As soon as Sarah Kaufman signed to fight in the Professional Fighters League lightweight division, she knew the end goal was likely being set up for her to face two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison in the finals.
The 29-year old highly decorated judoka is currently 5-0 in her career and she remains one of the top prospects to ever enter the sport of mixed martial arts. The only problem Harrison has faced is finding worthwhile competition because not a lot of top women’s fighters compete at 155 pounds.
With a $1 million grand prize up for grabs for the season winner, Kaufman couldn’t pass up on that opportunity even if she was fighting well above her normal weight class of 135 pounds. Now she stands one win away from facing Harrison in December as the final four fighters prepare to square off at PFL 7 on Friday.
“It’s going to be a really fun final four,” Kaufman said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I think Kayla will probably go in early and try to put Genah [Fabian] on her back and of course she’ll dominate there but Genah’s striking and her length could present a lot of problems to Kayla.
“That’s an intriguing matchup there and with Larissa [Pacheco] and myself, it’s two former 135’ers now fighting at 155 [pounds]. It’s a great final four. I think both fights are going to be fan friendly and it sets up a great final.”
(Editor’s note: Harrison will now be facing Bobbi-Jo Dalziel on Friday after Fabian was removed from the bout due to concerns over her weight cut)
Before she gets to Harrison, Kaufman first has to get though Larissa Pacheco, who is a UFC veteran with a wealth of experience under her belt with fights against names such as Irene Aldana, Germaine de Randamie and Jessica Andrade.
Pacheco actually fell to Harrison in her PFL debut earlier this year but still made her way to the playoff with a win in her last fight against Bobbi-Jo Dalziel.
While the 25-year old Brazilian couldn’t get past Harrison in the first fight of the season, Kaufman still looks at her as a very dangerous opponent, perhaps even more than the fighter she’s expected to face in the finals.
“I think Larissa’s actually the toughest in the division aside from me,” Kaufman said. “She’s definitely had the experience, she stays calm and she stays focused and she definitely looks for opportunities. She doesn’t waste her energy. She’s not someone who is going to go away easily and just break mentally and give up.
“Definitely in some ways [she’s tougher than Kayla Harrison]. I know it’s hard because Kayla beat her quite decisively but I think stylistically, I think Larissa brings more to the table and brings more dimensions to the table than Kayla does.”
When it’s all said and done, Kaufman still expects to advance to the finals and she believes Harrison will do the same, which will set up a highly anticipated showdown for December.
“I think it will be Kayla,” Kaufman said about her next opponent. “I think Genah has the ability to land some pretty solid strikes and rock Kayla but the longer the fight goes, the more it favors Kayla. The PFL will get what they want with Kayla and myself in the finals.”
Long term, Kaufman says she’s been nothing but happy since joining the PFL roster but her hope is to defeat Pacheco and Harrison, win the $1 million grand prize and then convince the promotion it’s time to add her natural weight class.
“I’m really happy with the PFL. They’ve treated me well. They’ve put us on an even playing field when it comes to our pay scale and just the overall treatment that I’ve received is awesome. I think the format has been super exciting for me,” Kaufman said.
“I would be happy to stay with the PFL but I’d like to see them do a division that’s lighter than 155 come next season. I win it, hopefully I get the opportunity to voice my opinion and bring in my own division.”