The UFC returns to Las Vegas this weekend for its first “hometown” show since the coronavirus pandemic shut most of the planet down. When it does, flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian will return to action for the first time since her title bid against Valentina Shevchenko earlier this year.
The circumstances couldn’t be more different. Chookagian is moving from a packed arena, to an empty venue in the UFC Apex. The same facility that hosts Dana White’s Contender Series.
Yet while many fighters have noted the thunderous silence an empty venue brings — and all its quirks — Chookagian for one isn’t flustered by the idea. Interestingly enough, while several fighters have noted being able to hear the commentary team now that fans are absent, even taking their advice, that’s nothing new for “Blonde Fighter.”
Speaking to Cageside Press at the UFC Vegas virtual media day, Chookagian said that “even before the UFC, I fought like in small, small crowds. I haven’t fought an Ultimate Fighter but I have coached, I’ve been in that environment. You know, I fought in Ohio in the middle of nowhere in a baseball field. So I’m kind of used to fighting all different environments.”
Teammates Claudia Gadelha and Sijara Eubanks gave her insight into the feel of an empty arena, having competed earlier in the month. But even in the UFC, with all its raucous crowds, Chookagian appears to have an ear for isolating a single voice among the masses.
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad thing, but I always hear kind of the commentary,” she admitted. “I don’t know if I’m not paying attention to the fight as much as I should, but I definitely always hear them.”
And they have definitely helped, as well. “I remember one time I had a fight and it was in the third round, and I was like, ‘it’s kind of close. But I think I’m winning,'” Chookagian recalled. “And I remember hearing [Daniel Cormier] being like, ‘Katlyn’s definitely starting to pick up the pace and she’s really putting on the pressure on her opponent’ and I was kinda like, ‘yeah, you’re right!’ And it kind of motivated me. It was funny because when DC commentates, I’ve heard him before and it’s helped me. And that was in a normal arena. So then when people were talking about I’m like, ‘man I hope they’re not ruining it, I hope he’s not quiet. I want him to keep doing his normal thing.”
While the setting of this fight will be vastly different from her last, the surname of her opponent will be the same. Shevchenko. After coming up short against Valetina, Chookagian is going up against the champion’s sister, Antonina.
That’s not something Chookagian is putting much stock in however. “I think [Antonina] being her sister doesn’t have any part in it. I think a win is a win, whether it was against her sister or anyone else in the division.” The only way to get back to another title shot, added Chookagian, “is just more wins in the division.”
UFC on ESPN 9 goes down this Saturday, May 30 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV. The event airs live on ESPN (TSN in Canada).