In the fight game, no phrase has been quoted more often and spoken more truth than “everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” For the past six years in MMA, arguably, no woman has proven more that the aforementioned quote is as applicable to female fighters as it is to males than Sarah Kaufman. This should be (and is) an ever present concern for all active Strikeforce women’s bantamweight fighters because, simply put, Kaufman hits hard and hits a lot. Multiply that by time, practice, and past results, and it equates to this Canadian KO machine only getting better at what she does best, and she wants her title back.
“I think my confidence has gotten better as it has happened,” admits Kaufman when asked about her knockout power. “Going into my first fight I didn't know what to think. I didn't know if I could knock anyone out, I didn't know if I could submit anyone, I didn't have any idea what I was capable of. In my first fight, I got a clean knockout and she was out for quite a while. As soon as I landed the punch, I was like, 'oh, Adam's [Zugec, Kaufman’s coach] right. I can do this.' The next fight when I got the TKO in the first, it was like this is getting better. With every fight it has kind of kept growing. Now, I do have some sort of knowledge that it is a part of me and I'm capable of doing that, but for me, it's hard to kind of really grasp that knowledge that I can knock people out.”
From 2006 to 2009, Kaufman fought eight times with eight eerily similar KO/TKO finishes, and was granted the chance to beat up a new crop of female fighters in Strikeforce. In her following four fights, Kaufman continued to overwhelm her opponents with her staggering output of strikes, and won the first Strikeforce women’s bantamweight championship against Takayo Hashi. The numbers surrounding Kaufman’s relentless onslaught standing are almost difficult to understand. In her debut decision win over current champion Miesha Tate, Kaufman threw over 160 significant strikes back when Strikeforce’s female fighters competed at three 3 minute rounds. That’s utterly insane.
“When we are at ZUMA, we are doing a lot of pad work and the pad work isn't about throwing single jabs or single crosses,” tells Kaufman. “It is about getting that mindset ingrained in you to throw 3,4,5,6, 7, 8 punch combinations to get your hands moving. Adam has always said, ‘if you can hit 4 or 8 punch combinations on the pads then in sparring or in a fight you might hit 1 or 2.’ Sometimes when you are getting in there you tighten up and you think too much and you don't let your hands go. Partly, it is a matter of sheer repetitions, but I also like to push forward and when you push forward you might as well do something. The best way for them to not hit you, is for you to hit them faster and more often - that's kind of the philosophy that's taken over.”
In the fight fans’ world where strikers rule, Kaufman is queen.
At 14-1, the product of Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts (ZUMA) in her hometown of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada is gearing up for another title run this year. Originally, Kaufman won the coveted gold strap at 135 pounds in February 2010 and successfully defended the belt with her knockout slam of Roxanne Modaferri that July. Three months later, Kaufman suffered her lone defeat to submission ace Marloes Coenen via an armbar in the third round. In 2011, Kaufman rebounded from losing the Strikeforce title with two wins: a TKO over the well-traveled Megumi Yabushita in a smaller promotion and, in Kaufman’s return to Strikeforce, an impressive decision win over former title challenger Liz Carmouche in July.
“I was really excited to get off the shelf because I had been on the shelf for a while,” explains Kaufman. “I wanted to get another win back in Strikeforce, after my only loss and losing the title to Marloes. To be back under the banner, it was an important fight because Liz had done really well against Marloes when she stepped up to fight her. I wanted to make a really strong impression with a dominating good fight that was crowd pleasing. You want to make sure you can get a win outside the organization and that's great, but ultimately you want to be on the winning track inside the company you have fought for for so long and have held their title. There were a lot of things going on in that fight and I think I dealt with them well. I try not to let anything get to me too much. A fight is a fight whether there are five people watching or a million people watching. I always fight the same way and really try to make sure I can get that win and keep it entertaining and have fun while I'm doing it.”
The bout itself was really a tale of two stories, in which the first ended at the start of the second round. The initial five minutes were competitive, with the bigger, seemingly more powerful, former United States Marine Carmouche trying to push the action against the fence, where Kaufman can’t work her never-ending punch combinations as well. For Kaufman, the opening period was part of a feeling out process to test how she could handle Carmouche’s strength and both she and her heralded coaches liked that answer. Once the second round began, Kaufman raised the intensity, poured on her characteristic standup barrage, and clearly won the later rounds.
