After a strong start to the PFL’s 2019 season, top-ranked women’s lightweight Sarah Kaufman returns Friday against Roberta Samad.
Make no mistake, the PFL women’s lightweight division have been a huge success early in the league’s 2019 season. With the second round of regular season fights starting Thursday in Atlantic City, Sarah Kaufman will be back in action, taking on Roberta Samad — currently the third-seeded fighter in the tournament, following Kaufman herself, and Kayla Harrison. Kaufman’s fellow Canadian Bobbi-Jo Dalziel rounds out the top four of the eight-woman field.
Yet there’s no question Kaufman (21–4 (1)) is the favorite, alongside Harrison. One is a two-promotion champ, a veteran of the sport. The other, an Olympic gold medalist, and one of the biggest female prospects in years.
A showdown feels inevitable, something we spoke to Kaufman about during fight week ahead of the PFL’s fourth outing this year. She knows that’s one of the big story lines this season. Another, however, is a promotion ensuring fighters stay active.
“One of the best things about the PFL is their kind of consistent schedule, and guaranteed fights,” Kaufman told us. “You effectively know what’s coming up, you know what to prepare for, you have the regular season, the post-season, then the championships if you make it there.”
“It’s just a great selling point for a fighter who loves being active but has struggled to have the activity level that I want,” she added.
To give you a better picture, consider that Kaufman has fought just four times since parting ways with the UFC in 2015, at the end of her four-fight deal with that organization. She’s won all four fights, but that’s only averaging a fight a year, and includes her first PFL fight. Two of her scraps outside the UFC came with Invicta, where she captured that promotion’s bantamweight title, but staying active was a constant struggle it seemed. “With the PFL, it’s guaranteed action, so that’s a huge, huge bonus for me fighting for the PFL.”
While the PFL playoffs for the men’s divisions will see fighters competing twice in one night, the women’s lightweights, with a smaller field, will fight just once in the playoffs — a quicker path to a potential million dollars.
Part of the reason for that, Kaufman believes, is that lightweight “is a pretty new division in the realm of women’s MMA in general. There really aren’t that many people fighting at 155lbs. I’m a regular 135lb’er going up.” The decision to make the jump up not one weight class but two, however, was based on the prize money waiting at the end. “It’s worth a million dollars.”
Plus, “with a million dollars at the end of the line and people getting paid, I think next season you’ll see more people jump on board,” Kaufman suggested.
The added weight, mind you, “really hasn’t been much of an issue. I feel great.” Gone are the pains of weight cutting that so many fighters endure. “It’s definitely a different fight week not having to cut weight, eating pretty much right up until weigh-ins. It’s really a great thing for fighters to be able to stay fully nourished and replenished after each session versus having to spend a majority of camp cutting out nutrients to make a weight class.”
So while Kaufman “felt great at 35,” she noted that it’s “pretty awesome to be walking around fighting where I’m training” in terms of weight. As it stood on Tuesday, she weighed in at 154lbs in an unofficial weigh-in. Figure 153 in a weigh-in outfit. Right on point, in other words. Under even.
“I can just enjoy fight week, eat the right things, and not have to stress,” she explained. “I’m not going to be eating boxes of donuts or anything like that. But it’s just great that I can eat and train, and train and eat and get ready for the fight on Thursday.”
Mind you, if she wanted that box of donuts, she could probably get away with it — and that’s the comfort factor with forgoing the weight cut.
As for opponent Roberta Samad, she’s not a name that Kaufman was familiar with prior to this season. In fact, before the roster was announced, “I really hadn’t heard of most of the females honestly,” Kaufman admitted.
“The majority of what I’ve seen is just Roberta from her last fight, and I thought that she looked great.” Having said that, however, Kaufman added that she expects to come out the winner. “Definitely her strengths are in her size, her actual strength, clearly she has a very fundamentally strong jiu-jitsu game that she’s I’m sure going to try to utilize.”
Kaufman will no doubt be well-prepared. A longtime veteran of the sport who has held both Strikeforce and Invicta gold, Sarah Kaufman has the clear edge in experience. But a new wrinkle is the merit-based format, where PFL fighters earn points for finishes, depending on what round they come in. Fighters aren’t just motivated to win, but to finish, as early as possible.
“I think it plays a little bit in even in training,” she said in regards to the format. “The rounds we’re going, in each round you’re saying ‘well could I get a finish, would this be a stoppage, what could I do here to see what I could do to push myself? Gee there’s 30 seconds left, could I get a finish with 30 seconds left?'” It’s added a little something to the preparation, Kaufman explained. “It makes fighting super exciting, it makes training exciting, it really pushes the ability to test yourself in different ways.”
“The format’s been great. I think you’re going to fight how you’re going to fight, but definitely there’s that incentive, which is a really positive pressure to have in a fight,” she added.
All that said, the game plan Thursday is simple: “Go in there and get a win.” Then again, while “it seems really simple, you have to make it happen.” Kaufman is hoping to show some of her standup skills. “I love to strike, and I kind of utilized my grappling in the last fight. If I get to strike in this one, great, and if it’s grappling, that’s great too, as long as I get my hand raised in the end there.”
Win or lose, with six points and sitting atop the rankings, it’s likely we’ll see Sarah Kaufman in the PFL post-season. And it feels like a showdown with Kayla Harrison is inevitable at some point.
“That’s the story line, 100%. I’m pretty sure I was brought in to bring legitimacy to this division,” Kaufman said when the match-up was suggested. “Kayla was part of the PFL last season, she’s clearly very tight-knit with the promotion, and has been pushing the PFL since the start. So they have a good bond there, but I think the PFL is also really happy with me, and would be very glad to see us in the finals together, and then me getting the hand raised.”
If that happens, do we start calling her Sarah Three-Belts? “Yeah, and I formerly have the Hardcore Championship Fighting belt. It would be three major promotions, to have their belts, it would be pretty awesome,” she said of the possibility.
Asked if she would want to come back for another season if she won it all at lightweight, Kaufman admitted that she hadn’t looked that far ahead. “Definitely, 155 we’re going up in weight, so it would be great, potentially next season to have my weight class, have a 135 or maybe even a 145. And just bring it a little bit back to my strengths and my advantage. If I get that million dollars, I’ll have some leverage to suggest to PFL where they go next season.”
PFL 4 for the 2019 season takes place Thursday, July 11 at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. The main card airs on ESPN 2 (TSN in Canada) following prelims on ESPN+.