One week after successfully defending her title in Everett, Washington, Strikeforce Women’s Welterweight Champion Sarah Kaufman is already hard at work and preparing for her next fight. The undefeated knockout artist defeated Roxanne Modafferi via powerbomb slam in the co-main event at Strikeforce Challengers 9, but now aims to step up to the bigger cards.
In this exclusive interview with MMARising.com, Kaufman discusses the title fight and future challenges in Strikeforce, and also talks about the added media attention that comes with being a Strikeforce world champion.
In a short period of time, Sarah Kaufman has risen from the top female fighter in Canada to one of the very best female fighters in the mixed martial arts world. With nine knockout victories and wins over the top contenders in the 135-pound division, Kaufman is now on a short list of contenders for best female fighter in the sport. After being relegated to Challengers cards, Kaufman spoke out and then made an emphatic statement on July 23rd when she slammed her way to a third-round knockout of Roxanne Modafferi. Now poised to face Marloes Coenen in the coming months, Kaufman discusses her future and goals for promoting women’s MMA.
MMARising.com: First off, Sarah, congratulations on your successful title defence against Roxanne Modafferi at Strikeforce Challengers 9. Can you talk a bit about the fight, what you felt went well and what your impression was of Roxanne’s performance? It seemed to be a very close and competitive fight.
Sarah Kaufman: I thought it was a good fight and Roxanne fought very well. I expected her to maybe stand and trade a little more because that’s what she said that she was going to do, but then she started clinching instead. I think that was a smart strategy for her and she fought a smart fight. After the first minute in the first round, I could feel that she was maybe getting tired in the clinch and I thought that I would be able to control the fight if it stayed there.
MMARising.com: The striking exchanges in the first round were pretty even, but you seemed to take control in the second and third rounds and landed some solid shots. Did you feel that the you held a significant advantage in the striking as the fight wore on?
Sarah: Yeah, I definitely think that I was doing well in the exchanges. Especially in the second round, I landed some good shots. I hit her with some hard punches and it seemed like she didn’t want to be hit anymore, and a lot of people don’t like getting hit. It was tough deciding whether to keep punching until she dropped or tried for a takedown, or pick my shots and keep her on the outside.
MMARising.com: Is that something that you consciously think of in a fight, in not wanting to over-exert yourself with punches that set up a takedown for your opponent, or is it full speed ahead and just trying to defend takedowns when they come?
Sarah: I think it’s a mix of both. You definitely have to be aware – especially if you’re facing someone who’s really good at shot wrestling, or with someone like Roxanne who likes more of the judo throws – that you do have to be a little bit closer for that. It’s one of those things where it’s not that dangerous, but you do have to be aware of the risk. You could be doing really well in the exchanges and then over-commit. I did that towards the end of the first round of the Miesha Tate fight.
MMARising.com: You’re renowned for having some of the best takedown defence in the women’s division. Is that something that you find that you have to work more on because everyone is so focused on taking you down, or do you continue to drill everything pretty well equally?
Sarah: I like to be pretty equal in everything. I was saying before this last fight, to me the biggest part is the transitions between striking to takedowns; striking and defending the takedowns. In wrestling itself, I feel confident. Kickboxing and boxing, and grappling I feel confident. It’s not that I’m not confident in putting everything together, but I always feel that those are areas that can be improved upon.
MMARising.com: Looking ahead, Strikeforce has the 135-pound women’s tournament coming up in two weeks and they have announced that Marloes Coenen will be the next challenger for your title. What are your thoughts on facing Marloes, the fact that she’s dropping down from 145 and the fact that she’s getting an immediate title shot in the division? And on the tournament?
Sarah: For the tournament, I think it’s great because it’s getting people aware of the hierarchy and the rankings here in Strikeforce, and gets people interested in following the division as opposed to just one fighter. I think that that’s great for the entire division itself.
As for fighting Marloes, I’m surprised that she’s going to be able to make 135. If she does, I think that’s a great fight for me. It’s going to be a challenging fight, but a great fight. Whether she deserves to get the next shot at the 135-pound title, that’s not up to me. I’m just happy to face whomever they put in front of me, but I’m sure that some people might not see why Marloes gets the first title shot.
MMARising.com: Has Strikeforce set out a tentative timeline for when the fight with Marloes may happen? Possibly in November or December?
Sarah: I haven’t heard anything yet. I’m hoping October or November. That would be perfect for me.
MMARising.com: Yes, you like to get back in the cage as soon as possible, don’t you?
Sarah: Sure do!
MMARising.com: Outside of the 135-pound tournament and facing Marloes, are there any other specific fighters that you would like to challenge yourself against in the near future?
