(Photo courtesy of sarahkaufman.ca)
The Strikeforce 135-pound women’s champion talks about her upcoming title defense, her desire to fight on a major Showtime/CBS card, and the potential of a superfight with 145-pound champ Cris Cyborg.
By CagePotato contributor Brian J. D’Souza
When fans think of women’s MMA, their first thought is often a tossup between pinups like Gina Carano and Miesha Tate or a 2-2 Kim Couture aided by a last name she married into. But sitting pretty at 11-0 with possession of the Strikeforce women’s welterweight championship belt is Victoria, BC’s Sarah Kaufman, who fights Friday, July 23rd, on the ShoMMA: Strikeforce Challengers event to be held in Everett, Washington. It will be her first defense against 15-5 Roxanne Modafferi, but she’s driven not just to get the win, but also by the goal of making it to the next level.
“I started out in dance when I was about two,” explains Kaufman of her earliest pastime, which was interrupted when she took her first Muay Thai class at age 17. “Adam Zugec opened Zuma (MMA gym) underneath my dance studio — when I started that, it was something fun that just took over my life.”
Later, she even tried to work her University classes around her training schedule for MMA, but there was just no compromising her passion.
“After two years of University, I decided it wasn’t really where I wanted to go. Now I’m doing MMA fulltime”
There was never any bold pronouncement that Kaufman was going to be number one in the world, nor any bottled aggression looking for an outlet. Sarah describes herself as a competitive person who thrives on the challenge her opponents present her with.
“I would like to think of myself as a perfectionist, so I just always want to get better.”
In May there was some controversy when her contract was automatically renewed courtesy of the so-called "champions clause," following the third and final fight of her agreement with Strikeforce. Kaufman explains that her representation renegotiated a new contract with Strikeforce, but doesn’t go into the specific details.
“My job as a fighter is to be ready for a fight — not to be worried about paperwork.”
The competition between the UFC and Strikeforce has improved the bargaining power of MMA fighters who now have more of a choice as to where to sign. For female fighters, there are other options in Bellator and Japan, but Kaufman is pleased with her current promoter.
“Showtime is really good — I really enjoy working with them. They have a great staff, and Strikeforce is trying to push these female divisions, which is great.”
This being the fourth Challengers show she’ll fight on, Kaufman is still eager to further her potential by appearing on a major Strikeforce card, and sees a long-term payoff through the national reach available through the organization.
“The next step for me to get more popular, to get more fans, to get more exposure is to be on those main Showtime cards — or even a CBS card—that’s really my goal with the organization.”
She also repeats the same request mentioned by many other fighters under contract with Strikeforce who want more fights, suggesting that 3-4 bouts a year would be the ideal situation in her case.
While Kaufman may not be privy to the strategy of Showtime/Strikeforce, she knows that an exciting fight capped by a knockout or submission victory over Roxanne Modafferi would raise her stock with both fans and the organization’s planners.
“Whether it’s a standing knockout, a TKO on the ground, or if a submission presents itself and I have to take that, I really want to finish this fight, and I’m going to do everything that I can to get there.”
But even after four years as a professional, an endless number of sacrifices, a title belt and a spot on a nationally televised promotion, there are still questions over the future of women’s MMA.
Strikeforce fighter Erin Toughill recently vented criticism consistent with all her interviews, recently stating in a Q&A posted on TheGarv, “I don’t think that there [are] enough good women to really have a solid division. That’s just how it is right now. Maybe in five to ten years there will be.”
Kaufman points to Strikeforce’s plans for a 135-pound tournament, explaining that she’d be happy to face the winner. But even more tempting is the potential for a catchweight champion vs. champion superfight against 145-pound ruler Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos. There are fewer viable contenders in the women’s middleweight division, evidenced by an undersized 8-7 Jan Finney being offered up as a sacrificial lamb/showcase fight for Cyborg’s last defense. Kaufman knows giving up weight to Cyborg would be worth the tradeoff to garner more notoriety for herself, and she’s made careful study of Santos’ game.
“Cyborg has a lot of good qualities about her. She does a lot of really good things in the cage. But she does have holes, and she is beatable, so if that’s something that was asked of me, that’s something that can potentially happen in the future.”
Right now, Kaufman is working hard to be prepared. She has the support of teammates like Nick Driedgar, Connor Wood, Andrew Jorgensen, Tyler Dolby and other training partners at Zuma MMA. Her coach Adam Zugec has been there from the start, and she does additional training with strength and conditioning coach Tyler Goodale. Even legend Greg Jackson merits a mention for helping to tweak her game.
But on July 23rd, she’ll be facing her opponent alone, and she has one wish going into the fight — an opponent who presses forward instead of fighting to survive or doing only enough to win:
“I just hope Roxanne brings it.”