For the last seven years, fans of the UFC have been able to watch the greatest 125-pound women fighters, and one of the best fighters of all time regardless of weight or gender, Valentina Shevchenko. Her dominance is legendary.
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What went unrealized and unappreciated for a while was just how dominant and successful the perpetual #1 contender in that division has been. Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian, now 33, is 18-4 as a professional, 11-4 in the UFC, and has served as the gatekeeper for championship challengers for years.
Manon “The Beast” Fiorot is only one year younger than Chookagian and has 12 fewer professional fights. Fiorot is 9-1 as a professional and is 4-0 in the UFC with two knockout and two decision wins.
Chookagian vs. Fiorot will feature on the UFC 280 PPV main card on Saturday. Fight fans in the United States can watch this fight live on ESPN+ PPV in the afternoon just moments before Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev, Aljamain Sterling vs. TJ Dillashaw, Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley, and more.
Despite being the woman who is challenging the championship gatekeeper, Fiorot is the favorite heading into Saturday night.
At this point in her career, Chookagian’s fight style and skillset are well documented and widely recognized. “Blonde Fighter” is a highly technical and highly skilled Muay Thai/kickboxing hybrid striker who lands with incredible volume and pinpoint precision. Chookagian uses her size, perpetual motion, skilled footwork, constant jab, and seemingly endless cardio to keep opponents at range while she picks them apart for the entire fight.
Opponents who have tried to crash distance have often found themselves in a tight Thai clinch where Chookagian lands thudding knees and slicing elbows. Opponents who have tried to wrestle have quickly found out just how strong Chookagian is and that her 54% takedown defense does not tell an accurate story. Even in fights where an opponent records and official takedown, Chookagian is adept at scrambling to reverse position or get the fight back on the feet. She rarely spends much time on the canvas. The knock on Chookagian has always been her lack of finishing ability, but that criticism has lessened as Chookagian has continued to win and do so convincingly.
The flyweight’s game plan boils down to identifying and exploiting her opponent’s weakness. When she fights a shorter and more powerful striker, Chookagian will fight behind her jab and dance around the cage, landing over and over so her opponent can’t get in tight. When an opponent wants to wrestle, Chookagian will exploit any lazy shots with knees and downward elbows. No matter her opponent, outside of Shevchenko, Chookagian’s well-rounded game, elite cardio, and ability to identify then exploit weaknesses has proved successful.
The simplest way to describe Fiorot is Chookagian 2.0. The handicap for this matchup and the reason for the odds is that Fiorot, on paper, does everything Chookagian does plus a few upgrades. Just like her opponent, Fiorot is a vivacious and technical Muay Thai/kickboxer hybrid who lands with volume and precision from range. Fiorot’s range striking upgrade, compared to Chookagian, is her power. Fiorot can land with a movement-focused and stick’n move approach, or, just as easily and rarely telegraphed, she can plant, generate power from her base, and connect with real stopping power. Fiorot has a full arsenal of kickboxing strikes, all of which she uses for precision and power.
The next upgrade is Fiorot’s clinch game. While Chookagian often waits for an overzealous fighter to initiate the clinch before making them regret their choice, Fiorot has proven an ability to initiate the clinch herself and land devastating knees and elbows from this position. The final upgrade in Fiorot’s game, compared to Chookagian, is her offensive wrestling. While Chookagian can stuff takedowns well and scramble even better, Fiorot can defensively grapple and offensively wrestle well. “The Beast” averages nearly two takedown attempts a match and tends to shoot later in rounds to tip the scales of a close round in her favor. He wrestling though is not a last resort or just a ploy to win rounds. She is a fundamental wrestler who can get the fight to the mat, hold position safely, and land more of those devastating elbows from top position. In short, nearly everything Chookagian can, Fiorot can do as well or better.
Fiorot is not flawless nor is she an exact carbon copy of Chookagian. Chookagian’s biggest strengths are her cardio and her experience. While Fiorot has reliable cardio, keeping up with Chookagian’s pace is bigger challenge than Fiorot has faced thus far. Further, despite Fiorot’s lengthy skillset, she only has ten professional fights and many of them have come against lower level competition. Fiorot has the tools to win this fight; but, if she tries to fight Chookagian’s fight, rather than her own, Fiorot risks losing due to a lack of experience.
I trust Fiorot to match Chookagian for most of the fight and show moments of her more evolved game, especially the offensive wrestling. It will be close, it will be high-level, and it will be a fight you don’t want to miss. I’ll go with Fiorot to get it done.
Pick: Fiorot to win by decision (-200 odds to win at MyBookie)
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.