Sarah Kaufman lacks Ronda Rousey's glamour, but that won't matter in their bantamweight bout

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Chances are pretty good that Sarah Kaufman is not going to be a crossover superstar. She'll probably never be invited to walk the red carpet. It's unlikely a television network will devote a two-part series solely to her.

Kaufman is one of the finest mixed martial arts fighters, a former Strikeforce bantamweight champion, and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Consider yourself lucky if Kaufman counts you among her circle of friends.

She's been obscured, though, in the near total eclipse that Ronda Rousey casts upon the rest of women's mixed martial arts.

Rousey is the sport's "it girl." She was on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's body issue. Dana White wore a t-shirt with a picture of the cover on it to a recent UFC weigh-in.

Kaufman said she's met White a couple of times and is pretty sure the UFC president knows who she is.

Rousey's star power, though, hardly offends Kaufman. Just the opposite; Kaufman enjoys it because it provides her a platform for her to achieve her goals.

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Rousey will defend the title she won in March for the first time Saturday in San Diego when she meets Kaufman in the main event of a Showtime-televised card at the Valley View Casino Center.

Kaufman had already won, and lost, the bantamweight title before Rousey had her first amateur fight. She's 15-1 and one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.

And though one of the immutable laws of fighting is that beating the (wo)man doesn't necessarily make one the (wo)man, Kaufman is comfortable with that. Her eyes are on that belt and once again being called world champion.

"There is a place for everyone in this sport," Kaufman said. "Ronda is a big star and everyone in the media wants a piece of her and wants to talk to her and about her. It's great for Ronda, but it's also great for women's MMA because it's putting a lot of attention on what we do. People are talking about women's MMA because of Ronda and that's a good thing, not a bad thing.

"I don't begrudge her the attention she's gotten. Look, she's an amazing athlete. She won a [bronze] medal in the Olympics and she is unbeaten in MMA. Sometimes, I think it's focused too solely on looks, but this is a sport and sports are entertainment, so I accept that. I was raised more as a tom-boy, but I understand who is watching and what they try to sell."

There is an eerie similarity between the Rousey-Kaufman fight on Saturday and the 2009 bout between Gina Carano and Cris "Cyborg" Santos. At the time, Carano was touted as the "face of women's MMA." Though she was a good fighter, Carano received far more notice because of her striking appearance than she did for her fighting ability.

Santos was drowned in the pre-fight hype by all the Carano talk, but she took advantage of the spotlight Carano created by winning so impressively that fans were clamoring to see her again.

Kaufman finds herself in the role Santos once played, as the B side to the sport's biggest star. She's the powerful striker out to do harm to female MMA's glamour girl.

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Though Santos defeated Carano by first-round knockout, she never supplanted Carano in terms of popularity or stardom. She did, though, become recognized as easily the best female fighter in the world.

That's the path Kaufman hopes to follow. She may not do enough to get White to wear a t-shirt with her picture on it, but she has the chance to regain the belt and that has long been her goal.

She was miffed earlier this year when Strikeforce chose Rousey, and not her, to fight then-champion Miesha Tate for the belt, but she's long since gotten beyond that.

Kaufman said "the talk was out there," about a rematch with Tate for the title before Rousey called out Tate and everything changed. She's got her shot now, though, and is philosophical about the wait.

"Strikeforce wants to put on fights fans want to see," she said. "I'm pretty sure they felt the hype. The momentum at the time was behind Ronda kind of coming up out of the blue. They realized they could sell that fight.

"That was their prerogative. Of course, I felt slighted at the time because Ronda hadn't fought in the division, but that's in the past. Here I am five months later after having a great fight with Alexis Davis that a lot of people saw and I'm getting to fight Ronda."

Kaufman will gain a bit of notoriety if she manages to avoid being submitted by Rousey's lethal arm bar. Rousey used that hold to win each of her fights, amateur and pro, including the win over Tate to take the belt. She dislocated Tate's elbow.

Kaufman's only loss came to Marloes Coenen in 2010 and was via arm bar. That's led to a slew of questions about her preparedness for the arm bar, but Kaufman hopes to turn the tables.

The question that should be asked, she said, is how will Rousey defend her striking?

"Ronda is phenomenal with her judo, obviously," Kaufman said. "You have to prepare for that and understand that. But I like to think I'm a pretty good at striking and that's going to give her some worries and concerns, too.

"I want to punch her in the face a few times and see how she takes it, but at the end of the day, though, it's a fight. However it goes, it goes. I'm prepared for every eventuality. Arm bar, no arm bar, whatever, it doesn't matter. I just want to win."

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