Sarah Kaufman went 2,764 days between title reigns -- a testament to her drive and determination.
Kaufman captured the vacant Invicta Fighting Championships bantamweight crown by submitting the previously unbeaten Katharina Lehner with a third-round rear-naked choke in the Invicta 29 main event on Friday at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri. Lehner waived the white flag 4:30 into Round 3, the hurdle proving too high for her to clear. The win made Kaufman the fourth undisputed bantamweight champion in Invicta history, placing her alongside Lauren Murphy, Tonya Evinger and Yana Kunitskaya.
Lehner had difficulty dealing with the Canadian’s combination of well-rounded skills and big-fight experience. Kaufman routinely beat her to the punch during their standup exchanges, jabs and straight right hands doing a majority of the damage. The 32-year-old former Strikeforce champion integrated takedowns in the second and third rounds, further frustrating Lehner while bringing the futility of her situation into focus. Late in the middle stanza, Kaufman transitioned to the back, secured position and cinched the fight-ending choke. It was the first submission victory of her 25-fight career.
In the aftermath of Invicta 29, here are four fights that ought to be made:
Sarah Kaufman vs. Raquel Pa'aluhi: Invicta’s lack of depth at 135 pounds leaves Kaufman with a short list of potential suitors. She has rattled off three consecutive victories since she parted ways with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, breathing new life into her career following back-to-back defeats to Alexis Davis and Valentina Shevchenko inside the Octagon. Pa’aluhi has won four of her past six bouts after surviving a crucible in the early stages of her career that saw her lose to Sarah D'Alelio, Sara McMann, Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington.
Pannie Kianzad vs. Ediane Gomes: Despite defeats to Kaufman, Evinger and Pa’aluhi, Kianzad remains a factor in Invicta’s bantamweight division. The Iranian-born Swede put an end to her three-fight losing streak in the co-main event, where she outpointed organizational newcomer Bianca Daimoni across three rounds. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for Kianzad, as the former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder recorded her first win in nearly three years. Gomes, 37, made a triumphant return from a two-year absence at Invicta 23 in May, when she was awarded a unanimous verdict against Pam Sorenson. Based at American Top Team, the Brazilian has lost only to Nunes, Pa’aluhi, Evinger and Ronda Rousey since she debuted in 2007.
Pearl Gonzalez vs. Milana Dudieva: Gonzalez is doing her best to prove the UFC made a mistake releasing her in October. Now 2-0 under the Invicta flag, the 31-year-old Chicago native submitted Barbara Acioly with an armbar in the first round of their flyweight showcase. Acioly tapped just 90 seconds into Round 1. While Gonzalez has spent much of her career competing at 115 pounds, she was non-committal regarding her immediate future and where she wants to put down roots. Dudieva last appeared at Invicta 28 on March 24, when she took out Christina Marks with first-round punches and closed the book on a four-fight skid. She has delivered 10 of her 12 pro victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Marciea Allen vs. Kelly Faszholz: Allen caught a break -- literally -- in her pairing with the previously unbeaten Julia Avila, as the latter suffered a gruesome finger injury that necessitated a stoppage 49 seconds into the first round of their encounter. Avila paid the price for blocking two kicks with an open hand. Allen, 36, has pieced together a four-fight winning streak since she succumbed to blows from Ashlee Evans-Smith at a World Series of Fighting event in June 2014. That run includes victories over Jan Finney and Carina Damm. Discarded by the UFC followed back-to-back losses to Murphy and Ketlen Vieira in 2016, Faszholz turned to Invicta. The Nor-Cal Fighting Alliance rep made her first promotional appearance at Invicta 23 in May and took a unanimous decision from Elizabeth Phillips.