Canada's Sarah Kaufman has been called a flag bearer for women's MMA. She's been called a hero and a role model by some and a spoiled “diva” by others. She's been called tepid and “boring,” and in the same breath, she's been called one of the most exciting female fighters in the game. She's been called a world champion in several promotions, and an elite-level fighter in her own right.
And perhaps the greatest irony is none of it would have happened if not for a chance encounter.
“My whole MMA career was kind of a fluke. I walked into Adam Zugec's gym just to try a kickboxing class. At the time, my dance school shared a building with Zugec's gym, so it was a total fluke. I didn't know anything about [MMA] or anything about fighting. I just thought it would be something fun to do.”
Kaufman laughs as she recalls her first fledgling steps into the fight game. Though she doesn't say it, her tone implies a fond remembrance, a 'feels like it was yesterday' kind of nostalgia. At just 25 years old, that kind of sentiment isn't really far from the mark.
“I was lucky because I got in right away with people who knew what they were doing. The Muay-Thai especially really drew me in, and I just kept going with that. I haven't really looked back since."
Kaufman still trains with Adam Zugec, who she considers the best all-around MMA trainer in the game today, period. And what about that Greg Jackson fellow, who might object to that statement? Turns out he's on board with the team as well.
“Our gym is actually an affiliate of Team Jackson's, so we work with Greg and his guys all the time. [Jackson] is actually coming up to corner me for my next fight, which I'm really excited about. It's a great exchange so to speak and it's really to everyone's benefit.”
Any thoughts on the recent Jackson/Rashad Evans/Jon Jones blow-up?
“I think it's just a terrible situation for everybody involved. I honestly don't know who's in the right, or what would happen if something like that ever happened at our gym. It's such a complicated situation; I feel bad for everyone involved
Honestly, I hope I never have to face a similar situation. I don't know what I would do.”
Since she was young, the Victoria, B.C native had trained in dance, not martial arts, although the rigorous physical discipline is a commonality between the two. She attended the University of Victoria with the goal of one day becoming a doctor.
Those plans, of course, are currently on indefinite hiatus.
“I have a lot of goals I still want to accomplish in MMA. I'm not satisfied with what I've done and what I've accomplished. In fact, I think people still haven't seen what I'm capable of. I feel like I still haven't shown my full potential yet. I have a lot of growing and learning to do still and that's an ongoing process, day in and day out.”
Being a professional fighter takes a certain kind of personality. After all, it's not everyone who wants to get punched in the face for a living. If you want to compete in MMA, a hunger for the fight is pretty much a prerequisite. It's something you're born with; a voice speaking to you from within your own mind, driving you on, pushing you to push yourself.
Kaufman certainly understands that hunger. In her case, the fights extend beyond the cage or ring she competes in. Since becoming a professional, Kaufman has fought against those that would seek to pigeon hole her—Kaufman's goals extend far beyond the simple labels some would seek to give her.
“I'm not in MMA because I want to get my face on TV, or because I want to make a quick buck, or anything like that. Even before I got [into MMA], my goals were never that simple, that shallow.”
Kaufman is an outspoken advocate for women in MMA. As a Strikeforce world champion, she once publicly called out the promotion on what she perceived as a lack of promotion of female fighters. The comments kicked up lots of debate and earned Kaufman praise and scorn in equal measure.
More importantly, it kick-started a conversation on women's MMA that is still ongoing. With the recent purchase of Strikeforce by the UFC, Kaufman feels the future of women's MMA is very much in the air.
“One of two things could happen with the Zuffa purchase [of Strikeforce]. [Zuffa] could either embrace the Strikeforce brand as it is, where female fighters are a big part of the brand and the promotion. Female fighters are part of the reason people watch Strikeforce, and maybe they realize that and decide to run with it.
Or, they could just get rid of female fighters altogether. I'm really hoping for the former, that Zuffa and the UFC decide to really promote and help the women fighters. There's so much talent in women's MMA now, more then I think most people realize. I hope [Zuffa] realizes this and decides to let the sport keep growing as it has been. Honestly though, I really have no idea what's going to happen.”
While the future of women's MMA is up in the air, the future of Sarah Kaufman is not. Tomorrow night, she takes on Japanese veteran Megumi Yabashita at Armageddon FC's “Judgment Day” in her backyard: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
While still under contract with Strikeforce—and still very much in the title picture—Kaufman is glad to be fighting in front of her hometown fans and helping her other great cause—Canadian Mixed Martial Arts.
“I have three other teammates fighting on this card as well, and we've had other teammates fight on their cards before. So I've been to pretty much every [Armageddon FC] event they've had, cornering or helping someone. It's great that they're really trying to promote Mixed Martial Arts at the professional level in Victoria, and I think they're doing a fantastic job.”
You can check out Sarah and all the other great fighters competing at Armageddon FC: “Judgment Day” live online at: