by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The women’s division in mixed martial arts has taken a giant leap over the last few years. From EliteXC showcasing the female stars to Strikeforce headlining a Showtime broadcast with a women’s fight, the ladies are starting to take their place front and center.

With Cris Cyborg and Marloes Coenen ready to do battle next weekend, the women will once again take the spotlight in the co-main event during the Feb. 26 Strikeforce Challengers show. Top rated, undefeated fighter Sarah Kaufman takes on Japanese standout Takayo Hashi.

Last fighting in June 2009, Kaufman says the layoff was worth the wait now that she gets to fight in the bout that will crown the first ever 135-pound women’s champion in Strikeforce.

“I’m excited I get to fight, I’m excited that I get to fight for a title, and the fact that it’s for Strikeforce, a good promotion that’s supporting the females fighting. I’m currently ranked No. 1 and she’s No. 2, so I just think it’s great all around,” Kaufman said in an interview with MMAWeekly.com on Friday.

“I think it’s a big step for everyone involved. I think it’s huge for me. It’s what I’ve really been wanting with Strikeforce and I think the two fights that I’ve had with them so far, I feel like I deserve the fight. I deserve to have a shot at the title first.”

The women fighting in MMA have continued to battle preconceived notions of whether or not they even should be fighting and the fact that just like the men, weight classes are an important part of the sport. Cris Cyborg currently rules the roost at featherweight (145 pounds), and Kaufman is happy that Strikeforce is doing their part by creating a bantamweight (135-pound) weight division as well.

“I think it’s going to help fans understand it’s not just females fighting, there are divisions,” Kaufman commented. “Probably my most common question that I get, ‘When are you fighting, first it was Gina (Carano), and now it’s when are you fighting Cyborg?’ Cause they don’t really understand that there are different divisions, and we need to promote them as different, just as you would for the guys.”

Now it’s down to the business of fighting. The Canadian born Kaufman has a lot of respect for Hashi and believes she has done all the right things as well to get to a title shot. Hashi has fought primarily out of the now defunct Smackgirl promotion in Japan and has only one loss on her record, a 2005 submission defeat to Hitomi Akano.

“She’s earned her shot. She even avenged that loss to Akano. 12-1 is an awesome record and she’s faced some really good people,” Kaufman said about her opposition. “Presents a really good fight, and I think it’s a really good fight for me.”

The fight sits just over a month away, but Kaufman admits she heard about the possibility of the fight a couple of weeks back, and hasn’t really stopped training since she fought last year.

“We tentatively knew about it a couple weeks ago as well, so it was about six and a half weeks out,” Kaufman commented. “So we’ve known and figured it would be somewhere around this time, so we’ve just been training and now it’s a matter of peaking at the right time for Feb. 26.”

Sarah Kaufman will take on Takayo Hashi on Feb. 26 at Strikeforce Challengers 6 on Showtime.