When you think of household names in Women’s MMA, several names should come to mind, and one of those should be former Strikeforce Champion Sarah Kaufman (16-2-0). A pioneer of the sport, finally signed with the UFC and looking to make an impressive debut regardless of the bumps in the road. Sarah joined BJPENN.com’s Late Night Cage Side Radio on Monday to give us the exclusive on her removal from the UFC Fight Night 27 card, and also discuss a plethora of topics with Kinch and Chase.
Chase asked Sarah whether she is more proud to finally see her fellow female athletes compete in the UFC, or if it has become more frustrating than fantastic, Kaufman replied, “A mixture of both. I can’t say that I am not jealous that Liz was the first female to step inside the octagon, I can’t say that I didn’t want to be in her shoes, I understand why I wasn’t, again based on timing. Then to see Meisha fight Cat, that is a fight that I was actually pushing for, I fought Meisha quite a long time ago and we have kind of done the dance with us potentially fighting each other a couple of times and somehow it doesn’t transpire and I do love punching her in the face. Then Liz and Meisha were supposed to have a second fight, and I was kind of stomping my feet like they are on their second fight and I still haven’t had my first. I have been around the sport, I have made a push for the sport I have fought and beaten both of them, but again timing is everything.”
The No. 2 ranked bantamweight went on to say, “Even when Meisha pulled out of the fight with Liz, I thought about trying to push for it, but unfortunately and fortunately my coach Adam had a baby due August 3rd, so I didn’t really want to risk not having him there or not having him involved in the camp because he had a baby coming. So I chose not to push for that fight, not to say that the UFC would have wanted it to happen but in another instance I probably would have gone online and (makes Charlie Brown’s teacher noises) with the little internet talk and pushed for it. But as it stands, they gave me a fight and August 28th was the date, so I said ‘you know what, sure it’s after everyone else but last doesn’t mean you’re the worst, so hopefully you make a grand entrance into the UFC and make all the other girls scared.’ Now I have to wait to do that with the next one. Again timing is everything, I am happy for them and I am happy that the UFC has really embraced the females and not just pushed Ronda and have had 6 or 7 female fights already, it’s just great to see. It’s also great to see different females coming in, and as a fighter to have a bigger talent pool and to fight people that I haven’t fought before. Being like ‘I hope they win so I get to fight them because I have already fought the other girl,’ or whatever happens. It’s really exciting in the bigger picture and not just me.”
Aside from dealing with the somewhat irritating eagerness to enter competition on the big stage, Kaufman is very pleased to finally be working for the UFC and is thankful to be receiving the exposure she deserves. When LNCS asked how the experience under the ZUFFA banner has played out so far, Sarah stated, “For one they run a tight ship, they know what they’re doing and they really are involved in the cities that they go into. For the fights, it’s great that they try to bring in fighters from the city or close to the city, or have some sort of pull or some reason to be there. Then when the UFC brought me up to Winnipeg for that fight, it was great doing the autograph signings, meet-and-greets, all of those kinds of things. And then we actually went into, I don’t remember the name of it now, First Nation’s promoting healthy living, I think it was called GEN 7. It was a really great organization that was promoting the idea of native children in the community getting active, getting physical and getting healthy. I got to go in with Mike Ricci, TJ Grant was there, Mike Pyle was there, Jordan Mein. It was a really great group and we all went in and got work with these kids for a couple hours, it was such a rewarding experience. The UFC donated something like 10 thousands dollars towards that organizations programs, to help grow and help support it. It’s nice to see these community events and outreach programs that the UFC has that you don’t really hear about, so I was just really excited to be a part of that and I look forward to doing more of that in the future.”
While being a professional fighter at the highest level has it’s perks, Kaufman also maintains a full-time job on top of devoting herself to MMA. The guys at Late Night Cage Side were interested to hear more about Sarah’s occupation outside the octagon, she told the hosts, “It’s MMA related, I actually work full time at ZUMA which is the gym that I have trained at since I first started. I have a ‘Little Bulldogs’ program, which is the cutest things you will ever see, kids between the ages of 3 and 5, with their little jujitsu Gi’s and their little bulldog shirt. So I have that group, I have a really big kids group between the ages of 6 and 12, and then we also have women’s and co-ed classes as well. So kind of the full gamut from 3 year olds all the up to Grandma and Grandpa’s that are training so it’s an awesome group.”
