Katlyn Chookagian felt like she was getting into her flow as her flyweight title shot rolled into the third round. Then, Valentina Shevchenko got her down to the mat, moved into side control and eventually trapped Chookagian’s arm, effectively rendering her defenseless.
“I remember I was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re gonna stop it because I’m not technically defending myself. This sucks because I’m not hurt,’” Chookagian told UFC.com. “After, you’re just like, ‘F***, I wish I just got knocked out cold.’ That’s what you think right away, but in the long-term, you’re happy you didn’t.”
The TKO loss in February was the only time Chookagian has been finished, and after the fight, she was left wondering which direction to take her career. She said she does eventually want to have a family, and while she believes she’ll always be training no matter what, she just wanted to get back into the Octagon as soon as possible.
Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic forced changes for everyone, and after a couple of weeks spent cleaning and organizing her home, Chookagian was getting restless. Fight camp is the best time-killer, though, and soon enough, she had her next opponent in Antonina Shevchenko.
While many fighters have adjusted to less training partners than normal, Chookagian, who lives on Long Island, got to train with Claudia Gadelha and Sijara Eubanks, two athletes who competed during the Jacksonville tripleheader in May.
“We had many sparring sessions in Claudia’s garage,” Chookagian said. “That definitely helped a lot.”
She added that they were able to give her some feedback on the environment around fight week amid a pandemic, from the logistical flow to the additional benefit of hearing coaches much more clearly in the middle of the bout.
The fight with the elder Shevchenko sister provides a couple opportunities Chookagian hasn’t had in some time. First, after fighting a handful of shorter fighters, Shevchenko is only one inch shorter with an identical reach, as well as a similarly rangy striking attack. Second, it’s the first time in a few fights where Chookagian isn’t explicitly fighting to either earn or keep her spot in line for a shot at the belt.
“My couple fights before that were all with the thought in my head, ‘I want to fight for the title,’” she said. “Obviously, I want to again now, but this is refreshing and nice to be able to fight and try different things that I’ve been working on.”
That freedom is something she hasn’t really felt since her early fights on the roster when the 125-pound division didn’t exist, leaving her to fight up at bantamweight where she racked up a 2-1 record.
Since flyweight opened, though, “Blonde Fighter” grew into one of the most consistent performers in the division. Now, as she builds her case back up for another run at the title, she feels more at liberty to take some risks and show skills she kept in her back pocket as she defended her place in line.
When considering how she reconstructs her case for contention, she explained that it all just comes down to consistent, high-level performances. Reflecting on her track record, there’s more than enough reason to believe she has the ability to do just that. Until then, though, expect a free-flowing fighter, and often, that means a dangerous one.
“I think this is a good opportunity to not worry about the title, not worry about anything else and just worry about the stuff I’ve been working on that I haven’t gotten to showcase in my fights yet,” Chookagian said.