It was the highlight of Kai Kara-France’s UFC career thus far: a first-round knockout of former champion Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269 in T-Mobile Arena. The knockout was Kara-France’s second straight first-round finish and a huge statement made to the rest of the flyweight division.
Celebrations were in order, so after a teammate stepped in as babysitter for his son, Cobi, Kara-France and his wife Chardae soaked in all the glory of a performance bonus-earning victory. They returned to their hotel around 5 a.m., and an hour later, Cobi stirred awake.
“My wife said, ‘You’re up now. You might’ve won the fight, but now you gotta step up and look after your son,’” Kara-France told UFC.com. “It was cool having them with me.”
When I get Kara-France on the phone, he and his family are about midway through Managed Isolation and Quarantine in New Zealand. He jokes that the room is getting “smaller by the day,” and throughout the interview, Cobi is making himself heard.
Nothing quite as humbling as taking care of an infant.
“You might win the biggest fight of your career, but here’s another title you need to win: put your son to sleep,” Kara-France laughed.
All in all, 2021 was a banner year for Kara-France. He welcomed his son to the world in February. A month later, he picked up his first UFC finish over Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 259. In October, he got married in his backyard, and two months later, he got that statement victory he’s been looking for to get back into the flyweight title picture. On top of all that, he bought his first house.
Kara-France joked that some people were asking him what the rush was, but it was just a product of everything coming together for the 28-year-old.
“Where I’m at in life, I guess my purpose and my reason for doing things is a lot different,” he said. “Having a family now and having to provide for them, that definitely puts more pressure on me, but it just makes me want to do better, want to be better, be a better father, better brother, better son, and then obviously a better fighter. It’s all a combination of things, and I’m always looking for the next thing.”
Although he does make time to soak everything in as it comes, there’s an aura of confident urgency emanating from him in his last couple of fights. He made his way up the flyweight ladder relatively quickly since making his debut in December 2018, but losses to current champion Brandon Moreno and Brandon Royval, in tandem with a string of decisions, provided reasons for doubt. Although he came in with nine knockouts on his record, he hadn’t earned his “Don’t Blink” moniker in the Octagon just yet.
He returned against Bontorin better than ever, and the finishes finally started to come. In the lead-up to his fight with Garbrandt, the hype and attention that comes with fighting “No Love” didn’t seem to bother Kara-France. He even implored the former champ to stop paying attention to a potential matchup with Sean O’Malley, and he made Garbrandt pay for slipping up for just a moment. Afterward, Kara-France made his championship aspirations known. Despite the result, Kara-France does feel like his victory is a little underrated.
“I feel like people are not giving me enough credit, saying that Cody’s career is done (or) anyone can knock him out,” Kara-France said. “It’s because I made it look that easy that people are saying that. I feel like people gotta give me more credit for putting all the shots together and being so accurate, but that’s what made all the difference. Not being overlooked, and just backing yourself.”
After celebrating his victory, which included a little shopping spree (Nike sacai Fragments for himself, Jordan 4s for his son and a Louis Vuitton bag for his wife), Kara-France got right back to training. He stayed in Las Vegas for a few weeks training at the UFC Performance Institute and even ran a marathon “just because” he wanted to do it.
When he and his family went on holiday to Hawaii, Kara-France stayed disciplined, knowing an opportunity could come sooner or later. It came sooner in the form of a date with Askar Askarov on March 26, coincidentally Kara-France’s birthday. Although it isn’t the title shot he wanted, it’s the fight that almost certainly gets him there.
Askarov has shot up the rankings with his suffocating wrestling and strong striking. On the same night as Kara-France’s knockout of Bontorin, the Russian dominated Joseph Benavidez for three rounds and extended his unbeaten record to 14-0-1, the lone draw coming against Moreno. Kara-France is anticipating a grappling-heavy approach from Askarov, but he believes in his defensive wrestling as well as his team at City Kickboxing having more than enough to get the job done.
“The fight starts standing, which means it starts in my ballpark,” Kara-France said. “I know he’ll want to wrestle. Once he tries to get me down, he’s got to try to keep me down, so I’ve got one of the best scrambles in the flyweight division if not in the UFC. I believe in the team, and I believe in the structure and our system, so we’ll be well-prepared for what’s to come in the fight, and then once I get back to my feet or stay on my feet, I just find the shot, and I’ll put him away. I back myself 100 percent, and I can’t wait to see the best version of him because once I beat him, I don’t want any excuses. I want to be the next in line.”
Kara-France also has his eyes on the upcoming title fight at UFC 270. He expects Figueiredo to look better than ever after working with former two-division champion Henry Cejudo and the team at Fight Ready in Scottsdale, Arizona, for this camp. Ultimately, though, Kara-France believes Figueiredo will go back to that headhunting style he’s known for, and he also anticipates Moreno to look his best as well, touting the champion’s ability to adjust and adapt well mid-fight.
He predicts Moreno is going to get the job done this weekend if only because Kara-France wants that fight back. When the two fought each other in December 2019, Kara-France got the upper-hand early, but Moreno adjusted well and took home the unanimous decision. That was a different Kara-France, and a win in March pretty much sets him up for a title shot later in 2022.
Not only does he understand the stakes at hand, he’s more prepared than ever to take advantage of the opportunity and prove he is truly entering his fighting prime.
“We’ve been able to kind of tap into that next level that you need to be at to be the best in the world,” he said. It’s all about that one percent advantage and maximizing everything…Just backing ourselves and knowing when we find the shot, we can put them away. Just a sort of combination of all of these things, and I’m in a different place in life right now where I wasn’t two years ago.
“(I’m) always trying to be better, always trying to do better, and now I’ve got a son to be a role model for. I got myself out of a bit of a losing streak and just turned it around, and now look at me. I’m about to fight for the No. 1 contender spot, a title shot, and hopefully be fighting for the title mid-2022. I’ll be the flyweight world champion. I truly believe that, and I know it’s going to happen.”