[Photo of Miesha Tate]
Undefeated power puncher Sarah Kaufman (8-0) will fill the void left by Kim â€œSugar Freeâ€ Couture and throw down with fellow rising star Miesha Tate (6-1) in a 135-pound contest during the SHOWTIMEÂ® televised portion of the inaugural Strikeforce Challengers mixed martial arts (MMA) event at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., on Friday, May 15.
Coutureâ€™s withdrawal last week created an ideal opportunity for the 23-year-old Kaufman, who is in fighting form after stopping Sara Schneider in the second round of their matchup on April 23. Kaufman has never been taken the distance in a professional fight.
â€œIâ€™m very excited about this fight because Iâ€™ve been hearing about Miesha Tate for quite a while,â€ said Kaufman, a former dancer who hails from British Columbia, Canada. â€œI know she has good wrestling and sheâ€™s been pretty active. Sheâ€™s probably going to want to take the fight to the ground and Iâ€™ll want to stay standing so it should be an interesting matchup.â€
Punching and kicking opponents is a far cry from Kaufmanâ€™s former passion. Sheâ€™s been dancing since the ripe age of two. At eight years old, the five-foot, five-inch Kaufman joined a dance company and soon after began performing in musicals, dancing to everything from ballet to jazz to hip-hop.
It was a few years ago that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Adam Zugec opened an MMA school directly underneath the dance studio where Kaufman practiced daily. After trying a single aerobic kickboxing class, she quickly gravitated towards martial arts.
â€œIâ€™m very competitive by nature so I just pushed myself and eventually started competing in grappling tournaments,â€ explained Kaufman.
â€œOne day, an opportunity to fight came up so it just seemed like the next logical step for me at that point. There wasnâ€™t anywhere else I could go with dance unless I wanted to turn professional so I put the dancing aside.â€
Since her professional MMA debut three years ago, Kaufman has added a breath of athleticism as well as credibility to the womenâ€™s field of competitors in the sport with the speed and force of her hands.
â€œI have the ability to put a lot of punches together because my conditioning is always really strong. I let my hands go and, at the same time, I donâ€™t mind taking a shot to give a shot so I think thatâ€™s why Iâ€™ve performed the way I have so far.â€
Whereas Tate was regarded a heavy favorite in the matchup with Couture, she will enter the cage as an underdog against her new, unbeaten opponent.
â€œI like being the underdog because I have everything to gain and nothing to lose,â€ said the 22-year-old Tate, who has been on a tear of late, stopping each of her last three opponents in the first round.
â€œI think (Kaufman)â€™s in for a surprise because sheâ€™s probably figuring that sheâ€™s beaten opponents that fight similar to me. But, she hasnâ€™t fought me yet.â€
A native of Olympia, Wash., Tate was introduced to wrestling during her teen years when a girlfriend convinced her to join their all-boys high school wrestling team. Tateâ€™s passion for the sport developed as she learned. Eventually, wrestling led Tate to join the MMA club at Central Washington University.
Last year, Tate enlisted with Victory Athletics, the elite fight squad headed by MMA star and two-time Matt Hughes conqueror Dennis â€œSupermanâ€ Hallman.
â€œHeâ€™s got so much to offer technically,â€ she said about her mentor. â€œHe comes from a wrestling background so his fighting style is very similar to the one I want to develop.â€
Tickets for the first Strikeforce Challengers event are on sale at the Save Mart Center box office and select Save Mart Supermarkets as well as at all Ticketmaster locations (800-745-3000), Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com) and Strikeforceâ€™s official website (www.strikeforce.com).
Undefeated lightweight (155 lb. limit) sensation Billy Evangelista (9-0) will face off with hard-hitting brawler and BJ Penn protÃ©gÃ© â€œIronâ€ Mike Aina (11-6-1) in the main event live on SHOWTIME at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast) from the Save Mart Center.
Also on the SHOWTIME telecast, Aaron Rosa (11-2) will meet Anthony â€œA Trainâ€ Ruiz (21-12) in a light heavyweight (205-pound limit) fight while Lavar â€œBigâ€ Johnson (11-3) will square off with Carl Seumanutafa (4-2).
Strikeforce Challengers is a proving ground for up-and-coming MMA fighters. The series was designed to provide todayâ€™s top prospects with the opportunity to step-up their level of competition and demonstrate their ability in a nationally televised event.