“Coming Home” kicks in over the sound system; it’s the perfect choice for entrance music. As Diddy tells his listeners that he’s back where he belongs, Kaufman hits the arena floor to a huge pop. She receives another massive round of cheers when the ring announcer gets through introducing her.
The trend of the ZUMA fighters being clearly stronger than their opponents continues, as Kaufman mixes up punches and leg kicks on Yabushita early in the opening round. The Japanese veteran looks very uncomfortable being punched in the face. I don’t blame her.
Kaufman takes the first round easily, finishing with a strong flurry in the final 20 seconds that she punctuates with a head kick. She steps it up a notch in the second, coming forward with more aggression and continuing to work over Yabushita’s lead leg. The combination of kicks and punches forces the Japanese veteran to literally turn and run at points, unable to land anything of her own and prevent Kaufman from connecting at the same time.
The third is more of the same, with Kaufman again raising the intensity. Yabushita runs away again, but this time Kaufman connects with a big right that puts her up against the fence. The former Strikeforce champion opens up with a torrent of lefts, one after the other landing flush with the side of Yabushita’s face, each one pushing the crowd into more of a frenzy.
When the referee finally steps in to stop the onslaught, Kaufman breaks out the same running-jumping-finger-waggling spastic celebration from the Roxanne Modaferri fight just to make Zugec laugh. He promptly mocks her for it in the cage before giving her a bear hug.
Kaufman is thankful and appreciative in her post-fight interview, inviting all the ZUMA team members in attendance to come down to the cage for a group picture. She’ll pose for countless others after she exits the cage as well.
Driedger and I head back to the dressing room and start packing up. It’s the first time a ZUMA fighter has headlined an AFC event, leaving Driedger behind schedule for his arrival at Boston Pizza, and he’s antsy to head out.
Zugec, Kaufman and AFC President Darren Owen huddle together over Owen’s open checkbook. It’s a conversation I don’t need to be around for, and Dolby and Wilson feel the same, so we step outside for a moment.
Thirty minutes after Kaufman stopped Yabushita, we’re finally all packed and ready to go. Wood and Driedger have already gone home to shower, Dolby and Wilson follow suit, but not until Zugec makes sure they’re showing up the restaurant and Kaufman clarifies which Boston Pizza will be hosting the after party this evening.
“It’s the one beside Save-On, not the one on Hillside.”
We’ll get there an hour before they close, and stay twenty minutes after their 1:00am end time. Zugec has lost his voice and found a sore throat, something that happens after every fight.
Jackson is hungry, shutting his eyes in his seat while awaiting his individual-sized pizza. He’ll be on a plane home in less than seven hours.
Kaufman is still visibly happy to have fought and won, though she informs the table that there is only about 38 minutes left in her happiness before “The Usual Sarah” returns, 22 minutes less time than Zugec thought remained.
Driedger eventually strolls in wearing his Green Lantern hoodie and a hat reversed on his head, resting just above his stitches. Wood gets there after the doors are locked, but Wilson lets him in. While he can’t order any food, he can’t miss out on the team celebration either.
Everybody makes their way to their cars, hugs and fist-bumps exchanged all around. Someone tries to hug Kaufman and she tenses up, the 38 minutes having already elapsed.
Wood thanks me for coming out and spending the day with them, but I tell him I’m the one who is thankful to them.
They let me into their world for a day, and gave me a chance to see what makes them such a successful team.
Zugec has built a family and a championship fight team here in Victoria.
You already knew about Kaufman, and now you know a little about Wood and Driedger, and there are more on the way, but don’t expect Zugec to start any ad campaigns for his camp.
He’d rather play with his fart machine in the middle of practice and let everyone continue to think he’s just an average coach who stumbled into a little success. After 14 hours with him and his team, I know that to be far from the truth.
Thanks to Adam Zugec, Greg Jackson, Sarah Kaufman, Connor Wood, Nick Driedger and the rest of the ZUMA team for letting me follow their fight day routine and document it here.