With titles in Strikeforce and Invicta, Sarah Kaufman is a trailblazer for Canadian mixed martial arts.
But bouts have been hard to find recently for the former UFC fighter. That has changed with the 33-year-old from Victoria embarking on a new challenge in the Professional Fighters League.
Kaufman (20-4-0 with one no contest) takes on American Morgan Frier (4-1-0) in PFL 1 on Thursday in Long Island, N.Y., in the opening event of the PFL’s second season. Bobbi Jo Dalziel (4-0-0) of Sarnia, Ont., faces Australian Genah Fabian (1-0-0) on the preliminary card.
The PFL, formerly the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), offers MMA in a season format with fighters in six weight classes going after a world title and US$1 million payday.
Season 2 features the first-ever lightweight (155-pound) women’s division, with Kaufman moving up from her normal bantamweight (135-pound) class.
Kaufman, who says she will likely weigh around 155 fight night, enters the season full of excitement and confidence. “I will be winning a million dollars,” she said.
She welcomes the PFL model, which rewards performance rather than looks, reputation, trash-talking or social media popularity.
“It’s a really neat opportunity — and to have this equal playing field and have the males and the females all getting paid the same on the same stage is of course an added bonus to just bring PFL even more ahead of the game when it comes to pushing the sport and trying to advance the sport and be innovative.”
The women’s lightweights and men’s welterweights kick off Season 2 at the Nassau Coliseum.
In other fights on the main card, it’s Ray Cooper III versus Zane Kamaka, Magomed Magomedkerimov versus John Howard, Kayla Harrison versus Svetlana Khautova and Louis Taylor versus Chris Curtis.
Each of the athletes will have two fights during the PFL regular season which runs through August. The top eight fighters in each weight class advance to the single-elimination playoffs in October with a championship card set for New Year’s Eve.
Kaufman’s next bout will be July 11 at PFL 4 in Atlantic City, N.J. Two more fights await in the playoffs for the women, three for the men who are in a larger bracket.
Kaufman’s pro career dates back to 2006. Four years later, she won the inaugural Strikeforce bantamweight title, making a successful title defence before losing the title to Marloes Coenen.
In 2012, she lost to (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey in a bid to regain her crown.
From 2013 to 2105, she went 1-2-0 with one no contest in the UFC. Her last fight in the organization was a split-decision loss to Valentina Shevchenko, the current UFC flyweight (125-pound) champion.
Five of her 25 bouts came in her first year as a pro. She says in the years since, fights were often hard to come by with rivals reluctant to meet her.
That shouldn’t happen in the PFL, given its format.
“There’s no opportunity to say ‘No’ or ‘No thank you,’ or ‘I’m injured,’ or’ I just need a rest and I’ll take a fight.’ This is opponents who are already signed on to take on any of the other seven women in the division.”
She has fought just three times since leaving the UFC. It took more than a year for her to get paid for a 2017 fight in Seoul.
As for a return to the UFC, she says she believes she can fight to the top of the 135-pound ranks.
“But right now that wasn’t coming my way and I wasn’t getting the opportunities. This PFL opportunity really came a little out of nowhere.”
Next up is Frier, whose four wins have totalled two minutes 30 seconds.
“There isn’t a lot of footage on her,” said Kaufman, who at five foot five will be giving up three inches.
The PFL points system features three points for a win and one for a draw with bonus points awarded for stoppages (three in the first round, two in the second and one in the third). Points will determine playoff seeding.