The concept is simple enough. Put fighters short on experience and long on talent on television with space to breathe and grow. Provide them a road and a map to more meaningful fights and bigger paydays. As theory, Strikeforce Challengers (and the ShoXC cards that preceded them on Showtime) is a lovely concept, one that's graduated several mixed martial artists to a tougher school of fighting.
That is, unless you're
Kaufman (11-0) captured her title in February after a lopsided five-round main event affair over Japan's
"I'm the only titleholder that's fought on the Challengers' card, and now it's twice," Kaufman said. "All the other title fights were on the main cards and that's where I want to be."
With a victory over Modafferi (15-5), Strikeforce CEO
If Kaufman is put off by the idea -- by the tone of her voice it's easy to tell she is -- Modafferi, 27, sounds delighted just to have the chance.
"I'm trying not to be disappointed. I'd like to be the main event. That would be the awesomest thing ever," the challenger said. "I'm getting this opportunity to fight for Strikeforce, a title fight no less, so I'm trying really not to be bothered by that."
Like most things, the difference in attitude comes down to perspective. Modafferi, who makes her home in Tokyo and teaches English through Berlitz when she's not training or fighting, stumbled badly in her Strikeforce debut last November, losing a 145-pound fight in 65 seconds to Coenen. Two wins outside the organization, highlighted by a "milestone" split-decision in March over nemesis
"I think a lot of things I'd been working on I solidified in that fight," said Modafferi, who comes into Friday's showdown slotted just behind Kaufman in the female bantamweight rankings. "I showed my improvement in the ring. I didn't get to do that in Strikeforce last time, which was a huge disappointment."
Kaufman poses a whole set of problems LaRosa did not.
The champion is incredibly sturdy. She doesn't concede takedowns, nor does she go for them. "I knew Tara wanted to take me to the ground, and I'm pretty sure Sarah Kaufman doesn't want to shoot a double on me," Modafferi said with a giggle. It's true. Kaufman prefers to plod and punch, and against Hashi, a former Modafferi training partner, that's exactly what she did for 25 minutes, earning mixed reviews from fans and pundits who saw little more than a lioness playing with her prey.
In Modafferi, Kaufman is once again tasked with solving a finesse opponent -- though one with admittedly more weapons and experience against heavier competition. Still, the challenger is "half expecting to get outmuscled," giving oxygen to prevailing wisdom that Kaufman is simply too much for her to handle -- which would delight the 40 or so fans, friends and training partners traveling three hours south by ferry and bus from Victoria, British Columbia, to cheer her on at the Comcast Arena.
Yet don't expect Kaufman to try any harder to finish Modafferi than she did Hashi, even if the outcome may have in some way contributed to her remaining on a Challengers card and losing out on a main event.
What lesson did she take away from her title-winning decision?
"I don't think I should have or could have done anything differently aside from throwing myself into a really bad situation," she said. "That's unnecessary. I want to put on those exciting fights. But at the same time I'm not going to compromise my fighting ability in the process."
Coker maintains Kaufman's performance against Hashi had nothing to do with his decision to demote her out of the main event.
"It was a technical fight," he said. "Sarah did a good job and did what she had to do. I think more than anything you had two big guys trying to advance their position in the sport. You had that and a great title fight with Sarah. Which one should be the main event? My guys felt let's finish the night with a big heavyweight fight."
"They're the ones choosing what cards I'm on," Kaufman said, "so it's up to them."