ORLANDO -- Sarah Kaufman hasn't fought in eight months, and before that she went a full year between fights. Maybe that's why win or lose come Saturday night against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC on FOX 17 she says she'll be ready to fight again at UFC 195 on Jan. 2.
Not that it's been smooth sailing this time, either. Kaufman was preparing for a bout with Germaine de Randamie until about two weeks ago when she got a call from the UFC.
"It's been a little bit of a roller-coaster for sure," Kaufman told MMA Fighting during Thursday's media day. "Definitely stressful waiting for the fight, the opponent switch a week-and-a-half ago. I was for sure worried that when I got the call — because the whole camp, my manager would call — and I'd think, I don't want to answer it because it's for sure them not having an opponent. And then it happened. And I was definitely very worried. I kept training and being positive, but it was like, bleh. Not many people want to fight me, especially on a week-and-a-half's notice.
"It's like, great, people think you're really good. However, you can only be as good as your fights, and if you're not fighting...you know. It's been a long layoff, but my manager called and said Valentina Shevchenko. I was like, I don't know who she but sounds great, let's do it. And then I looked at video and she's great. She definitely has a great record coming in. She has a ton of experience fighting all the time on a regular basis, very good stand up. It's a fight I'm excited to be in, and I'm sure she's excited because it's the UFC, it being her UFC debut. And the fans should definitely be excited."
The 27-year old Shevchenko has had 10 professional mixed martial arts fights, but she's a multiple Muay Thai champion who's had a lot of ring-time. Kaufman had heard she was very good coming in, but the Russian-Peruvian's record was hard to pin down.
"It keeps jumping up," Kaufman said. "People are like, she's 15-1, and I'm like, that's an awesome record. And then somebody says, oh she's 56-1, or 60-1, then 65-1, and it's like wow, she's had a lot of fights in a few days."
Whatever the case, Kaufman, who turned 30 in September, is happy to be fighting again, and she was smiling at media day because the time has finally arrived. Though she lost her last fight at UFC 186 against Alexis Davis (second-round armbar), Kaufman said she's chomping at the bit to compete. She also said her confidence is through the roof.
"I one hundred percent know I can handle whatever [Shevchenko] has for me," Kaufman said. "I'm not looking over her by any means, because I know she's very talented. But I also know I have that confidence in myself, and I think part of that comes from training with Holly and know that she has a lot of confidence in me, and I also have a lot of confidence in her.
"I think Holly winning that title against Ronda has instilled in me even more so that confidence factor of like, look, you can do everything. And that's the really cool bond that I think we have."
Kaufman said watching her longtime friend/training partner pull off what will become the upset of the year was tense the whole way through — in part because she knew Holm was capable of it.
"I know how amazing she is," Kaufman said. "I've trained with her for years, not just one or two times, It's been great to see her progression into MMA. And as the fight was happening I think everyone had that, 'oh gosh, I hope she doesn't lose.' You know she should win or could win, but it's a fight. So it was that, oh gosh, oh please make it through the first 15 seconds. Then it was, oh, she hit her hard...she's doing great angles, just stay away from her...oh, she's in the clinch.' It was up and down, up and down, and it was like, oh my god, she's going to do it. And then in just such a epic fashion. I mean, I was so excited. I had people calling me, and I couldn't answer. I was all over the place."
Kaufman said she talked to Holm very soon after the win, and that winning feeling is infectious.
"She's having a blast," she said. "It's definitely really inspiring to be teammates with her and to be friends with her, and have someone that you appreciate as an athlete so much really rise up to the occasion and do what you know they're capable of, but the whole world doesn't know yet. It's like a little secret that only her team knew. To witness it come to fruition, it was incredible."