In a division which has been solely dominated by reigning champion, Valentina Shevchenko – perennial contender, Katlyn ‘Blonde Fighter’ Chookagian faces the almost unpassable test. This weekend in Houston, Texas – Chookagian will finally enter her first UFC title bout, as a considerable underdog.
Wins over flyweight peers, Joanne Calderwood, albeit controversial, Mara Romero Borella, Alexis Davis, and Jennifer Maia, have seen Chookagian secure the number-one contender’s status at 125-pounds. A talented wrestler and impressive controller of distance on the feet – Chookagian’s attributes, unfortunately, pale in comparison to the elite, Shevchenko. The Renzo Gracie brown belt plys her trade out of Manhattan, in a facility named after her coach’s namesake and began her professional career just six years ago.
In an Octagon stint that has been almost flawless, Chookagian has only twice been bested since her debut in 2016 – losing two razor-thin split decisions to former bantamweight and flyweight title chaser, Liz Carmouche, and another former flyweight championship challenger, Jessica Eye. The 21-year-old Pennslyvania native also handed defeats to former Invicta FC flyweight champion, Lauren Murphy – and rising bantamweight challenger, Irene Aldana.
For all her Octagon success so far, Chookagian meets a behemoth of an opponent at the Toyota Center on Saturday. Valentina Shevchenko has been nothing short of spectacular since her drop to 125-pounds – battering Priscila Cachoeira before meeting former Muay Thai rival, Joanna Jędrzejczyk in a vacant title clash. In her first defense of the throne, Shevchenko knocked out the aforementioned, Eye, with an earth-shattering second-round high-kick – before comfortable edging out former opponent, Carmouche, in a largely forgetful UFC Fight Night Montevideo main event.
Where Chookagain excels, is her ability to keep distance and punish offensive strikers with counters of her own. Against Muay Thai specialist Calderwood – Chookagian was outlanded, quite significantly. This matchup with Calderwood brings some cause for concern for Chookagain – given Shevchenko’s ability to largely dictate the pace of a contest, against strikers largely considered more technical than the Quakertown native.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt has also told how she envisions a late submission or close decision victory over the Kyrgyzstan native, an outcome which would surely come as a severe surprise to most in the community. Shevchenko earned a second tilt at Amanda Nunes via a second-round armbar victory over TUF victor, Julianna Peña back in 2017 – before finishing the previously noted Cachoeira with a first-round rear-naked choke after an incredibly dominant display.
Both Chookagian and Shevchenko are well-traversed strikers make no mistake about it – but on paper, Shevchenko certainly stands out as the more deadly of the pair. The 31-year-old has compared Chookagian to former opponent and bantamweight best, Holly Holm ahead of this matchup – but so far in her brief Octagon stint, Chookagian is yet to display such shocking knockout ability – and has a developed a style which consists of solid lateral footwork, and almost point-fighting karate-kicking techniques.