On Saturday, August 18, Sarah Kaufman will challenge Ronda Rousey for the Strikeforce bantamweight title. I caught up with Kaufman during her preparations for the fight, and here is what she had to say about her MMA career and how she matches up with Rousey:
This is the second time a women's fight has headlined a Strikeforce event. Is there any additional pressure for you being in the main event? Has it affected how you're training and preparing for the fight?
Kaufman: I don't think you can look at it in the scope of this is the biggest fight and we're the main event and there's all these expectations put on us - you know, to make it a good fight and carry the card. That's important, and you have to be aware of those things, but I don't let them bog me down. I always try to go out and put on an exciting fight. It's still going to be my goal.
It's going to be an exciting fight that I can win, and at the end of the day, you always want Strikeforce, Showtime, and Zuffa to be happy with what you've done. But you can't be too concerned with all the pressures that could possibly bog you down and get in your head and affect how you fight. The most important thing is that you go in, you train hard, and you put on the best fight that you can. And you have fun with it.
In Rousey's last fight, there was a lot of trash talk going on between her and Miesha Tate. This time around, there hasn't been anything. What's been the difference? Are you the kind of person that chooses not to engage in all of the talk?
Kaufman: I think that Miesha had a beef with Ronda. And it was bad, you know, [Rousey] coming into the division and kinda stepping over people after having fought four kind of inexperienced fighters at 145 pounds. All of a sudden, she gets to jump in line and step ahead of so many talented 135-pounders and get a title shot. And I think Miesha didn't like that, and I didn't like that, and a lot of people didn't like that. And Ronda got in her head.
They did a lot of this back and forth trash talking. Ronda is pretty witty, and she'll come back with some smart comments. And I think that for the most part, she just talked over Miesha, and so that created that back and forth rivalry of just nagging at each other. I'm not really that kind of person. You know, I show up to fight, and I'll make a statement when I need to, and I'll say what I believe is true, but I'm not going to be calling out Miesha's boyfriend or whatever.
Now that Rousey's won the title, has your opinion changed? Does she deserve to wear that belt?
Kaufman: I was never of the thought that Ronda couldn't win that fight. And based on the style matchup between Miesha and Ronda, I thought that it was going to be a tough fight and that Ronda could take the win. It was more a matter of the principle that Ronda shouldn't have had the option of having that fight yet. But she clearly won the match; she fought a really good fight. I have to respect that she won the belt, and now it's my turn to take it back.
How do you match up with Ronda?
Kaufman: I have a great style for Ronda. Ronda has never faced anyone who has a strong striking background that's also mixed with- I am a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, so I am competent on the ground. I just like punching better. Then I also feel like my wrestling is strong, and that in itself is going to present a tough challenge for Ronda because she's not just going to be able to come in and hug me because I have the striking and the footwork to make sure that doesn't happen. She will move forward, and she will press that pace, but it's my job to make sure that I press the pace and the action that I want to have.
Do you feel that you have the advantage heading into this fight?
Kaufman: Supposedly, I'm the huge underdog, so I put the pressure on myself because I want to do really well, but I think that Ronda's going to have a lot more pressure on her shoulders because she talked her way into the title. She won the title and looked great doing it, and now she's up against someone tough, and she's expected to win. That's a tough place to be at. I'm just looking forward to showing up, training really hard as I know she will, and getting in the cage.
It would be hard to imagine this fight not going to the ground. Do you have a game plan in place to defend the arm bar? Is there something specific that she does to help tip you off?
Kaufman: Well, I can't tell you all my secrets, of course. But you know, an arm bar is an arm bar, and there's only so many setups you can use. And MMA is different because you can be a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and end up looking like a white or a blue belt on the ground.
With punches, and elbows, and striking involved, it can be hard to go back to the technical side of jiu-jitsu and grappling. But I generally feel - and in some fights it's shown and in some fights it hasn't - that my grappling almost gets better with striking, because I like striking so much. Hopefully, that's the case with this fight, and that I don't overextend myself and get caught in one of those arm bars.
Rousey didn't appear to be comfortable getting hit when Tate landed some shots during their fight. How do you plan on attacking her chin?
Kaufman: Well, you just gotta hit it. I think that it's a matter of mentally wearing someone down as well. It's not as simple as- well, actually it could be. You could walk in, throw one punch, knock her out and yay, I'm the best. But it's not my style. It's not what I've done in the past. It could happen, and that would be great, and I'd be ecstatic.
But realistically, it's just going to be keeping that pressure on. Ronda has said that she doesn't like getting hit; it's evident that she doesn't like to get hit. And because of that, I think that she has evolved a style that really tries to negate that and avoid getting hit altogether. And she's definitely going to try to do that with me because she doesn't want to get hit. She's scared to get hit, and that's fair. A lot of people don't like it, and I'm going to make her like it less.
Source: Personal Interview