One of the greatest fights of 2012 came on the same fight card as one of the most memorable. Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis fought in Columbus in March of that year, a Strikeforce event that was headlined by Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. Everyone remembers Rousey contorting Tate’s arm into alarming states of disfigurement en-route to winning the bantamweight belt.
Less remembered was the ridiculous fight Kaufman gave Davis (and vice-versa).
In the encounter, the former bantamweight champion Kaufman and Davis stood toe-to-toe and traded dukes, kicks and elbows, tossed, rag-dolled, and strafed each other, clawed, kneed and pummeled one another to the edge of physical endurance. It wasn’t the tired old cliché of Bonnar-Griffin, which was the right fight at the right time; it was quieter due to its placement. This was two smiling forward-moving heathens doing it for the joy of fighting. It was clear that both Davis and Kaufman were enjoying themselves capitally from bell to bell.
As Kaufman gets set to make her UFC debut on Saturday night in Houston against Jessica Eye, the British Columbian war horse wouldn’t mind giving the fans another hissing live wire of a fight like that one with Davis. Or even Leslie Smith, who was her latest casualty from the Invicta cage last April.
The only thing she needs is an accommodating opponent.
"Honestly, with both Alexis and Leslie, we all have such similar styles we all like to get in there and throw down, and those are the fights I like," Kaufman told MMA Fighting. "To me that’s fun. Getting hit, hitting back, having that challenge of who can go longer and faster and harder…those are the fights I love. And the fans love them, too.
"Those are the fights you make your name off of. Granted, if I got a five-second knockout, how happy would I be? Wee, happy! But I also love feeling when I leave like I was in a fight."
If Kaufman isn’t shotgun to the UFC’s bantamweight title, she’s at least in the vehicle. She defeated Miesha Tate -- who will get her rematch with Rousey at UFC 168 in December -- back in 2009. So there’s leverage for a title push were she to get past Eye.
But it’s complicated in the new wilderness of the women’s bantamweight division. Kaufman already fought Rousey in August 2012 and lost via armbar in less than a minute. That loss exists on historical record, even if the UFC doesn’t like to carry over history from other promotions (even the ones Zuffa owns). And then there’s the hovering presence of Cat Zingano, who was supposed to be in the contender’s seat right now before a knee injury forced her to the sidelines.
Where Kaufman sits in the division is…somewhere near the top.
"I could see with a good win [over Eye], depending on when Cat Zingano is back, giving me a fight with Cat, or giving me a title shot right away," Kaufman says. "I’ve already fought Liz Carmouche. I’ve already fought Alexis Davis. I’ve already fought Miesha Tate. But, honestly, I feel like Cat Zingano would be a pretty interesting fight for that next shot at the title."
Not that she’s looking past Eye, who is coming off a victory over Carina Damm and is riding a seven-fight winning streak overall. Eye is also making her UFC debut, and has looked better each time out in her NAAFS and Bellator bouts.
"I think she’s a great opponent, and that it’s a very exciting fight for the fans – and it’s a very exciting fight for me," Kaufman says. "It’s going to get me in there and give me the opportunity to let loose a little bit, and have some fun. By ‘have fun’ I mean serious and focused, but I like fighting. I don’t like to have to worry too much about, what if they try and stall the fight to wrestle me down? Or whatever the case may be. I like those exciting fights and the opportunity to let loose. It’s what I like to do -- let loose and have fun in the cage."
Kaufman was supposed to have made her UFC debut in August against Sarah McMann, but McMann was forced to pull out with a personal issue. She calls the bait-and-switch "very frustrating," though she’s had enough experience in the spotlight to know how to roll with the punches.
"If five people are watching, or if five million people are watching, I want to perform the same," she says. "I’m ready. I’ve performed at some of the biggest stages of the world already, and so this is the next step up for me."