Is Sarah Kaufman a Crusader for Women's MMA, or Just a 'Diva'?

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Is Sarah Kaufman a Crusader for Women's MMA, or Just a 'Diva'?

This past Friday, Women’s MMA finally got it’s “Rampage vs. Arona” moment—as well as another vigorous round of debate about the place of women in MMA.

Every fan remembers Quinton Jackson hoisting Ricardo Arona up like he was a child, before slamming him into unconsciousness with a powerbomb straight out of the WWE.

It’s one of those clips that will be in every Rampage and/or PRIDE highlight reel for the end of time. Hell, every MMA highlight reel, period.

Well, it’s time to make a little more room on that reel. Defending her 135-pound title against Roxanne Modaferri, Canadian Sarah Kaufman pulled off a near repeat of the infamous “Rampage-bomb,” lifting her surprised opponent into the air straight out of guard, and then slamming her down for the impressive finish.

In most cases, no one likes to see a girl get dumped on her head, unless it's by another girl. No one was forcing Roxanne to be in that cage, after all.

Besides, slam-induced KO’s are very rare, and to see a 135-pound girl pull one off is both impressive and unique.

The move sent ripples throughout the fight world. Video replay of the KO slam have been a hit on MMA blogs and YouTube.

Kaufman’s title tilt with Modaferri drew the biggest television numbers of the night, outdrawing the Shane Del Rosario vs. Lolohea Mahe main event.

The clip even made SportsCenter’s top plays of the week, a rare occasion for an MMA highlight, and unheard of for women’s MMA.

So, by all rights this should be a crowning, breakthrough moment for women’s MMA, but because it’s Strikeforce, it’s practically mandatory that SOMETHING else has to be going on to tarnish the proceedings.

I’d like to say it’s just bad karma for Scott Coker and company, but as usual, their problems are entirely of their own making.

No, it’s not the “crazy Russians” of M-1 Global making their usual crazy demands, nor the Diaz brothers jumpin’ someone in the cage, or the notion of Jose Canseco actually fighting a warm body that is giving Strikeforce fits.

Instead, the problem lies in their 135-pound women’s champion having an opinion, and deciding to voice it.

In the days leading up to her title fight with Modaferri, Kaufman was vocal in interviews and on her blog about her problems with the promotion.

These problems stem from her placement on big time Strikeforce cards—or rather, her lack thereof.

“Strikeforce Challangers” cards are smaller, less-promoted events that usually feature up-and-coming fighters and regional prospects a la UFC “Fight Nights.”

They are small feeder shows, headlined by prospects like Shane Del Rosario or over-the-hill vets like Matt Lindland.

Yet, in her fourth fight as a Strikeforce fighter, Kaufman still finds herself booked on a “Challengers” card despite being both undefeated and the promotion's supposed Welterweight Women’s champion. 

After a year and a half of towing the company line, Kaufman has seemingly had enough.

“Cookies and man parts…seem to be the only two things that will get me on a main Strikeforce card. That or shaking my assets.” the Victoria, B.C., native said in a blog post, taking a jab at former women’s mainstay Gina Carano (and possibly Cyborg as well with that whole “man parts” line).

“I am the Strikeforce Women’s Welterweight champion, yet I fought for my title on a ‘Challengers’ card. Now I am set to defend my title (again) on a ‘Challengers’ card. I am a talented, exciting FEMALE fighter at 135 lbs. I will NOT eat a ridiculous amount of cookies to make 145 lbs JUST for the opportunity to be on a main card...”

Ouch.

Fan and media reaction to Kaufman’s calling out of Strikeforce have been mixed, to say the least.

On the one hand, some are calling her a crusader for Women’s MMA, who is rightly calling Strikeforce (and even the sport itself) out on its gender hypocrisy.

On the other hand, there are those who claim Kaufman is being whiny and unrealistic, a “diva” demanding a placement and level of promotion she just hasn’t earned.

As Jonathan Snowden pointed out in a piece recently, Kaufman doesn’t have much to stand on from a track record perspective. Yes, she is undefeated, with some very legit names on her ledger.

Before her power bomb finish of Modaferri, however, Kaufman had gone to three straight decisions as a Strikeforce fighter, in fights that were dominant, if not exactly entertaining.

Maybe her placement has less to do with being a woman, and more to do with being unexciting.

Maybe. But Strikeforce has never had a problem putting championship status above fighter excitement (Jake Shields, anyone?), at least until now.

As disappointing as it is to hear, the most likely reason for Kaufman’s promotional draught is that she’s not Gina Carano.

MMA itself is still a relatively new idea in the public consciousness, and women’s MMA even more so.

In North America, only one woman has ever managed to “break through” to capture significant buzz and attention, and let’s be honest with each other here.

Gina Carano wasn’t a star because she was a good fighter. She was a star because she was a good fighter who also happened to be pretty.

Until further notice, or until the “Cyborg” experiment moves beyond freak show appeal (don’t hold your breath) Gina stands as the singular example of mega-success in North American women’s MMA.

Still, Kaufman’s claims have exposed a degree of hypocrisy on the part of Strikeforce. Truth is, no matter if you agree with Kaufman’s assertion or not, you can’t deny the simple and uncomfortable facts they’ve brought to light.

She IS the only Strikeforce champion defending her title on “Challengers” cards, after all, and if Strikeforce has any regard for the legitimacy of their titles they’ll need to correct this imbalance.

Wait, did I just say Strikeforce and “title legitimacy” in the same sentence? Somewhere, Dana White is laughing— probably with his arm wrapped around Jake Shields.

By Elton Hobson

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