Sarah’s dedication to her students is coupled with a dedication to the gym she first started training at and under the trainer she began this journey with; Adam Zujec and ZUMA. Kinch was sure to ask Kaufman how things are going with ZUMA as a business, and Sarah explained how passion drives her native gym, “Things are great, Adam and I really don’t want a lot of fighters, we have a lot of really good fighters, and by a lot I mean we have like 5-10 so I guess it’s not a lot, but for the most part it is literally people like me who started training and had that interest and desire to take it a little further. We really don’t want fighters, because honestly fighters don’t pay their bill. Things like this happen, even at the highest level the gym gets whatever percentage they get, and at the end of the day if the fight doesn’t happen, they don’t make any money. Then fighters are stingy, and when they make money they’re like ‘It’s my money, I don’t want to give it to anyone else because it’s mine.’ I think that gyms in general don’t make money off of fighters for the most part, we want the community, the ‘Average Joe’ who goes to work, who is a plumber or a lawyer or whatever they are, and to just have passion for training and the athletics.”
Considering her honorable loyalty to ZUMA and her passion for the martial arts within her community, it is hard to believe that the former Strikeforce Champion once considered taking a drastically different path in life. At one point Kaufman wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon, Chase asked Sarah if that career still interests her and if she would pursue it after fighting, she stated, “I don’t think so, when I was in the 5th grade I had a teacher who at the end of the year did stupid predictions of what we all would be when we grew up. Saying, ‘Oh I think you’re going to be a teacher and you are going to be a dog walker,’ and for me she said ‘open heart surgeon.’ I was like you’re ridiculous, that’s so crazy, but it really got the wheels turning in my head and I was always intrigued by the operation channel and the intricacies of injuries and putting them back together and it just kind of festered in there. So I said, ‘You know what, I do want to be a surgeon,’ and I thought cardiovascular would be so interesting to fix blockages and the heart is what makes things go. How can you stop that to mess around with it? I always found that fascinating, that being said I did 2 years at a university and honestly it just wasn’t for me, it was then I kind of decided I didn’t want to do another 12 or 13 years of schooling to get to that cardiovascular job.”
“At the time I always thought that I wanted to have kids and a family earlier on and obviously it just didn’t seem to work out. So I dropped school after the second year at the university and I started doing the training thing more, I never thought I would end up fighting but I wanted to take a break from school and then I started working at the gym, doing more classes and competing a bit, and that led me to decide I wanted to get into the craziness that has ensued up until now. I don’t think I would ever go back for cardiovascular surgery but the medical field really interests me, whether it was a paramedic or a nurse, I don’t know, even something like an occupational therapist, anything that involves people and helping them. And I love the excitement of what happened, I am so nosy that I would have to ask them, I am the type of person who drives extremely slow when I pass an accident in the road.” Luckily enough, Kaufman decided to become a different kind of surgeon, the kind that puts on clinics in the cage and causes wounds instead of healing them.
In turn, this has led to her name being etched in the record books as one of the pioneers for Women’s MMA, and Kaufman is no stranger to a female fighter’s ongoing struggle to prove herself. LNCS asked Sarah to tell listeners about her fight with Shayna Baszler back in 2009, which was monumental as it broke down another barrier for WMMA, being the first female match in Strikeforce scheduled for 5 minute rounds. Sarah told Kinch and Chase, “When I fought my first 7 or 8 fights in Canada all of my fights had been 5 minute rounds, with the exception of the first one, and I had two title fights that were scheduled for five 5 minute rounds, so I was used to the 5 minute round. I did fight for PFC, Palace fighting Championships, and at the time they were doing the 3 minute rounds and they were in California, and for whatever reason California had a stipulation in their ruling where the organization could choose for females to have rounds from 2 to 5 minutes in length, something like that where there was a choice. Females could fight from this time to this time, and I think initially when Elite XC was around, they took 3 minute rounds for the girls. I think a lot of it had to do with Gina Carano, because she had fought Thai boxing a lot, I don’t know if that was the case but the rounds were 3 minutes long and that is kind of just what they said so everyone was like ok guys are 5 and girls are 3.”
