Sarah Kaufman took a fight with Leslie Smith on her way to the UFC women's bantamweight division. But after the two tore down the house at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City on Friday night, perhaps there should be two new UFC contenders at 135 pounds.
After 15 minutes of thrilling, back-and-forth action, Kaufman, the former Strikeforce bantamweight champion, earned a split decision victory, getting two of three 29-28 scores.
Kaufman, the most solid boxer in women's MMA, was able to do the bulk of her damage by moving in and out and landing in volume. Smith, a Cesar Gracie fighter from Pleasant Hill, Calif., used her height and reach advantage, using kicks to keep Kaufman at distance and doing solid damage in the Muay Thai clinch.
Kaufman got the best of round one. Round two was Smith's best, as she noticeably turned up the intensity and nearly finished the fight with a head kick. In round three, Kaufman's experience took over, as she again managed to pick her spots and also scored a takedown.
"I knew that Leslie was going to be a really tough opponent going on," said Kaufman (16-2), who was fighting for the first time since her August loss to Ronda Rousey. "She's not the most technical, but what she does, she's really good at. So I knew going in that based on her record, that didn't mean anything. She came in and gave a great performance."
Smith dropped to 5-3-1, snapping a three-fight unbeaten streak.