Community Interview: Sarah Kaufman on Strikeforce Controversy and the Slam

Photo courtesy of Strikeforce

Last time the words "Sarah" and "Kaufman" escaped my lips, I got myself into a bit of hot water. It's time to make amends. No matter what you think about the economic viability of FeMMA, I don't think there's any disputing that Sarah Kaufman is a valiant and commendable warrior. In her last fight against Roxanne Modafferi, Kaufman showed she could be an exciting fighter too. We caught up with Kaufman, and armed with a collection of great questions from Bloody Elbow readers, I let fly.

Jonathan Snowden: We're catching you on your first fight after the big controversy, if it can be called such a thing, over your placement on Strikeforce's Challengers cards, how happy are you to have a spot on one of the main shows?

Sarah Kaufman: I couldn't be happier right now. It's a great Strikeforce card, it's on the main Showtime show. I couldn't be happier and I think I earned my way up there. I don't think anyone would contest that.

Jonathan Snowden: What does it mean for you personally and for women's MMA to get these kind of opportunities?

Sarah Kaufman: It's especially important for the 135 pound division to have that recognition and have that title where all the other titles are. It's becoming a real division where they have people fighting regularly and not just single fights with new people all the time. So it's exciting to see people getting involved and focused on who's coming up in the division and what's happening next.

Jonathan Snowden: This next question comes directly from the fans at Bloody Elbow. This one is from Beer Hunter. B-e-e-r Hunter. I didn't want there to be any confusion, because I know in Canada it could actually be bear hunter and not be weird.

Beer Hunter: Do you think your outspokenness in regards to being a champion on the Challengers card led to you getting this shot on the main card, or do you think it had more to do with the way you finished Roxy?

Sarah Kaufman: I think it's a mix of everything. I think it's a mix of fans, and reporters, and everyone in the media who supports MMA. I think it's them voicing their opinions and me voicing my opinion and the support that came with that. And obviously the results of the fight (Editor's Note: Kaufman beat Roxanne Modafferi in a great fight after a hard slam). It was definitely favorable in making this happen.

Jonathan Snowden: Your slam was one of the most impressive in recent memory. Gerald Harris told us his slam heard round the world was something he practiced. Do you?

Sarah Kaufman: Definitely not. It's not. I train with a lot of people who are a little bit heavier than me. I do a lot of explosive work in the gym, but it's not something where I say 'Hey, I'm going to work on slamming someone and knocking them out today.' It really just happened. When I saw Gerald Harris's slam during his fight I remember thinking that would be awesome to get one. Knowing it would never happen. And it happened.

Jonathan Snowden:
  It was incredible. And I should have asked Gerald this when we had him: how do you get training partners to come back if you train to do something like that?

Sarah Kaufman: Definitely not something most people would sign up for or volunteer for. But you can practice that kind of motion with medicine ball slams just for that kind of finish at the end. And just getting used to standing up with people's weight. You don't have to drop them on their head, you can let go before slamming them. Do you use a crash mat? I don't know. I don't think I'd have that many people volunteering.

Balrog:  There has been an increasing concern, both in the medical and MMA communities, about the long term implications of concussive head traumas. Do you have any concerns about this?

Sarah Kaufman:  I think, for one, if you train smart and you fight smart you don't necessarily have to be getting a lot of head trauma. I've been lucky and fortunate enough that I've never had a concussion. And I think a lot of concussions happen when people are snowboarding and don't know how, or playing hockey as a kid and get smashed into the boards. If you're ready for certain things to come at you, if you're prepared, I think you can avoid a lot of that.

Jonathan Snowden: You've been lucky and not had any head trauma.

Balrog: Do you worry at all about your opponents like Roxy - worry that the slam might have long term effects on Roxanne’s mental health?

Sarah Kaufman: Your goal is definitely not to maim and forever injure someone. You want to win the fight and you want to do everything you can to finish the fight. After the fight when I talked to Roxanne, I could tell she was definitely out of it for a little while. She was having trouble standing. I saw her the next day and she still seemed a little bit out of it. I followed up with her and my coach Adam Zugec followed up with her. I think it's really important to know you haven't actually injured someone severely. That it's just a momentary thing.

Jonathan Snowden: Switching gears a little, let's talk about women in athletics. The problems you had with Strikeforce were kind of representative of some bigger issues in women's athletics generally. Commercially whether it's basketball, softball, or golf, the female athletes haven't been able to compete with the men financially or as a television ratings force.Women are just starting to make their mark in MMA and there are a lot of ambitious expectations. Why will MMA be different than other sports?