“It was weird but that’s what they did, and then Strikeforce took over Elite XC and they were still having these 3 minute round fights, and the public was asking me about and the girls were asking about it, we didn’t want 3 minute rounds, there really was no reason for it. Turns out the commission was blaming Strikeforce and Strikeforce was blaming the commission, so eventually it came out in the wash that it wasn’t the commission and that you were allowed, so I am not exactly sure what it was. But after I fought Meisha Tate, when I had stepped in on two weeks notice, I really lobbied for it, I got on the mic and I said, ‘Look we want to fight 5 minutes, the three minutes pretty much is crap, there’s no reason for it, get us on 5 minute rounds because we are ready to fight it.’ It doesn’t matter if our lungs are smaller our that our hearts don’t pump as much blood or whatever it is, girl versus girl is not the same as girl versus guy, it shouldn’t matter we can do five minutes. So I didn’t find out until a week or two before the fight that we were actually fighting for 5 minute rounds with Shayna Baszler.” Now that the dark ages of WMMA have passed, and the ‘femme fatale’s’ are getting their due and proper, it is safe to assume that the women’s division will continue to grow to it’s full potential, especially with the rise of MMA’s newest star, Ronda Rousey.
Kaufman last felt the bitter sting of defeat via the patented arm-bar of Rousey in an attempt to reclaim the title that she lost to Marloes Coenen, and while Sarah agrees Ronda Rousey has nothing short of impressive performances, Sarah Kaufman feels that the aura of Rousey will eventually diminish as the game evolves. Sarah gave her honest breakdown of Rousey to the boys at LNCS, stating, “I think that Ronda is really good at what she does because she’s been doing it for 20 years, she has drilled over and over that same kind of set, the same entrance. Clearly she is very good at them, she sticks with it and she starts fast. I think that starting fast is not easy for a lot of people, I know that I can sometimes get caught up with trying to think it out and wait it out and take my time, and when people start that quick, even when you know they are going to start that quick, you can get caught on your heels a bit. I think that is Ronda’s game plan; come in, bulldoze through, force the takedown, trip 18 different ways until she gets it, and then try and work for that arm.
Sarah went on to say, “At this point it has worked for her, I think you even saw it in the Liz fight, she wanted to go for that arm. I think mentally, once she finishes the fight by choke or a TKO or something like that, as soon as it’s different from the arm-bar, I think that mystique is lost a little bit, and that mental edge that she probably has right now because she is just on this high of, ‘I’ve fought some really good girls, some of the best girls in the world, and they can’t touch me, I just get the arm-bar because I want it,’ thats a big thing to have. Like Chuck Liddell, knocking everyone out, and then all of the sudden it happened to him, then he just wasn’t the same, he just didn’t have that confidence, and people were able to fight him differently, I think that will happen to Ronda. As things change and as people progress, people know that she’s not going to change things up and this is what she’s doing, and that will eventually change, but it’s impressive. You kind of root for her and you kind of root against her like, I don’t want her to get the arm-bar, but I kind of want her to get it in the first because that’s what she does. It’s this back and forth of, ‘Oh she’s a one trick pony that’s all she does,’ but so far no one has stopped it, so it’s pretty impressive. I’m not saying it is unstoppable, but so far it’s worked.” Since it is obvious Sarah has kept her eye on Ronda Rousey, it’s safe to say that these two warriors will meet again in the future.
For now though, Sarah Kaufman is focused on her UFC debut and putting on a great show for the fans. She is known for being a crowd pleaser with her aggressive high-volume striking style, and that hasn’t changed one bit. When asked if she feels that women tend to steal the show because they have more to prove, Sarah replied, “We try. I think it’s a mixture of that and a mixture of the fact that girls are a little more scrappy and catty, so we kind of have that behind us. Also, you remember girls because they are different, and not to put down any of the males who fight because I respect all of them who get in the cage, but to be fair how many 155 pound males are there that are similar build, white guys, brown hair, or black guys or brown guys or whatever they are, there are probably another 10 that look almost exactly the same. So I think girls stand out a little bit more, especially to the guys, they like to look at different things, whatever they are looking at, but again we do want to prove that we are in there for a reason. A good reason, that we deserve to be there and we earned our spot on the card, but we are a lighter weight, we keep the action going, fast paces, back and forth and just all around exciting fights.”
For more on Sarah’s removal from UFC Fight Night 27, click here.
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