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Free agent Sarah Kaufman weighing options, interested in Cris Cyborg fight

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Sarah Kaufman was almost in Leslie Smith's position back in May: across the Octagon from Cris Cyborg.

The former Strikeforce champion said her managers Malki and Abe Kawa got a call from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby about Kaufman potentially fighting Cyborg in Cyborg's UFC debut at UFC 198 in May. They immediately said yes — not knowing that Kaufman injured herself in training.

Kaufman was willing to take the fight anyway, but it didn't come together. Smith became the opponent and Cyborg finished her via TKO in the first round in Curitiba.

"I wanted to take it," Kaufman said. "I was like, ‘Yep, let's take it anyway.' Because I think that's a fight I can win. I don't think it's just a big fight where you get paid a lot. I honestly think I can win that fight when I put everything together. So that's a fight for sure that I'd be looking to have."

Much like Cyborg, who doesn't have a UFC division or many willing opponents, Kaufman is in limbo. Kaufman's UFC contract expired in December and was not renewed after a loss to Valentina Shevchenko. The Canadian is keeping her options open now, willing to fight for promotions like Bellator, Invicta FC or Legacy FC. She has even decided on moving down to flyweight to give herself more avenues.

"I feel the confidence of, I know I can beat any of the girls in 135 and then 125 there's lots of great girls there, but again I know skill wise that I have all the pieces and it comes down to who is showing up into the fight," said Kaufman, who decided on 125 after taking a body composition test. "For me, I don't care who I fight, whether it's top 10 or bottom of the barrel at this point. All I care about is that performance and that performance being even close to my potential."

Kaufman (17-4, 1 NC) has had a sterling career with wins over the likes of Miesha Tate, Alexis Davis (twice), Liz Carmouche and Valerie Letourneau on her record. She held the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title in 2010 and fought for that belt again in 2012, losing to Ronda Rousey.

But the last few years have been rough on Kaufman. She lost to Shevchenko, who came in on short notice, and before that dropped a second-round submission loss to Davis after controlling the fight throughout in April 2015. Kaufman's lone UFC win in three years came against Smith in 2014.

"It's all been on me," Kaufman said. "I understand the UFC's standpoint. I just haven't come up with anything. I haven't done enough to be there right now and I get it. But I know that I should be."

Kaufman's plan now is to pick up a win or two — impressively — somewhere else. Even if that has to be at 125 pounds.

"I think realistically, if I can have a couple great fights, I can probably be back in the UFC pretty quick and actually doing what I need to be doing to be back at No. 1," Kaufman said. ... I'm happy to fight at 135. I feel strong there. I feel great there. But I think we needed to make a change at some sort. I think 125 mentally is a big challenge for me. That could be very helpful in producing the kind of kick in the butt I need to actually show up into fights, because my last fight was just disgusting."

Kaufman, 30, said she'd have no problem fighting Cyborg at a catchweight of 140. Right now, Cyborg is in flux. There is no 145-pound division in the UFC, very few opponents willing to go up and face her and the UFC doesn't seem to want her to go back to Invicta and defend her featherweight title.

"She seemed fine at [140] and looked great in the fight," Kaufman said. "I think I go about getting that fight the same way I go about getting a fight in the UFC. Get another one or two wins and get back to what I know how to do. And then that fight and any other fight is right around the corner."

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