Sarah Kaufman: I think a lot of women's fights are extremely exciting. You have technical fights, you have brawls, you have a mix of everything. And because we are a lighter weight, generally the pace is a little quicker. So there is that intrigue. Of course there are people that are still unsure about seeing girls hitting each other. Kind of an old fashioned sense of 'You don't hit girls.' It's one of those things that's getting overcome, but it's taking some time. It really is a great sport. The fact that Roxanne and I made the ESPN highlights I think says a lot about the sport being accepted for both males and females.

Jonathan Snowden: It was great seeing you on there, and big strides are being made. A lot of the progress was on the back of Gina Carano.

MMA Bookworm: How much did Gina Carano’s decision to focus on movies hurt women’s MMA?

Sarah Kaufman: I don't know if it had too much effect. It's great that Gina's been able to find an avenue where she's making some decent money and making a living doing something she's really enjoying. And being successful. Everything that she did, and she did a lot of media and things I'm sure she would have preferred not to do, that definitely helped us as females in the sport. She got that recognition of being on American Gladiators.

I think that if she would have won the title fight when she fought Cris Cyborg it would be a different story when she took time off. But because she lost, it was her decision to take a step back and focus on something that was different. And if she wants to come back, she's of course very welcome.

Jonathan Snowden:
With Gina came a lot of side issues because her appearance was such a big part of the marketing for her fights. Is it fair that looks play such a major role in the promotion of women fighters? Have you been encouraged to play up your looks at all?

Sarah Kaufman: Whether it's fair or not is definitely a testy subject. Because some girls will use that, especially since it's such a male dominated sport. Looks are important for a lot of people. Those looks of Gina got people watching. But from there, the casual fan began to appreciate the women's fights more and more. Now there is less emphasis on just looking good. It matters how you fight. But, for me personally, obviously you want to try to represent yourself to the best of your ability. But you're not going to be seeing me in little miniskirts because that's just not me.

More with Sarah Kaufman, including her thoughts on the UFC, Strikeforce, and the possibility of leaving her fight team.

Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons 2 coverage

Riney: Will it take the support and promotion of someone like Dana White to push female MMA to the next level? Has Zuffa hurt the growth of female MMA?

Jonathan Snowden: Has the UFC's disinterest slowed you guys down?

Sarah Kaufman:  MMA as a sport has taken a long time to evolve. Even on the male side it took quite a few years to gain that popularity. I think women's MMA, women in the sport, are kind of in the same boat. We're starting to gain a little bit of momentum, but it is going to take some time. I think in three to five years, if the talent pool continues to grow as it has been, the UFC, they've said, would be interested. If the talent pool were big enough to do it. It's something that could happen in the future that would probably jump the exposure up that much more. But for now, we're doing what we can and trying to put on those exciting fights and make a career out of it.

Jonathan Snowden: And it's certainly not bad to be on Showtime and potentially CBS. That's a pretty big platform.

Sarah Kaufman: It's great. I can't thank Showtime enough for allowing me to be on their show. And obviously Strikeforce for kind of being behind me when I was pretty much unknown. And really letting me jump in and have some great fights with some tough opponents.

Eliot Matheny: With Megumi Fuji justifying her hype in the eyes of American skeptics, and Cyborg already cutting a swath of destruction through her weight class, what do you think you have to do to be regarded in the same light as them? Would you like it if Strikeforce were to bring in more top talent at 135 for you, and would you ever consider fighting at a 130 or 140 lb catchweight for bigger fights? (against women like Tara LaRosa & Cyborg)

Sarah Kaufman: In terms of the 135 pound division, I think it is probably the most stacked division of all of them. Cris has done really well at 145 but she has fought some girls that have been coming up from 135. It's been hard to establish a consistent division of people that are at her level. With Fujii, she's just amazing. At 115, where she's been fighting, they also have some top level, really amazing girls. I would say 135 is probably as competitive.

Jonathan Snowden: It seems like the issue is, and it looks like Strikeforce is trying to solve it, is that there is talent at 135, there just hasn't been exposure. With  Miesha and the tournament, that's starting to change. There should be some girls coming up that have been on TV and have that recognition, so that when you fight them, it's a bigger fight.

