Sarah Kaufman joined an exclusive club last Friday.
By capturing the Invicta FC bantamweight championship with a third-round submission win over Katharina Lehner, Kaufman became one of only two women to hold titles in Invicta and the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion. The other is current UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg.
It’s the first time Kaufman can officially call herself champion since October 2010, when she lost the Strikeforce belt to Marloes Coenen. Since then, Kaufman’s results have been uneven. She bounced back with three straight wins, only to fail in her bid to reclaim the title from then-champion Ronda Rousey. Her UFC run was inauspicious, with only one win in four appearances before she parted ways with the organization in 2016.
After a 15-month layoff, Kaufman returned to action last March and proceeded to rattle off three consecutive victories, capped off by her title triumph over Lehner in Kansas City, Mo. Asked how it felt to have gold around her waist again, Kaufman is more confident than ever that she belongs among the elite.
“I know that I deserve to be a champion,” Kaufman told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I feel like I match-up so well with the current [UFC] champ Amanda Nunes and so I just needed to prove to myself, prove to everyone, that my performances speak for themselves and I wanted the finish. I knew that it was there for me. I knew I’d make it happen, but it was a matter of pulling that trigger and actually going for it and not overthinking things, which I have in the past. So it definitely was that relief of people are going to finally start to see again how good I can be and how much I can bring to the sport of MMA.”
The submission win was Kaufman’s first finish since April 2011 and the first time in her 12-year MMA career that she’d ever won by tapout. Her achievement was broadcast live on the UFC’s online Fight Pass service, a different platform than she was used to when she was competing on the preliminaries of UFC pay-per-views or nationally televised Strikeforce shows.
But exposure was the last thing on Kaufman’s mind when she stepped into the cage with Lehner. She expressed a fondness for Kansas City’s Scottish Rites Temple venue, explaining that “it’s all the same once I’m in there” in regards to how much crowd size matters.
It’s not the viewership numbers that Kaufman is concerned about anyway, but rather the level of competition that awaits her if she can get back to the Octagon.
“I love Invicta. They’re great, they treat me well, they’re a great promotion. But of course the UFC is where the big names are right now and I definitely feel that I match up with so many of those names,” Kaufman said. “I think that the bantamweight division right now needs an influx of excitement. They need some more fighters, they need more names coming in to mix up the pot and keep it fresh.
“Even though I’ve been there before, I do think that my recent performances are going to be getting me back to the UFC. I don’t know how soon, I don’t know when, but I do know that I’m uninjured, I’m available, and I really will fight whoever they put in front of me.”
Kaufman named the upcoming Calgary show on July 28 as an ideal opportunity for her to start another run with the UFC. The 32-year-old hails from Victoria, British Columbia, which is about a 90-minute plane ride from Calgary.
Should Kaufman be booked by the UFC in the near future and continue her hot streak, it would put her in the mix to fight either Nunes or the woman she’ll face at UFC 224 this Saturday, challenger Raquel Pennington. Kaufman couldn’t make a definitive pick for the championship bout, only stating that she’s always been interested in fighting Nunes, dating back to their time together on the Strikeforce roster.
“I would be happy to fight either, but I’ve always wanted to fight Amanda since Strikeforce,” Kaufman said. “I remember telling my coach Adam (Zugec), ‘I want to fight her, I’m gonna beat her.’ … I was just always very confident, so I guess I’d like Amanda to win and then to be able to have that fight. But I’d be really happy for Raquel if she won as well.”