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UFC on ESPN 36: Katlyn Chookagian embraces her top status in women's flyweight division

Staying at top is no easy task, but it's one Chookagian has made a habit of from the start.
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Katlyn Chookagian is a consummate professional. One who works easily with the media, makes weight on Friday and handles her business on Saturday, all while having an affable mood throughout the week. But, when she sat down and a question was prefaced with a little bit of warning about the awkwardness, she politely inquired about the topic.

"Is this about decisions?"

Thankfully, for her sake, she wasn't going to be asked about the amount of decision wins on her record. Frankly, considering how long she has fought the best in the 125-pound division for years, it makes sense she'd find competition harder to stop than if she was fighting unranked foes. 

The question at hand, however, was about just that. Since the inception of the flyweight division, Chookagian has lived in the top 3 and has challenged for the title once. Of late, she's had to fend off would-be title challengers. Since returning to flyweight, her only three losses have come to Jessica Eye, Jessica Andrade – both of whom fought for the title immediately afterward – and champion Valentina Shevchenko

Arguably, she's the most highly ranked gatekeeper on the roster, which begs the question whether she feels that's the role she currently occupies. 

"By textbook (definition), yeah, for sure," Chookagian said. "Everyone knows they have to kind of go through me to get the title, and I think, also, sometimes if (UFC) wants to promote someone for the title, they don't want them to fight me, which is kind of flattering.

"I'd rather be the champ than the gatekeeper, but there's people that are gatekeepers for the top 10, and if I'm gatekeeping for the champion, that's a better position. If I'm here, and I just keep winning, I'll get my second chance."

And winning is exactly what she has been doing for the last year-and-a-half, picking up wins over Cynthia Calvillo, Viviane Araujo and Jennifer Maia

Chookagian is as cemented as any top 3 fighter in any division and sits tied with Shevchenko for the most wins in the division's history with eight. That level of quality consistency is notable, and it's a testament to her self-tabbed "obsession with the sport."

Not only does that help her constantly improve her skills, but it gives her a foundational confidence that allows her to ride out the ebbs and flows of a fight camp. 

"Being around for so long, you get confidence and you just know, even if you do have a bad session, maybe it just doesn't bother you as much because you know it's part of the process," she said. "I think after almost 15 fights, I think I'm getting the hang of this."

Of this camp, Chookagian called it "super smooth," aided by the fact that it was her first time in three camps that she did not have a COVID-diagnosis to throw a wrench into things. She also mentioned not having the usual "bad day" in camp that usually comes a few weeks out from the fight. 

With all that in tow, she is in prime condition to welcome Amanda Ribas (11-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC), a top 10 strawweight who gets her crack at the flyweight elite at Saturday's UFC on ESPN 36. Although the matchup is a little eye-opening given Ribas' lower ranking at a lighter weight, Chookagian (17-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) views it as a bigger platform to put all of her talents on display.

"I think Amanda Ribas is pretty good," Chookagian said. "She's considered a grappler, but I think her striking is on-par with her grappling. Sometimes, one fighter gets the (reputation) of, ‘Oh, they're a grappler. They're a striker,' and you kind of just go with that, but her striking is pretty equal to her grappling. She's super popular, super aggressive and motivated and tough,

As much as Chookagian wants to believe an impressive win over Ribas can earn her a second crack at the belt, she understands that there might be other fighters in a better position than her either from a promotional sense or otherwise. 

In the meantime, she'll just keep on doing what she has always done – show up, make weight, fight her fight and get her hand raised at the end of it. Everything else can take care of itself. 

"All I can do is stay ready and keep winning," Chookagian said. "When my time comes, I'll be ready for it.

This story first published at UFC.com.