Wednesday, 3 April 2013

INTERVIEW: Sarah Kaufman prepares for war at Invicta FC 5 with hopes to impress

Former Strikeforce Bantamweight titleholder and Victoria BC native Sarah Kaufman will be stepping into the octagon with Leslie Smith at Invicta Fighting Championship’s fifth event this Friday, April 5th in Kansas City – a fight which could be her first step towards a rematch with Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first female titleholder, Ronda Rousey.

Headlining the card is Jessica Penne and Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson in an Atomweight (105lbs) championship.

Our Canadian girl has been training hard out of Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts (ZUMA) in her hometown of Victoria, while also working with Greg Jackson and his team at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 “We do kind of a lot of conferring [with] Greg and Mike Winklejohn (of Jackson’s MMA),” Sarah tells me in an interview. “Right at the beginning of my camp I went out to Jackson’s for just under a week.”

Sarah explains that while Julie Kedzie was out of training on an injury at the time, she worked a lot with Atomweight challenger Michelle Waterson, Jodie Esquibel, another Atomweight who will be taking on Alex Chambers at IFC 5, and fellow Bantamweight (135lbs) Holly Holm.

“It was great, we just went out there [and did] about just under a week of training and then came back and I’ve been at ZUMA and I’ve done […] most of my camp here.”

Kaufman also works hard as a coach at ZUMA teaching students of all ages, from three to adult. She featured some of her younger students in her Harlem Shake video for Invicta.

 “If we get the most votes I told them that I would give them a pizza party.”

But of course, it is not all fun and games. Kaufman knows that, although less experienced, Leslie Smith is a serious opponent. Fighting out of California with the Cesar Gracie Fight Team, Leslie is 4 inches taller and tough as nails.

“We’re both gonna go in there and we’re both going to fight, you know, the full 15 minutes, and push the pace, and make the fight exciting for the fans.”

While she would love a finish, Sarah knows that she certainly can’t count on one. She must be prepared to not only fight the full 3 rounds, but to keep up with a seemingly tireless opponent.

“Leslie’s tough,” Sarah says sincerely. “She has good conditioning, she puts up [a good] pace, she kind of stays in your face, and I expect nothing less.”

As for what is in the cards for Sarah Kaufman following this fight, that is yet to be determined.

Kaufman is a part of the first batch of women to be signed into the previously men-only UFC, but knows that she has to wait for the outcome of Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano at The Ultimate Fighter (UFC reality TV show) finale next Saturday, April 13th to determine her fate.

A rematch with former champion Miesha Tate could be in the cards, providing she wins, but Sarah knows that – as with anything in the fight game – anything can happen.

“Cat Zingano is a tough match for her […] Cat could be the one that takes it.”

Regardless of the outcome, Sarah is prepared to keep fighting for a title shot. A win against Leslie could place her higher in the pecking order, and a finish could generate the attention she needs to be seen as a top competitor.

“I honestly think it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time and winning the right fights at the right time,” Sarah tells me. “The fight game [is] fickle.”

She is patient, however, as she knows that the fight game is all about opportunities and timing. The best Sarah can do is to be ready for whenever the UFC asks her to fight, and to keep winning.

“If I can get two or three solid wins put together, you know, that title shot should be there for me.”

As for who she’ll fight, that is uncertain. Fellow Canadian Alexis Davis, who currently trains with the Cesar Gracie Fight Team alongside Kaufman’s opponent, Leslie Smith, is also aiming to generate the media attention needed for a title shot.

Sarah quickly shuts down the idea of a second rematch with Davis, saying, “I just fought Alexis not very long ago for the second time, so at this point that fight doesn’t make any sense.”

There will certainly be no shortage of opponents for Kaufman to prove herself against – a huge contrast to as recent as 2008 when she discussed her difficulties in finding a fight with MMEh’s Andy Cotteril. 

She attributed her difficulties to a lack of general interest in both WMMA and in Canadian fighters. Now, the problem seems to be nearly behind us.

Sarah credits much of this improvement to UFC President Dana White’s decision to sign female Bantamweight fighters into the UFC.

By using the publicity already behind the rapidly-rising star, ex-Olympian and current UFC champion Ronda Rousey, to headline an already exciting card, and advertising in all the right ways, the UFC was able to generate enough public interest to justify his decision to add women to the roster.

“The fight couldn’t have been scripted better,” says Sarah Kaufman.

And she is certainly right. To have Ronda Rousey, former Judo World-Champion and Olympics bronze medallist, be in danger of submission, and so early in the round, was not only surprising but extremely exciting.

Her opponent, Liz Carmouche, had her back and was working on sinking in a rear naked choke. She had it held tight over the champion’s chin, but was unable to finish.

Rousey managed to shake her off and submit Liz with her signature first-round armbar, with just over 10 seconds left in the round – the longest fight Rousey has had in her professional or amateur mixed martial arts careers.

Although the fight lacked much stand-up fighting, it displayed incredible grappling and may have shown fans that grappling martial arts do have their place in MMA.

“It showed an amazing side of the sport,” Sarah says.

However, with the UFC already cutting fighters, Kaufman thinks that they will be looking exclusively at the female Bantamweight division, for now at least.

However:  “I think overall the sport has grown, and the UFC has done a lot to help that […] Now having females in their organization is really going to open a lot of doors for a lot of us, […] at least 135-ers, for females.”

But where does that leave the rest of the female fighters? It seems that Invicta will become their home, for now at least.

Sarah credits Invicta with doing an amazing job over the last two years, putting on incredible fights with high quality athletes. Most importantly they have been bringing exposure to women’s MMA.

“Invicta has really done a great job,” she says. “The 105, 115, 125 pound divisions are awesome. I just don’t know if the UFC is going to be picking them up or not.”

And with more and more events being held in the Great White North, Canada is finally getting the exposure it deserves. In fact, the last event – UFC 158, held in Montreal, Quebec – had 7 Canadians on the card.

“I think more and more people are starting to recognize Canada as a hub for some pretty good athletes.”

As for what else there is to do in Canada? I don’t suppose Sarah would know. When I asked the dedicated fighter what other interests she has, she replied:

“I’m kind of boring in that sense […] I pretty much live at the gym.”

I suppose that’s how you know you’re doing the right thing – when there’s nothing else you would rather be doing, and you don’t really need or want a “break” from it.

Regardless of the amount of success Sarah has had in her career, she never forgets the people that have helped her get there.

“If I could just add a thanks to my sponsors and my fans that would be great,” she asks me at the end of the interview. “My sponsors for this fight, I have Fuel Supplements Victoria, Never Tap, BFG Financial, and then of course my team at ZUMA, I mean they’ve been great, the Jackson’s team is great, you know, and then all my fans on Twitter @mmasarah, and on Facebook as well.”

If you are interested in watching Sarah Kaufman take on Leslie Smith this Friday, you can buy your PPV tickets advance here for only $9.95.

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