Sarah Kaufman fights for the Strikeforce 135-pound women's title tonight (SuperChannel, 11 p.m.) but says the toughest fight of her career was the first one, simply because she didn't know what to expect.
You could excuse her uncertainty. It's not like the Victoria, B.C. native grew up fighting. Until age 17 she trained as a dancer, and had no clue how much she would enjoy combat until she wandered into the muay thai studio that had moved into next to her dance school.
Kaufman only attended the lesson to accompany a friend, whose mother had signed her up for a kickboxing course. The friend skipped the first class but Kaufman went anyway, and soon found that no amount of dancing could compete with the rush of launching full-power shots at heavy bags, focus mitts and, eventually, opponents.
"There's not many opportunities where you can get out some aggression in such a physical manner and be so hands-on," says Kaufman, 24. "That's was the appeal for me -- having some contact in that powerful way that thai boxing has."
Kaufman's transition from dancer to dominant MMA fighter has been smooth, but not always painless. At her studio, ZUMA Martial Arts, she routinely grapples with men much larger than she is, and says she sometimes has to tap out if her coach, Adam Zugec, lands on her the wrong way.
Inside the octagon, however, Kaufman says she doesn't feel pain. Sure, she's been hit, and hit hard. Whatever shots did this to Kaufman's right eye couldn't have felt good.
"It's so hard to describe how relaxed and how free it is to give everything you have, and you can't think of anything else but how good you feel and how tired you are," she says.
She'll look to replicate that feeling Friday night against Takayo Hashi, in by far the biggest bout of her four-year pro career. It's not just her first title fight, but thanks to a cancellation on the Strikeforce card, it's the main event.
Kaufman says her main event status is a big step forward both for her and for women's MMA.
"It's a great opportunity for Strikeforce to really promote some other divisions," she says. "To be the first person who gets to fight for the (135-pound title), it's an awesome experience."
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