Amir Albazi has been training with UFC bantamweights Javid and Farid Basharat since relocating to London from Sweden several years ago.
The connection between the three was instantaneous and everlasting, as they have continued to work alongside one another, each pursuing the same goals of claiming UFC gold and building an indelible legacy while working their way to the biggest stage in the sport and setting up a new base of operations in Las Vegas under the watchful eye of Dewey Cooper.
When Javid Basharat speaks of his pursuits in the Octagon, it’s often with an eye towards putting distance between himself and his younger brother, ensuring that he remains one step ahead. In some ways, Albazi is like the third member of the family — an adopted Basharat and the eldest of the bunch — which has him blazing a trail for his chosen brothers to follow.
“First I got in, then Javid got in, and now Farid got in, so we’re fighting on the highest level, and now I’m doing the main event,” said Albazi, who faces Kai Kara-France in a crucial flyweight contest that tops the marquee for this weekend’s return to the UFC APEX. “I’m telling them, ‘Soon, you guys are going to be main event, too.’ I’m preparing them for what’s coming, and it feels good.”
He smiles and laughs at the statement — a truthful, but playful jab at his dear friends that leads to further discussions about the dynamics and the competitiveness that exists between all three.
“It’s healthy competition — we all just get each other better,” he said. “Day One, all three of us are super-competitive, which is why the training sessions are so good. I would love to show them the way.
“I know they’re going to get into the rankings. I know they’re going to fight main events. I know they’re going to fight for the title, too, so we’re just enjoying the moment and taking it day-by-day.”
After venturing to Las Vegas on a one-way ticket with the intention of checking out the UFC Performance Institute and no concrete plans to stay, Albazi has settled into life in “The Fight Capital of the World” and competing inside the Octagon.
He debuted on short notice in the summer of 2020, facing off with Malcolm Gordon in a bantamweight contest that ended with Albazi submitting the Canadian in the first round. Victories over Zhalgas Zhumagulov, Francisco Figueiredo, and Alessandro Costa followed, pushing his winning streak to five and his record to 16-1 overall while elevating “The Prince” into the flyweight rankings.
At every turn, Albazi has lobbied for the opportunity to share the Octagon with more seasoned competitors, ranked opponents, and through no fault of his own, those fights have yet to materialize. A couple have been booked, but each time, something has come up, preventing the fight from going forward, sending the surging flyweight into this weekend’s event in the strange position of headlining while not yet having faced a ranked opponent.
“A lot of people say, ‘Who has he fought? He didn’t fight any ranked opponents and now he’s fighting Kai, No. 3’ but the problem is not me,” said Albazi, who noted that he understands where the questions come from. “I was booked against both Alex Perez and Brandon Royval, and Tim Elliott before that; it’s not my fault they pulled out.
“I’ve been trying to fight these guys from Day One,” he added, smiling. “I know what I can do. I came into the UFC on nine days’ notice and choked out a black belt with a triangle choke in the first round. I know what I can do to these guys; the opportunities just haven’t been presented to me.
“Most guys that are at the top, whenever I had a pull-out, they didn’t want to fight me.”
Part of that is competitors not wanting to fight backwards in the division.
Some of it comes from his contemporaries recognizing the threat the Iraqi-born talent presents.
But while fans and observers occasionally push back against unranked fighters or those that have yet to beat someone with a number next to their name or trying to chase down more established targets, for Albazi and many others, those callouts come from a desire to challenge himself, and put the hypotheses he’s constructed about where he stands in the flyweight hierarchy to the test.
“I’m a big fan of this sport. I watch every show,” began Albazi, who currently sits at No. 7 in the flyweight rankings. “I like to watch fighting, study opponents, so I’ve been looking at these guys — Brandon Royval, Kai Kara-France, Tim Elliott — because I want to fight these guys.
“I sit at home and say, ‘I can beat this guy,’ and now I wanna see if I can. I want to prove to myself — maybe I can, maybe I can’t — but when I watch them fighting, I know that I can beat these guys up.
“Now, June 3, I can finally prove it to everyone.”
That’s precisely what makes this weekend’s main event matchup with Kara-France so compelling — it’s that initial opportunity for Albazi to share the Octagon with a ranked opponent, and one that has challenged for championship gold in the past, for that matter.
Saturday marks the New Zealander’s first appearance since facing Brandon Moreno for the interim title last summer at UFC 277 in Dallas, where he was felled by a kick to the body towards the end of the third round. The loss snapped Kara-France’s three-fight winning streak, but did little to diminish his standing within the division.
Though he’s respectful of what he’s accomplished and aware of the dangers his opponent this weekend presents, Albazi is confident he’ll prove himself worthy of title contention on Saturday night at the UFC APEX.
“He’s a standup striker with good takedown defense — that’s my ‘worst matchup’ right? That’s what people would say, so let me see,” Albazi said, the excitement to answer some of these lingering questions about his game evident in his voice. “I think I’m better than him everywhere.
“Let me go in there and handle business. You guys will see what level I am on — why I think I’m ready for the title; why I want to go get the belt. That’s why Kai is the perfect opponent for me.”
The streaking and confident rising star believes victory will be his on Saturday, with how and when the fight ends hinging on his opponent.
And should that come to pass, Albazi has ideas for how things in the flyweight division should get booked going forward, as well.
“It depends how well he prepared and how tough he is,” he said when asked how he sees himself earning a fifth consecutive UFC victory this weekend. “I’m looking to go in Round 1, Round 2 and if he gives me anything — anything — he’s a dead man. But I have five rounds — that’s perfect for me; that’s what I want.
“I’m going to put the pressure on him, drown him, and as long as I take him out, I don’t care which round it is.
“And after this, I’m gonna fight for the title. When I win this fight, I’m gonna fight for the title; I’m gonna wait for (the winner of) Moreno and Pantoja.”
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!