The day before she stepped into the ring to fight Shayna Baszler, I told you not to sleep on Sarah Kaufman, the hard-hitting Victoria, British Columbia native who was 9-0 at the time and coming off a solid win over Miesha Tate.
A day later, I was posting congratulatory messages on her Facebook page. What? That's how I roll. Not two weeks later, Josh Gross of Sports Illustrated named Kaufman Female Fighter of the Year in his first half awards. I left that link on her Facebook page too, and followed it up with an interview request. Professional, I know.
For some reason she accepted, eagerly at that, and earlier this week we talked about the state of MMA in Canada, the build-up to the Carano - Cyborg fight and a host of other things in the second installment of the K2 Interviews Series.
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We’ll start with the ubiquitous first MMA interview question: When did you first become a fan of Mixed Martial Arts?
Well, I started doing Muay Thai with my coach, Adam Zugec, in late 2002. I had never watched a fight, or even been interested in combat sports, but it seemed like it might be fun to take. I was immediately addicted. I probably didn’t start watching any MMA until about 2 years later.
I specifically remember watching a fight where Bas Rutten badly broke his nose, was asked if he wanted to continue, and went back in. I think he won the fight. From there MMA grabbed my attention and I began following more of the events.
What was the progression between that initial interest and where you are now? How did you go from taking a couple classes to becoming a fighter?
Originally, I only took 1 class per week—as I had prior commitments with dance, school and work—but after a year, I jumped into as many classes as I could. Then another year later, I started grappling. I didn’t have any ambition of fighting, I just wanted to be as good as possible.
As I am an extremely competitive person (even playing dodgeball in the kids’ classes that I teach at ZUMA), as my technique improved, I wanted to try participating in some local tournaments. I did my first tournament in late 2004 and had a great time. At one tournament, I had a grappling match with Liz Posener.
A few months later, Adam got a call asking if I would like to fight Liz Posener in MMA. It sounded fun to me, so I trained really hard, fought hard, and came away with a 3rd round KO! That was June 3, 2006, and I haven’t looked back since.
In your opinion, what is the state of MMA in Canada and where do you see it going in the next year?
For a while, MMA in Canada (especially for females) was pretty good. There were quite a few bigger shows like KOTC, MFC, TKO, HCF, and XMMA, but now it seems like many of these organizations have had some problems, and have shut down. MFC is probably the biggest show in Canada, and they run a great show, but won’t have women on it.
KOTC goes all over Canada with their shows, and I fought for them at the beginning of my fighting career. There are a group of smaller shows that do well in their province; I think these are great for building up an inexperienced fighter, but the bigger stages for MMA are definitely in the US or overseas.
Right now, there are quite a few provinces that haven’t legalized MMA, so that has hindered MMA’s ability to really expand throughout Canada. Over the next year, I hope that Canada is able to keep developing shows that produce good fighters, as I think Canada has a lot of talent.
Do you think that once we see Ontario pass legislation that the rest of the provinces will fall in line and do the same?
I definitely hope so, but there is no guarantee. For example, there are MMA shows that are sanctioned in BC, but Vancouver will not allow it. Vancouver legalized MMA years ago (when it wasn’t all that popular), but then decided to take the sanctioning back.
Even when presented with statistics of injury rates in other sports like football, hockey and even boxing that are legal, it doesn’t make a difference. I really hope that MMA will pass legislation in Ontario, as it seems like others use them as a reference.
The Aug. 15 fight between Cyborg and Gina Carano is getting a lot of attention, including Sherdog’s Loretta Hunt believing it will get more attention than UFC 100 in the end. First, what are your thoughts on the attention the fight is getting and what kind of impact do you see it having?
I do think this fight will get, and deserves to get, a lot of attention. Gina Carano and Cyborg have both been in the public eye, and MMA fans know who they are. Anyone who watches American Gladiators knows who Gina is.
EliteXC, CBS, Strikeforce and Showtime are to thank for putting so much emphasis on the females, and look where it has put this female fight: the main event! I really think the fact that Gina has been such a huge draw in the past, whether it is for her looks or her fighting ability, is one reason that Strikeforce is able to have them headline the card.
This is a great thing for Women's MMA, because when this card draws huge numbers, it will put to rest the comments that females shouldn’t and couldn’t put on a good fight AND make money for the promoters. People are excited for this fight, as they should be for all female bouts.
I’m not saying that the only reason people are going to watch this card is the Carano-Cyborg fight—there are some great fights on the card—but it is definitely going to be one of the big reasons.
For me, both ladies NEED to make weight, in order for Women's MMA to be considered professional and legitimate. There needs to be no drama, and both women need to fight hard. It’s going to be a lot of pressure for both, but they have been put in the forefront, and need to put on a good show. I think they can and will live up to it.
Is there any part of you that is frustrated by how these two fighters in particular have been put into the public eye as emblematic of Women’s MMA?
I think that Strikeforce has really changed women’s fighting for the better. I feel like they took what EliteXC started, and have really tried to make it about more than just 2 fighters.
It was very frustrating for me to see so many female fighters (Julie Kedzie, Kaitlin Young, Kelly Kobald) go under the radar. For a while it was definitely the Gina Carano show, but I really think that has started to change and Gina has been a big part of that.
Their fight is for the Strikeforce 145 lbs. Women’s title. Where do you see yourself in the title picture and has Strikeforce given you any indication of what is next for you?
I would love to fight for a 135 lbs title for Strikeforce. I’m not sure who or when or if this will happen, but I’m ready for it. I really like fighting actively, so I would love to be able to fight as soon as possible. I know that Strikeforce has a fight card late September, so hopefully I’ll be able to get on that card, but as of yet, I’m not entirely sure.
