HOUSTON - Sarah Kaufman fought valiantly in her UFC debut but ultimately came up short and suffered a razor-thin split-decision loss to fellow promotional newcomer Jessica Eye.
The women's bantamweight fight took place on the preliminary card of Saturday's "UFC 166: Velasquez vs. dos Santos III" event, at Houston's Toyota Center.
"I'm a little disappointed because I thought the fight went my way," Kaufman said post fight. "The first round was close, but I felt I started to pull away in the second and tried to finish her in the third when I could see I had wobbled her. We put on a great fight for the fans, and I see this as a small bump in the road on my goal to hopefully become the UFC champion."
Kaufman engaged with the smaller Eye from the opening bell, working both at range and in the clinch with heavy punches and the occasional knee to the belly. To her credit, Eye moved laterally and laced a stiff jab, working hard to stay away from her opponent and avoid eating counterstrikes. The strategy worked early on, and her punches battered and bruised Kaufman's right eye, which began to close in the second frame.
Kaufman seemed to settle into her rhythm as the fight wore on, and she found her opponent's chin more frequently. After a close second round, Kaufman did her best work in the third, and a stiff right hand wobbled Eye and saw her left eye instantly swell. Eye hung on until the final bell, and both women instantly raised their arms in celebration.
"I think I did great the first two rounds. I think I stopped and let her get the third round. I dropped my hands and let her get that round," said Eye. "I hate it. I knew better than that and will do better next time, but I feel great."
As it turned out, only Eye (11-1) had the right to enjoy the moment, as she was awarded a split-decision win that drew boos from crowd, he seemed to feel Kaufman (16-3) had done enough to take home the victory. Despite Kaufman winning the striking battle, 87-65 according to a FightMetric report, Eye earned the win with scores of 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28.
"I feel unbelievable," Eye said after the win. "People say that it's an amazing feeling. I can't even describe how I feel right now."
Kaufman, a native of Victoria, B.C., is a former Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion who fought eight time for the now-shuttered promotion. She earned the title with a February 2010 win over Takayo Hashi and defended it once before ceding the belt to Marloes Coenen in October 2010.
Kaufman also owns Strikeforce wins over onetime UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche and current "The Ultimate Fighter 18" coach Miesha Tate.
Kaufman had ben expected to make her UFC debut in August, when she was scheduled to face Sara McMann at "UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann 2." However, McMann was forced to withdraw from the card one week before the event, and a replacement opponent could not be secured in time.