Sarah Kaufman knew from the day she signed with Professional Fighters League that she was stepping into a division tailor made for two-time Olympic champion Kayla Harrison.
The judo gold medalist joined the PFL after transitioning into mixed martial arts and after getting some early experience under her belt, the promotion opted to create a 155-pound division and tournament for the promotion’s second season.
Kaufman, who typically competes at 135 pounds, bulked up and decided to test herself in the women’s lightweight division where she could potentially walk away with the $1 million grand prize if she makes her way through the entire tournament.
The former Strikeforcee champion made quick work of Morgan Frier in her PFL debut back in May while Harrison went to decision for the first time her career while earning a victory against Larissa Pacheco on the same card.
In the aftermath of those fights, Kaufman was matched up against Roberta Paim Samad, who also won her opening round matchup, while Harrison got a fight against Frier coming off a submission loss.
“I did find it interesting when they announced the card that Kayla is actually fighting Morgan, who I just fought,” Kaufman explained when speaking to MMAFighting. “It was just interesting because I was under the impression that it was winners against winners and losers versus losers.
“I thought it was an interesting storyline that they’re going to have her fight Morgan and likely push her to get a faster finish so she has something to talk to me about. Who knows? But I’m looking forward to fighting Roberta [Paim Samad] and hopefully keep up those dominant performances and if I can get another first round finish that would be ideal.”
The way the PFL works is fighters earn points during these opening round fights, which then seeds them for the playoffs that will begin later this year. The playoffs culminate in the finals of the tournament in each weight class with the eventual winner taking home the $1 million grand prize.
While Kaufman and Harrison were the clear cut favorites to make it to the finals, the 33-year old Canadian can’t help but feel like one of them might be favored more by the promotion but she already expected that when signing with the PFL.
“Oh absolutely Kayla’s getting preferential treatment,” Kaufman said. “I knew that coming in. I knew that while I’m in there. Given that I’m currently ranked No. 1 in the division and she’s going to be the co-main event, I mean you see that for what it is and I don’t care.
“Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you get preferential treatment, if you don’t win the fight, and I win the $1 million dollars and then I’ll get the preferential treatment. I’ll keep putting the pressure on her and my own pressure on myself but definitely, I think they try to find the matchups that would be the best for Kayla going into the second round to try and ensure that she gets the finish.”
The budding rivalry between the two women’s fighters has definitely given the PFL a storyline to follow throughout the season with Kaufman and Harrison preparing to compete again on July 11.
Each fight serves as a chance for Harrison to gain more and more experience as she continues learning on the job with only four fights on her resume thus far.
Kaufman believes that’s a valuable asset for the former Olympian because she’s definitely seen some holes in her game that she hopes to expose if and when they finally clash later this year.
“She fought very well. I know she was disappointed with how she did in terms of not getting the finish. It showed the world that she was very upset with that. I mean it was a dominant win but there were definitely things that you can tell she’s still pretty green to MMA,” Kaufman said about Harrison.
“She’s had a ton of experience in judo, which I’ve had minimal experience. I’ve done some judo classes but in terms of competitive experience and matches, she’s performed at the highest level at the Olympics and won there twice. So that is years of martial arts discipline and training that she carries into this, which I think is great. But in the cage, it is different. While she did some good things, she also opened herself up for some other things. There are always small things you can fix.”