Even though Kai Kara-France was unable to compete when the UFC returned to Perth earlier this year, the flyweight standout was still in attendance in the Western Australian capital, supporting his teammates and friends, and soaking up the positive vibes.
“It was still amazing to be in Perth, soaking up all the support,” said the top-ranked flyweight contender, who returns to action against Amir Albazi in this weekend’s five-round main event. "We have so many New Zealanders in Perth that it felt like it was my hometown. On the world stage, Australia and New Zealand are seen as one, so it was awesome to be there soaking it up — soaking up all that energy; the fans really missed it.
"It was wild, it was a crazy week — everywhere we went, we had so many people coming up to us, and I love that; I love that energy when it’s contagious. People really missed having UFC events live in our own country.”
A couple months after being infused with the energy of the raucous crowd at RAC Arena and seeing several fighters from the region shine on the biggest stage in the sport, the City Kickboxing representative received an additional jolt of motivation and energy when he watched his teammate and friend, Israel Adesanya, march into the Octagon and re-claim the middleweight title with a second-round knockout victory over Alex Pereira.
On the night of the fight, Kara-France posted both a photo of the finish featuring Adesanya letting loose an imaginary arrow towards the felled Brazilian, and a video of he and everyone else watching the event celebrating following his win. In the clip, the dynamic flyweight appears to be on the brink of tears, and Wednesday morning, he explained just what kind of impact taking in that moment had on him as he readied to make his return to action this weekend.
“That self-belief that Izzy has in himself is what I take away the most,” he said. “Not once did he think he was gonna lose that fight, did he ever think that he wasn’t gonna get it back, as well — get a win over this guy that has beaten him three times. I’m so much in awe of what he’s been able to do.
“(It’s) a constant reminder that anything is possible, and with the system that we have at our gym — that’s the recipe and the proof that it works. We have the same 24 hours in a day, we have the same head coach, the same schedule, so why not? Why put limitations on yourself and think that you can’t when you’ve got the proof right there that it works?
“You’ve always gotta have that self-belief,” he added. “Long before you started your UFC career, you had to step into the first gym you ever walked into and just have that burning desire to be better and see what you’re made of, and in this sport, you get to show that on the biggest stage.”
Kai Kara-France Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Kara-France vs Albazi
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Kai Kara-France Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Kara-France vs Albazi
The last time Kara-France competed was at UFC 277 last July, when he faced off with Brandon Moreno in a battle for the interim flyweight title.
Serving as the co-main event, the championship clash brought with it additional media obligations and increased attention, not to mention the potential of a five-round fight, as opposed to the standard three “Don’t Blink” had been accustomed to preparing for since joining the UFC roster at the tail end of 2018.
Things didn’t go his way, but there were a number of positives the 30-year-old veteran took from the contest, and elements he carries with him into his first UFC main event this weekend.
“It’s not the first time I lost in my career, it’s not the first time I’ve had to learn the hard way, but I keep turning up, I get better, and we do it again,” he said, reflecting on the third-round stoppage loss to Moreno, who became the undisputed flyweight champion in January with a third-round stoppage win over Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 283. “I was winning until I wasn’t; it was a close fight. He did well, did what he needed to do, landed a perfect kick, and he’s gone on to be a great champ — took out ‘Figgy’ pretty easy — and it just reminded me that I need to keep working; keep working to get better.
“I haven’t held onto that loss — I let it go — and tried to get better, use that experience. That was my first world title fight, first five-rounder, so coming into this one, I’m used to all of this; I’m used to more pressure, more people wanting my attention, more eyes on me, and this will be the first time Amir has had that.”
Not only is this weekend the first time Albazi has been thrust into the spotlight since arriving in the UFC, but it’s also the first time that the surging 29-year-old will be standing across the Octagon from a ranked opponent, as well.
While he’s previously been booked to faced divisional stalwarts Tim Elliott, Alex Perez, and Brandon Royval at different points in the past, none of those bouts came to fruition, with each having to withdraw from the scheduled contests for different reasons, leaving Albazi to face a collection of replacement opponents and less established foes.
To his credit, the Las Vegas-based hopeful has constantly lobbied for the opportunity to share the Octagon with the best the division has to offer, and Kara-France is eager to test whether he genuinely means that or not this weekend.
“It’s when I land the first hard shot,” he answered when asked how he will discern whether Albazi truly wants to be in there with him on Saturday. “If he bites down and comes back, then he wants to fight, and if he doesn’t, it will show.
“I’ve landed my right hand on many people before — Cody Garbrandt was a prime example. He overlooked me, I hit him with the first right hand that landed, and it was all downhill from there.”
Not everyone in Kara-France’s position would be keen on facing an ascending, but untested fighter like Albazi, focusing instead of trying to find someone closer to them in the rankings or brandishing a bigger name to face off against, especially coming off a championship fight.
But the New Zealander recognizes that these are the type of fights that come with being stationed near the top of the division, and he relishes the opportunity to steal his opponent’s momentum as he builds towards another run at UFC gold.
“Where I’m at — No. 3 — I’m here to fight these contenders, these guys coming in with win streaks; I love that,” he said. “I love they’ve got momentum and they’ve got hype because I can steal it and build my next title run.
“I’ve fought these grapplers. I’ve fought these guys that are undefeated. I’ve fought these wrestlers that think they can just come in here and take me down — try! I welcome that challenge of you trying to implement your game plan.”
More than anything though, Kara-France is happy to be making the walk again this weekend, eager to remind everyone of the warrior spirit he carries with him into the Octagon each and every time he competes and show that he’s on a different level than Albazi.
“I’m not going to be talking it up more than it needs to — we’ll get in there and that’s when I’ll show there are levels to this,” he said. “If you want to beat me, you’ve got to take me out. I’m willing to die in there — that’s the kind of mental preparation that I go through.
“When I’m in there, this is primal, this is instinct, this is my ancestors that I’m tapping into that have come before me; it’s in my blood. In New Zealand, being native, being Maori, it’s in our blood to be warriors and that’s what I anchor to, that’s what keeps me grounded, and that’s what I bring every time I fight.”
UFC Fight Night: Kara-France vs Albazi took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 3, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!