Though gaining in respect and popularity, the sport of women’s MMA is still in its infancy. There are many firsts ahead for the athletes competing in the formative years of women’s combat sports. Nevertheless, some women have already made serious strides. One who has worked hard and attained numerous firsts is Victoria, British Columbia, Canada’s Sarah Kaufman (10-0, 2-0 in STRIKEFORCE).
At 17 years of age, Kaufman stumbled upon MMA when a school opened in the building where she was studying dance. She was supposed to meet a friend to check out ZUMA Martial Arts but the friend never showed and Kaufman went in anyway. Initially she enrolled in an aerobic kickboxing class but before long she was taking every class head instructor and BJJ black belt Adam Zugec offered.
Kaufman competed in tournaments to hone her skills and began fighting MMA professionally in 2006. Beginning her “road of women’s MMA firsts” was competing in the first women’s MMA bout held in Winnipeg, Manitoba when she beat Alexis Davis by TKO at the Ultimate Cage Wars show in April of ’07. Her bout at TKO 29 in June of 2007, where she beat Valerie Letourneau with strikes in the second round, was the first women’s bout in the promotion’s history.
Her follow-up fight that year, yet another first, was competing for and winning the first Hardcore Championship Fighting women’s bantamweight (135 pound) title. There she pounded experienced fighter Ginele Marquez, stopping her with strikes in the second round. Kaufman defended the title five months later, beating down Molly Helsel and scoring her seventh consecutive career victory by KO or TKO.
Kaufman made her STRIKEFORCE debut last May as a late replacement for Kim Couture (1-2, 1-1 in STRIKEFORCE) in a bout with Miesha “Takedown” Tate (8-2, 0-1 in STRIKEFORCE). In the opening round, Kaufman moved forward, landing lefts and rights and stuffing the takedown attempts of Tate to control the opening phase. In turn, Tate dominated the second period getting an early takedown and controlling Kaufman on the mat for the majority of the round. In the third, Kaufman continued to stuff takedowns and landed a hard right hook midway through round. Kaufman dominated the remainder of the contest, landing strikes standing and on the ground, and took the unanimous decision victory.
Her second STRIKEFORCE bout last June was also her most recent “first”. It was the first women’s bout contested under five-minute rounds. In round 1 Baszler got an early takedown and applied a unique Josh Barnett-inspired choke but Kaufman worked hard, released the pressure and gained top position. Shayna was able to tie her up against the cage and avoid strikes in the clinch to close out the round. In the second, Baszler again worked to control in the clinch but Kaufman found the range with her strikes and began to strike effectively. Using leg kicks and superior in-and-out movement, Kaufman had her way in round 2 and closed the round with a flurry of strikes. The final round opened with Baszler’s frantic attempt to bring Kaufman to the mat. She successfully pulled guard but a follow-up sweep and subsequent kneebar attempt only led to Kaufman getting behind her and back to her feet. Kaufman’s confidence grew as she used distance effectively and flustered Baszler, tagging her at will. In the final 30 seconds, Baszler rolled for a kneebar but Kaufman stayed closed, avoided the submission and took a unanimous decision win to stay unbeaten in the sport.
At just 24 years old, Kaufman is already 10-0 in a sport where many competitors don’t even have 10 fights under their belt. Now Kaufman prepares for the biggest first of her career; the STRIKEFORCE Women’s 135lb title. She must take on skilled Japanese grappler Takayo Hashi (12-1, 0-0 in STRIKEFORCE). And if successful, the victory will serve as not only yet another in a long line of “firsts” but also as a historic achievement.