Nobody mentions Sarah Kaufman when the topic of pioneers in women’s MMA comes up. They should. Before Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche, Kaufman was the queen of Strikeforce.
She was the promotion’s first women’s bantamweight champion and she holds victories over Tate and Carmouche, along with other known fighters, such as Shayna Baszler and Roxanne Modafferi.
But the unlikely one-time queen of women’s MMA has gotten lost in the shuffle in 2013, as women’s MMA has exploded into the public eye. The 28-year-old Kaufman, however, vows to change all that and reassert herself as a force. The road back to redemption begins Oct. 19 at UFC 166, when Kaufman (16-2) makes her long-awaited debut in the UFC against rising star Jessica Eye.
“It’s a long-time coming,” Kaufman told SciFighting.com, in an exclusive interview. “I am anxious to be there. I am in the best shape of my life. I am going to be a wrecking ball.”
The Canadian Kaufman will take her heavy hands and solid stand-up game into the cage against Eye, with the hopes of securing a title shot if she’s victorious.
“I am going to push for Fight of the Night,” she said. “I am feeling great and really anxious to get into the cage and show people what I have.”
Kaufman made her Strikeforce debut in 2009, defeating Miesha Tate by unanimous decision. She won the bantamweight championship in February of 2010 with a decision victory over Takayo Hashi. After an epic slam that turned out Modafferi’s lights in her first title defense, Kaufman lost the title to submission specialist Marloes Coenen in October of 2010.
She then bounced back from the loss, defeating Carmouche, Megumi Yabashita and Alexis Davis. Following that run, Kaufman was in line for a return title shot with Tate, who had defeated Coenen for the title.
That never happened.
Rousey, who was 4-0 at the time, talked her way into a title shot over Kaufman, against the wishes of Tate and many other cage-side observers. Critics believed that the blonde former Olympian was too green to get a title shot and that she was only getting it because she was more marketable than Kaufman.
Rousey ended up tapping Tate out in a great fight that ended in the first round. In what turned out to be the final Strikeforce women’s title fight, Kaufman finally got her shot at the gold against Rousey. But be careful what you wish for. Rousey submitted Kaufman in 54 seconds.
“I didn’t showcase myself at all in that fight,” Kaufman said. “Ronda came out with her best self and I didn’t show up.”
Kaufman said she learned from the mental lapse and that she won’t ever let that happen again.
“You take the good with the bad,” Kaufman said. “Someone has to win and someone has to lose. ”
Kaufman had been burning to get into the UFC for several months. She defeated Leslie Smith in April by split decision and was supposed to battle former Olympian Sara McMann in August, but McMann pulled out of the fight for personal reasons. Kaufman was crushed to go through camp and then have the fight canceled. She put together another camp quickly to take on Eye.
“She’s potentially a tough opponent,” Kaufman said.
Eye (10-1) has fought her career at 125 pounds, as a flyweight. She’s moving up to bantamweight to fight Kaufman in the UFC, which currently only has a bantamweight division.
“I am happy she took the fight,” Kaufman said of her upcoming opponent.
If she’s victorious, she’d like to get a title shot against the winner of the Rousey-Tate fight. The two women serve as coaches on the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” and will battle at UFC 168 on Dec. 28, on the main card of the Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva pay-per-view.
The Canadian Kaufman, who works full-time as a fitness instructor at ZUMA Martial Arts in Victoria, British, Columbia, said she’s so eager to fight for the championship again.
“If it were up to me I would get the title shot tomorrow,” said Kaufman. “I want to fight and I want to stay active.”
Kaufman said she’s a better fighter since the Rousey loss and will prove it against anybody she faces. She said she will surprise people the next time she fights.
“I don’t think you are ever a perfect fighter, but I am very well-rounded and I am confident,” she said. “I feel great.”
Despite Kaufman’s pedigree, she and Eye will fight on the Fox Sports 1 prelims, and not on the main card headlined by UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez against challenger Junior Dos Santos. Kaufman said she’s not disappointed that the she’s not on the main card, but wants her fans to remember to start watching early.
“At the end of the day, I still get to the fight for the UFC,” Kaufman said.