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Sarah Kaufman: PFL wants Kayla Harrison to win $1M, but ‘I am a party pooper’

Sarah Kaufman
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Sarah Kaufman sat down to watch the PFL finals as a fan on New Year’s Eve and came away really liking the concept. It wasn’t even so much that the winners in each division’s season won $1 million. It was the promise of activity.

“It’s guaranteed action,” Kaufman said. “It’s not, maybe we’ll see, we’ll get a fight here or there. So that’s kind of what drew me towards it.”

So, Kaufman laid out a plan. She was under contract with Invicta FC and held that promotion’s women’s bantamweight title. The Canadian fighter and former Strikeforce champion figured she’d scope out the landscape at the start of 2019 and see if there were any challengers coming her way.

With seemingly no one stepping up and potential contenders being signed by the UFC, Kaufman desired a change — and a chance in PFL’s women’s lightweight tournament. She had Syndicate MMA head coach John Wood, her de-facto manager, reach out to Invicta president Shannon Knapp and explain the situation. Kaufman said Knapp agreed to grant her a release. Last week, PFL announced Kaufman as a member of its 155-pound women’s roster for the 2019 season.

“She’s wishing me the best and I wish Invicta the best,” Kaufman said. “Unfortunately, there were just no contenders for me to be fighting. The easier route seemed to be not fight me and go to the UFC, which is great for them, but unfortunate for me, who is waiting. … Right now this is the door that has opened and I’m grateful that she was in agreement to release and let me pursue this opportunity.”

Kaufman, 33, has not fought since winning the Invicta belt last May, defeating Katharina Lehner. Since then, Lehner was signed to the UFC. So was Pannie Kianzad, who Kaufman beat in January 2018. The likely next Invicta challenger at 135 pounds for Kaufman was Julia Avila and she, too, was scooped up by the UFC.

Rather than waiting on contenders, Kaufman will wading into Kayla Harrison’s pool. The former two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo is PFL’s golden girl, someone the promotion is building around. Kaufman is entering this 155-pound season — 20 pounds heavier than she usually fights at — in a division she believes was supposed to be Harrison’s to win. The 2019 PFL season begins in May.

“This is tailor made for Kayla Harrison, for sure,” Kaufman said. “But they also wanted to have legit talents in there, which is why I’m in there. So while I think that they are hoping that Kayla wins, I’m looking to upset their party. I’m a pretty good party upsetter, really. I am a party pooper.”

Kaufman (20-4, 1 NC) is by far the most accomplished and experienced member of the PFL women’s roster when it comes to MMA. Harrison, of course, has that Olympic pedigree. The 28-year-old, though, is just 3-0 in pro MMA, all fights that happened in PFL last year. So, it’ll be an interesting clash of veteran former champ and rising star — if it happens.

No matchups have been announced yet for the regular season and there is no guarantee Kaufman vs. Harrison happens in the playoffs, though they would likely be the favorites. Rounding out the division will be Muay Thai champ Genah Fabian, kickboxer Bobbi-Jo Dalziel, Svetlana Khautova, Roberta Samad, Morgan Freir and UFC veteran Larissa Pacheco.

“I 100 percent believe PFL wants Kayla to win,” Kaufman said. “And I get why. She’s charismatic. She’s represented their brand well. She carries herself well. She’s an athletic, intelligent, well-spoken human being from what I’ve seen. She fights with passion, she’s a great athlete. I just think she’s a good representation for herself and just athletics in general. So PFL has just kind of gone with her and developed this division for her. And you’d be naive to think otherwise. That being said, the PFL knows how good I am. And so, I’m a legitimate threat and I plan on being the the threat they don’t want probably in the finals.”

Another storyline here for Kaufman is the weight class. She’s a career 135-pounder and will be competing at 155 this year. Kaufman said she walks around at between 150 and 154 pounds when she is fit. She said she’s not sure yet if she’ll look to add muscle, but doesn’t think so.

“I feel really good about being at 155,” Kaufman said. “I just won’t be cutting literally any weight. But I’ll be able to, throughout my entire camp, be as nutritionally focused and filled and everything that I could want to feel healthy in a camp. I don’t have to stress about doing extra cardio to get my weight down. I don’t have to stress about, oh maybe I have to eat a smaller dinner because it’s getting closer to the fight. Or cutting out desirable nutrients. I can just worry about being healthy and train to be healthy and train to be explosive and athletic and feel good.”

Three of Kaufman’s career losses have come against championship-level fighters like Ronda Rousey, Marloes Coenen and Valentina Shevchenko. The other defeat was versus Alexis Davis, who Kaufman has beaten twice as well.

There are questions why Kaufman isn’t in the UFC, but she doesn’t have many answers. The only thing that she can worry about now is the next nine months and taking $1 million back home to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

“Short answer: I don’t know,” Kaufman said when asked about the UFC. “I know that I am for sure top five. I believe I’m the best bantamweight in the world. And I don’t know. There’s so many things that it could be. Social-media based, fight based, just activity based. Maybe they don’t like me personally. Maybe they love me personally, but as a business they don’t see it as a good fight right now. It doesn’t matter why. They just haven’t picked me up and PFL was really eager to have me on their roster. I can’t lament too much about the why, because I think that gets in the way the mental side what I am doing and what I’m going to do.

“But ultimately I want to finish my career in my division as the best in the world. Whether that happens or not, I don’t know. Maybe I end up being the best 155er in the world, then everyone knows that and can infer and imply whatever they want from that.”

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