“I think my coach Adam Zugec and Greg Jackson were saying to me in the corner that this is really the time that I can let loose,” remembers Kaufman. “Knowing that I have the conditioning and cardio to push that pace and knowing how the first round went and how she wasn't overpowering me and knowing that I was able to open up more and land harder shots and not be as concerned about getting stalled on the cage. I'm always happy with a win. I always want a knockout or a submission if it is there. Preferably, I would rather punch into submission than go for something else. I would have liked to have had a finish. I would have liked to have opened up even more than I did. Sometimes in my head, I'm opening up more than I am, so I have been really working on that. I really don't think I've hit someone with my full power yet. That's something I want to do in this upcoming fight.”
Up next for Kaufman is a chance to return to title contention in a number one contender matchup against Alexis Davis. On the undercard of the highly anticipated championship bout between challenger “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and current belt owner Miesha “Takedown” Tate, the top ranked Canadian duo of Kaufman and Davis will square off to decide who will get first crack at the winner of the main event. The well-rounded 11-4 Davis is far from unfamiliar to Kaufman, as the two fought roughly five years prior and Kaufman walked away the victor via ground and pound in the third. There is great potential for fireworks from these two because of their history, the opportunity this win will bring, and their desire to come forward looking to scrap.
“In the first fight with Alexis, I had only a couple fights and that was her first fight, and she's game and she's been game since our first fight,” says Kaufman. “When you look at her last fight with Amanda Nunes, she took some really hard shots and she'll keep coming forward. That's exciting to me. I'm looking at this fight like she's going to come to fight, and I'll be upset if she doesn't. I'm looking at this fight like Alexis is tough, she is willing to throw strikes to get to where she wants to be, and I just want to keep striking on the feet or on the ground - I don't care where it is. I like the thought of having a fight like that and having a fight that fans will hopefully be able to say that was awesome, explosive, and exciting, and that these are the girls that should be fighting for the title. The title fight could be great or it could be a grinder, with Ronda in question and not a lot of technical striking between the two of them. I am interested in seeing what happens in that fight, but I would love for our fight to overshadow them.”
In preparation for Davis, the 26-year old is busy training at the previously mentioned ZUMA gym under the tutelage of the owner and head instructor Zugec. It is probably easier to mention what martial arts Zugec hasn’t studied, as he has traveled and trained under the legendary likes of many, including Erik Paulson and the Machado brothers. Kaufman has been a fixture at ZUMA since its inception when she was 17 and she currently works there as an instructor. Kaufman is also a member of Team Jackson, and she often trains with Julie Kedzie, who fought Davis last July. So if one strategic MMA mind wasn’t enough, Kaufman has both Zugec and Jackson working together in her corner, but, naturally, the presiding voice is that of her longtime mentor.
“Adam doesn't have to yell as much as some other coaches do because we understand each other,” asserts Kaufman. “I understand what he wants from me and he understands what I'm trying to do. If he sees something in particular that I need to throw because she's open for it, then he'll call that out and I'll try to do it right away because that's the time to do it. I am thinking about what I'm throwing, but I always want to keep that pace up as long as I'm feeling good. I like to throw combinations and I like to let loose, and in doing that I like getting hit. It's fun getting hit and hitting people back, seeing how they react. I love seeing people start to break and start to get mentally tired because I know that I can keep going and I know that they can't. That's what really fuels me to really let loose and really open up. I want to go back to those earlier fights like against Alexis, where I threw something like 27 punches without her really throwing anything in return. I need to get back to that. I need to put even more pressure on. I think I may have some surprises coming into this fight in how I'm going to be fighting. I think the big difference in this fight is that I know Alexis is going to come to trade some strikes. That in itself will give me the opportunity to showcase what I'm really good at and what has gotten me this far.”
On March 3rd in Columbus, Ohio, the former champ will come forward throwing strikes with her sights set on the surging Davis and another shot at the bantamweight crown. “Fans need to make sure they are watching Showtime Extreme so they are watching this fight live because it is a fight they are not going to want to miss live,” declares Kaufman, who wants to emphatically end Davis’ Strikeforce winning streak and, once again, earn herself that spot at the top of the mountain. “It's going to have a lot of back and forth action, and I will be looking for that knockout - on the feet or on the ground. That's what I want to give the fans, that's what I want to say about this title shot, and I want it to make a statement.”
If on Saturday night, Kaufman goes 15-1 with 11 TKOs, then whoever wins between Rousey and Tate better start working on a real solid plan because Kaufman's punches are coming for their mouth next.
Sarah Kaufman - One Win Away
"Fans need to make sure they are watching Showtime Extreme so they are watching this fight live because it is a fight they are not going to want to miss live." - Sarah Kaufman