having to train over that stretch, either, saying she would gladly give up Christmas dinners if it means having time to enjoy the Long Island summer.
She said her favorite year was the stretch from her first fight with Maia to her win over Calvillo, which included five fights in about 13 months. A hyperactive year is possible with the early start in 2022, but Chookagian also understands her position at the top of the division means she can’t really just fight anybody, especially because she already has wins over much of the Top 10. Regardless, even as she continues to put her name in the record books with each performance, her focus remains on the ultimate goal: UFC gold.
“Being tied with the most wins with Valentina is great, but I’m such a go-getter,” Chookagian said. “I’m looking at the title. It doesn’t matter if I have double the amount of wins than Valentina. All that matters is being the champ, so I kind of set myself with high expectations. The stats don’t really matter. All that matters to me is really being the champ.”
UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Chikadze took place on Saturday, January 15, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.