Sarah: I’m really quite happy with how things have gone so far, but it really just depends on what other matchups have happened. For me, personally, I always like to face someone new as opposed to having rematches. That’s just my personal preference, but I feel like if you’ve faced someone once, unless there’s a huge reason to fight them again I would rather just fight someone new.
I actually think that if Gina Carano were to come back, that that would be a really interesting matchup. I think that it would be a fun fight, but whether she does come back and what weight she would fight at, who knows. Besides that, if Tara LaRosa is fighting at the 130 to 135-pound range now, that’s always a possibility that’s been talked about.
MMARising.com: Another thing that was discussed in Everett was the much-talked-about “superfight” between you and Strikeforce 145-pound women’s champ Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. It was mentioned there that maybe that fight could happen at 140 pounds. If that fight ever does happen down the road, would you prefer that it be at 140, 145 or it doesn’t matter to you?
Sarah: I think that if that fight were to happen, 140. You know, meet in the middle. That seems pretty fair to me, especially since Cyborg has made 140 before.
MMARising.com: Looking ahead, what would you like to do in your career in the coming months in terms of increasing awareness of the women’s division and interacting with fans who have become familiar with you and your fights?
Sarah: I have really started to enjoy teaching seminars, so I would definitely be interested in doing some more of that. I really enjoy the teaching aspect of it, especially in working with some of the younger girls (aged 7-15) who train and want to learn. If there’s a way that I can sort of reach out and help some of the younger girls who are just getting into the sport, that’s something that I’d like to do.
MMARising.com: Particularly after your title fight last weekend, do you find that you are recognised more often on the street and in normal everyday life? Has it been a big change for you to go from a relatively unknown fighter to right in the spotlight in a fairly short period of time?
Sarah: It’s one of those things where the press and media from outside of the local [Victoria, British Columbia] area here have done a lot on me and my career, so it’s been kind of strange just in the past few years in going through airports and some random security guy knows who I am.
I’m pretty honoured that I’m making enough of an impact that people are actually recognising me and other females in the sport as athletes and people that they want to watch. To me, that’s a step in the right direction for females in the sport, for Strikeforce pushing the female fighters and just for everything in the sport. I’m definitely honoured to be pushing the barriers a bit.
MMARising.com: Apparently, the Victoria media hasn’t done much coverage on you and your career over the past few years, but is that beginning to turn around now and have they started to feature stories on you more often?
Sarah: The local newspaper hasn’t done a ton. When kind of forced to, they’ve done one or two, but some of the local TV and radio stations are really starting to get interested and intrigued. They’ve started to cover it a bit more.
MMARising.com: What other goals do you have for yourself and for your career in the coming year?
Sarah: I think my goals are always the same. I want to improve as a fighter, improve as an all-around athlete and fight as often as possible. I’ll just have to see what other avenues I can pursue to help to promote the 135-pound female division and also females in the sport even more so.
MMARising.com: In addition to seminars, are there any other specific things that you are interested in doing or would you like to let your in-ring performances speak for themselves?
Sarah: Well, that’s something that I’d have to talk with [coach] Adam [Zugec] about and figure out a little bit. I’m going to start being a bit more particular in terms of whom I do interviews with so that the proper things are coming out. Sometimes, you get certain people who just write things that you’ve never said, so I have to be a bit more careful about that.
I also think that it’s just a matter of getting out there more, and I’m hoping to be down at the [August 13th] Phoenix event for the tournament. Really, just constantly being seen, and I think that that in itself will help to establish the division and keep it strong. Not just in physically fighting, I think that when people see the champions and the fighters at events, it keeps interest high and they want to see more of them.
MMARising.com: Are there any other topics that you would like to address?
Sarah: You know, I think that’s pretty much it for right now. I really said my peace with the political stuff and I’m really happy with how things turned out; with my position on the card and how the fight ended, I was happy with how it all worked out and I think that it puts me in a really good spot right now.
MMARising.com: With few exceptions, it seems that most of the reaction coming out of the event has been positive in support of you and your goal of getting off of the Challengers cards. As a champion in the promotion, it would seemingly make sense to feature you prominently on larger Strikeforce cards in the future.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s one of those things where we’re going to have to wait and see, but I definitely agree.
MMARising.com: Well, thank you very much for your time and enjoy the rest of your busy weekend back in training.
Sarah: Haha, thank you!
MMARising.com thanks Sarah for taking time out for her fifth interview with this website and once again congratulates her for last Friday’s successful title defence. She is next set to face Marloes Coenen in a 135-pound title fight that may take place later this year.
(Photo Credit: Esther Lin, Strikeforce)