The former Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion has defeated a who's who of the top ladies in the sport including Miesha Tate, Alexis Davis (twice) and Liz Carmouche, although she did come up short against current champion Ronda Rousey last August in an attempt to regain her belt.
Perhaps that's why she decided to take a huge risk and compete outside the Octagon under the Invicta Fighting Championships banner.
A loss could not only be devastating to her dreams of once again becoming champion, but it could end her UFC career before it even begins.
Kaufman spoke to MMAmania.com about her first person perspective on the growth of women's MMA, the "Fight of the Night" potential against upcoming opponent Smith and why she felt taking this fight was worth the risk in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Sarah Kaufman: Well I danced growing up and I did a mixture of all sorts of styles, jazz and tap and ballet and hip-hop. For a couple years we had an Irish step class that I really liked so we did that. It came in handy. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about Friday night's fight. People bring up the fact that Leslie Smith is only 5-2 while you're 15-2, but she's looked really good in all three of her Invicta fights thus far. Is there any concern that this could be a trap fight for you?
Sarah Kaufman: It's not an easy fight by any means. I have the skills to beat Leslie and I've done all the preparation to defeat Leslie but I don't anticipate it being a walk in the park. You can't look at anyone and think, "Oh well, it's just a 'whatever' fight." It's a big fight and she's a talented opponent.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think being officially a part of UFC's women's bantamweight roster, that puts a bigger target on your back when you fight outside the promotion in bouts like this?
Sarah Kaufman: Signing with the UFC definitely put a target on my back but I've had a target on my back for years and I'm kind of honored to have that status at the same time because what I've been doing with my coach at Zuma and working with Greg Jackson, all that has paid off because I'm considered one of the top women. Because of that, you're gonna have a target. I'm used to that but it's also something I'm aware of and it keeps driving me to always get better. You don't want to pull back on the reigns, take someone lightly and get caught off guard.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there any concern about the risk of this fight? I know you expect to win and most people expect you to win, but say the worst case scenario happens and you lose. Could that put your UFC career in jeopardy?
Sarah Kaufman: I really don't know. For me, it was a matter of me being a fighter. I want to fight and of course I want to fight in the UFC more than anything but if it's a matter of sitting on the sidelines and having months and months and months go by without a fight, that doesn't help my career either. It helps me more to take fights, to be in the cage, to keep that experience going and keep improving and have those goals to work towards. The UFC is a bonus. When I look at this, yes, this is the most important fight of my career as is every fight. I don't know if I were to lose what would happen, just as I don't know what would happen if I were to win. It's really about taking this fight at face value. This is a professional fight against a tough opponent in a great organization like Invicta.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In 2012 you had one of the best fights of the year against Alexis Davis and Leslie Smith had one of the best fights of the year in her first bout against Kaitlin Young. Those were just absolute barnburners where you were both throwing crazy leather. Do you see the potentially for this fight to somehow top either of those bouts just because of the styles you both have?
Sarah Kaufman: Oh, the potential is amazing, especially for the fans and as a fighter, I like those fights. I love exciting fights. You get in there, get gritty and sure you get hit a bit but who cares? That's why you're fighting. I'm not in there fighting to look pretty at the end of a fight. Sure, it's great if you can leave without a mark but at the same time you're like, "Oh, was I even in a fight?" I like to have balance. I like to have at least one bruise.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's take a step back for a second. How different is the state of women's MMA today where you're on an all-women's pay-per-view show and the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter will be coached by two women compared to two and a half years ago when you were champion and they weren't even putting your title defense in the main event of a Strikeforce Challengers card?
Sarah Kaufman: It's come so far and I'm so happy with the progression and there's a lot of factors that go into that. I look at the women before me who were fighting in no weight classes in random promotions getting paid 50 dollars. I was able to speak out and be vocal and try to get things moved to the bigger cards and then Ronda's come in and proven herself. All those things, Carano-Cyborg, every fighter who's been involved in the sport has really helped push where we are now and I think that Invicta's a big part of that. Strikeforce had myself, Miesha, Julie, Alexis and Ronda but Invicta was there as of last year putting together all those big fights and Dana White really started to see the potential that there are high levels females they can pull from. It's just been an amazing journey to have been a part of it for so long and to see where it's led to at this point. It looks great for the future.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What kind of impression do you want to leave behind to the fans or the UFC brass once this fight with Leslie Smith is over on Friday night?
Sarah Kaufman: I really want them to know who I am as a fighter. I think people know that but people might have forgotten and I'm out there to fight and put on a great show. I always want to win, I'm always trying to win and I'm always trying to get that finish. It doesn't always happen but it's always a goal. I don't go in there to be boring. I'd love to see a finish in the first couple minutes but realistically, Leslie's tough and she's not gonna give up easily. I would love a finish in round two if possible but don't be surprised if this goes the full 15 minutes and we go toe-to-toe with an amazing fight that's great for the fans and great for me. I want my hand raised at the end.
Sarah would like to thank Invicta for putting on this event, her Zuma team, her training partners, Mitch, Andrew, Connor, Alexi and Jordan and her sponsors Never Tap, VFG Financial, Revgear and her fans. You can follow her on Twitter @mmasarah.