Sarah Kaufman: It's funny, because the girls I've fought like Roxanne Modafferi, Takayo Hashi, Shanya Bazler were all girls who were ranked number two. They had been around the sport for a really long time and had big names outside of Strikeforce and Bellator. They had been around forever fighting with BoDog and Hook n Shoot and all these other organizations. But it's great that all these girls are now starting to get all this exposure.

Jonathan Snowden: For awhile it seemed like the relationship between you and Strikeforce was pretty rocky.

mattman73: How did you feel about being the first fighter in MMA history to have the Champion's Clause invoked keeping them with the promotion?

Jonathan Snowden: How did you find out about it, and what was the feeling like when you thought you were a free agent and then suddenly you weren't?

Sarah Kaufman: For me, I'm really happy with Strikeforce and what they are doing for the sport. I never had any intention or want to move away from Strikeforce. That wasn't my goal for sure. It was probably just a mistake on my part. That's probably why I should stay out of everything that has to do with that. And just let my manager deal with it. I think it was just a miscommunciation for sure, and everything got resolved. We're happily on our way.

Jonathan Snowden: That's excellent to hear. One of the readers, donkeypunch, and that's his name not mine...

Sarah Kaufman: (Laughs)

Jonathan Snowden:...he wants to delve into your personal life a bit.

donkeypunch: Was that dude traveling with you in your vlog’s from your last fight your boyfriend or something? I’m just asking because you guys seemed close in a way that you don’t normally see in other MMA crews.

Jonathan Snowden: I haven't seen the video in question, but perhaps this gentleman is looking for your number.

Sarah Kaufman: Abosultely not. He is not my boyfriend. That's actually my coach Adam Zugec. We're pretty much like a family. He treats me like a sister and he's like my big brother. The other day he was chasing me around the gym with a spider -the kind of thing he likes to do. We are very close, the whole team at Zuma is. We consider ourselves family for sure.

Jonathan Snowden: Which leads us to a related question:

Beermonster: Zuma’s a great gym, but do you think you might need to move to a bigger camp in the future?

Jonathan Snowden: Maybe the way Miesha Tate has gone to Urijah Faber's gym and worked with the men at a similar weight.

Sarah Kaufman: There's no way I would ever move from my gym. I've been with Adam since I first started. He and the rest of my training partners at Zuma are the ones who have gotten me to the level I'm at now. To think of moving and going somewhere else is insane to me. Just to me personally. I work with a great strength and conditioning coach as well, Tyler Goodale - I'm really fortunate to work with some great people. My base camp and everything I do is at my base camp in Victoria with Zuma. If I needed to bring in training partners I could bring some in, but honestly I have an amazing team. Right now it's enough for me.

DirtyML: Are there any up and comers coming out of Zuma that you feel will one day be fighting in the more well known organizations, like you, and Ryan Ford?

Sarah Kaufman: Diego Wilson who's 5 or 6-0 and all of his fights have been finishes in the first round. He fights at 135 now. He's a firecracker. For sure, he's someone to look out for. Great standup, great jiu jitsu. We have another guy named Tarek Gabali. I don't think he's fought five minutes in all of his fights. Great judo, great boxing. And all of them are great guys. Those two in particular are guys to look out for.

Jonathan Snowden: Now, the reason we are talking of course is that you have a fight coming up this week with Marloes Coenen. She's a great fighter and one there is a lot of tape on. What stands out about her when you watch her fight?

Sarah Kaufman: She's a great fighter. She's really tough. She's been around the game for a really long time. Of all of her wins, a substantial number are submissions. So she's comfortable on the ground. She also has that thai boxing background. She's dangerous kind of in all avenues. But I feel I'm the same way. I'm just as capable in all those avenues.

Jonathan Snowden: You're a great fighter and you proved that in your last fight. All the great ones keep getting better. Where do you see room for improvement in your own game?

Sarah Kaufman: I think there's always room to improve in every aspect of the game. In each single aspect: boxing, thai boxing, thai clinch, combining them all, your wrestling, combining your wrestling with your standup. Either to take down or to stay standing. And obviously the grappling and the ground and pound. MMA is a sport that's constantly evolving. As a fighter, you shouldn't stop learning.

Sarah would like to thank her team at Zuma, Adam Zugec, Ty Goodale, Connor Wood, Tyler Nicholson, and Tyler Dolby. Her sponsors are Five Star Clothing, Full Tilt Poker, and Prettytoughfighter.com.

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