MMA Junkie’s Dr. Benjamin recently stated his feelings on Women’s MMA and his lack of interest in seeing women fight 3x5 or 5x5. He also made some statements about women being more susceptible to injuries. How tired are you of hearing people say women couldn’t or shouldn’t do certain things?
Dr Benjamin obviously doesn’t know what he is talking about regarding women’s fighting. It sounds more to me like he just doesn’t like women fighting, which is his personal choice, and is trying to find any reason to put us down.
I really am sick of hearing people comment about women’s fighting in a negative light; if they don’t like it, just don’t watch it. I don’t know how most of the comments are even valid anymore, as time and again, female fights are the highlights of the fight cards.
Your fight with Shayna Baszler—congratulations again by the way—was three, five-minute rounds and you went the full fifteen. Did you find a big difference in going the extra time?
I felt great fighting for 5 minute rounds. Other than my first fight (which used the under 3 fights must fight 3 minute rounds) and in California, all of my fights have been 5 minute rounds.
I love the 5 minutes because no one has a significant advantage in terms of not being able to implement her game plan. I couldn’t be happier that Strikeforce finally decided to switch over.
Enough of the “State of Women’s MMA” talk, onto some easier stuff:
Denis Kang, BJ Penn
Best fight you’ve ever seen – live or otherwise?
Primarily Stand Up - Jorge Gurgel, Connor Huen
Primarily Ground - Diego Sanchez, Nick Diaz
Most underrated fighter right now?
Pound for Pound, who do you think is the best in the world?
BJ Penn. Despite losing to GSP (a stud at 170), I think BJ could handle himself against most competitors at 170 and has fought even higher in the past
Diego Wilson...he trains at ZUMA Martial Arts and is a beast at 145lbs. He is very talented in all areas of MMA, and fights in a crazy yet controlled manner. Watch out for him in the future!
Care to make some predictions for UFC 100?
I’m generally not very good at predicting, but here goes:
Lesnar vs. Mir?
Lesnar is such an athlete, that I think Mir will have his hands full. Based on Lesnar’s athleticism, wrestling and punching power, I think Brock takes this by TKO rd 3.
GSP vs. Thiago Alves?
If GSP fights a smart fight, it will probably go in a similar fashion as the BJ Penn fight and he will either win by TKO in rd 4, or decision.
Henderson vs. Bisping?
I would love to see Henderson pull out this fight. But I’m not sure how he wins...maybe decision.
Jon Fitch vs. Paulo Thiago?
That’s a tough one, but I will go with Jon Fitch. He is a great wrestler, and is really tough, so I think he’ll take this fight. I’ll go with a tko in the 2nd round.
Alan Belcher vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama?
Both are good strikers and hit hard, but Akiyama has some serious Judo skills, so I’ll give the fight to him.
Back to the questions...
Dana White has spoken openly about hoping to see MMA in the Olympics in the future. Do you think it’s a possibility, why or why not?
I think it would be hard to have MMA in the Olympics, based on the current rules that are generally used. The small gloves cut and cause contusions quite easily, so after the first tier of fights, I would think that many competitors would be eliminated due to surface injuries.
Maybe they could try and change some of the rules and implement head gear, shin pads and MMA gloves with more padding (similar to old Shooto gloves). It would be great to have an avenue for fighters to gain some experience though, so I hope that some form of MMA becomes part of the Olympics.
Speaking of White, what are your thoughts on the UFC President—are you a fan, think he’s a douchebag, not really fussed either way?
Honestly, Dana White has done a lot for the sport, along with the Fertitta’s. So as a businessman, and for MMA’s popularity as a whole, I need to thank Dana. As a person, I don’t know. I have never met him, but have only heard and seen interviews he has done in the past.
He has made a lot of seemingly chauvinistic comments, which I don’t enjoy, and seems to think it extremely cool to say F*** every 2 seconds, but other than that I am not bothered by him. Strikeforce has made a great platform for females to fight, so if Dana White doesn’t want to capitalize on females, someone else will/has.
If you could play matchmaker for one day, regardless of organizational ties or anything like that, what three fights would you make and why?
Aoki vs BJ Penn - Aoki is known for his submissions, and BJ has that crazy flexibility and submissions, too. I think it would be really interesting to see how this fight would turn out.
Fedor vs Brock Lesnar - I think it would be a huge test for both fighters. Fedor, because I don’t think he has fought anyone as big AND athletic as Lesnar is; and Lesnar, because he would be going up against a veteran with an unbeatable aura.
Sarah Kaufman vs Tara Larosa - Tara has been at the number one spot for a long time at 135lbs. I would love the opportunity to fight her, and think that would be an awesome fight. (Author's Note to Scott Coker: Make this fight happen... please!)
My wife and I are thinking of moving to Victoria next Spring and are planning a visit in the Fall. Anywhere in particular we should look, favourite restaurants we should check out, gyms we should get memberships at?
If you’re coming to Victoria, you should definitely come to ZUMA Martial Arts. It’s close to downtown, and is definitely the best gym on the island. Adam Zugec is an amazing instructor and coach, and everyone is really welcoming.
I’m not sure what kind of food you like, but Wild Saffron is one of the nicest restaurants in Victoria. The Malahat Inn is also good food with an amazing view. Victoria is an amazing place to live.
Any final comments or shoutouts?
I would like to thank my coach Adam Zugec, my team at ZUMA Martial Arts, MTX Audio, Carnal Dammage, Ifight...and everyone who has helped get me to where I am today. I really hope to stay actively fighting this year, so watch for me in Strikeforce!
Thanks for doing this.