April 15, 2014, QUEBEC CITY, Que. (ISN) – Leslie (The Peacemaker) Smith was in a car returning from training when the phone rang.
“I was still sweaty,” she recalled. “(Manager/trainer) Cesar Gracie called and said ‘Can you be ready in 10 days?’ And I knew, after doing the math, that it was the Kaufman fight and I said ‘Hell yeah.'”
Welcome to the UFC, Leslie.
One phone call and the 31-year-old from Pittsburg, Calif., had become the third opponent lined up for Victoria’s Sarah Kaufman for Wednesday’s Ultimate Fighter Nations televised card.
The hastily made bout is a rematch. Kaufman (16-2 with one no contest) won a split decision over Smith on an Invicta FC card in April 2013 in a bout judged fight of the night.
Both fighters thought they deserved the decision that night in Kansas City.
“I was really bummed at the time but in the whole scheme of things this is probably the best way I can walk into the UFC,” said Smith. “I know my opponent, I know what I need to do, I know how I need to do it. Man, this is like a present.”
Kaufman, ranked No. 5 among UFC women’s bantamweight contenders, was originally slated to meet Shayna (The Queen of Spades) Baszler. When the veteran withdrew through injury, No. 8 Amanda (The Lioness) Nunes was brought in, only to get hurt herself.
“It’s just been a lot of changes, but I’m ready to fight,” said Kaufman. “And I’m in peak training condition so I don’t care.”
It’s been a tough go of late for Kaufman, a former Strikeforce champion whose UFC debut was delayed when Sara McMann withdrew from their scheduled bout last August in Indianapolis. Kaufman was left in limbo when UFC officials were unable to find a replacement for McMann.
She eventually fought Jessica (Evil) Eye in October, losing a split decision that was changed to a no contest after Eye tested positive for marijuana.
The thought of missing out on yet another fight was worrisome.
“Definitely I feel like a little girl stamping my feet back in Victoria, saying ‘This girl’s on her fourth fight, this girl’s on her third fight, this girl’s on her fourth fight and I’m just getting my second,'” said Kaufman.
“Fighting is the best part of a being a fighter,” she added. “To not get to fight as often as you’d like and to see other people that you have beaten, or know that you have the capability of beating, getting more opportunities is definitely hard. But it’s part of the sport and you suck it up and you keep training and you get keep getting better and you get your shot and go for it.”
The inactivity has cost Kaufman.
Fellow Canadian Alexis Davis, whom Kaufman has beaten twice outside the UFC, has moved to No. 2 in the rankings and earned her a title shot against (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey in July at UFC 175.
“Of course I’d love to be in her position as well but she’s had three wins in the UFC and she really is the next person in line,” Kaufman said.
The changes in opponents for this card has meant Kaufman has studied a lot of fighter video, only to put it down and then pick up some more. The good news to the revolving-door opponents is Kaufman says she will be concentrating on her game rather than the woman facing her in the cage.
“Sometimes I can get too focused on ‘Hey they might try this, so I have to do this,'” she said. “Just fight your fight. That’s when I do my best.”
Kaufman, 28, is hoping for a quick finish Wednesday and she can still fight in Vancouver on June 14 as part of the UFC 174 card.
“It’s pretty much my home town and to get to fight in front of such a big crowd that’s so boisterous and so excited about fighting. I hope it happens. I’m pushing for it, but first things first.”
Smith got into the sport as part of a lifestyle change. She quit working in bars, gave up drinking and was working as a personal trainer when she saw an MMA practice in 2008 and decided she wanted to try it. A month later, she won her first fight by knockout to a standing ovation.
“I fell in love with it from the beginning,” Smith said. “And it just kept getting sweeter and sweeter as I got deeper in.”