At UFC 269, New Zealand’s Kai Kara-France will face by far his biggest name opponent yet in former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. But this bout will take place at 125 pounds not 135, and it’s a weight class in which Kara-France packs a huge amount of power, as demonstrated by his spectacular knockout of Rogério Bontorin back in March.
“[Power] is something I’ve worked on to develop,” explains the 28-year-old. “I don’t know many other flyweights who can deadlift 200kg. My coaches realized we could translate lifting power into punching power – and it worked.”
It sure did. The walk-off KO was reminiscent of the finishes of another famous fighter from the region, namely Mark Hunt. And Kara-France says it couldn’t have come at a better time, for a reason you might not guess…
“If I didn’t get a knockout, I was thinking about changing my ‘Don’t Blink’ nickname, because it’d been a while since I got one. I’m glad I lived up to the name!”
The Kiwi had to survive a series of very tough positions against Bontorin before he was able to unleash the full force of his striking. He may find the going even tougher against Garbrandt at UFC 269. At the same time, Kara-France believes dropping down a weight division will take its toll on the American.
“The cut has got to affect him.TJ Dillashaw thought he could come down and walk all over Henry Cejudo, but it’s a different ballgame when you drop that much weight. You don’t know how your body will react. You take shots differently. Cody is going to realize this for the first time when he’s standing in the Octagon in front of me.”
While confident about his chances, “Don’t Blink” definitely respects the former UFC champ.
“I’m actually a big fan of his. He’s a come-forward fighter. Aggressive, and he’s also got a lot of skills.”
The New Zealander has been hard at work developing his own skills at the world-renowned City Kickboxing gym in Auckland. Along with the traditional MMA disciplines, he points to some unusual training he feels has helped him and the rest of the team.
“Our breathing coach, Dave Wood, has been really important. We use diving training to help us relax under the water. It’s got nothing to do with fighting, but everything to do with fighting. You learn to stay calm under pressure and to adapt.
“We’re also working with a sports psychologist. I’d say 90% of fighting is mental. We talk about having a positive mindset, and how doubts are like a loose thread on your T-shirt. Keep pulling at it and the whole shirt is eventually going to come undone. But if you learn to cut it off, you’ll be OK.”
Kara-France singles out head coach Eugene Bareman for extra praise, which is no surprise given their long association.
“Eugene brings it all together. He’s transformed me from a regular fighter to an elite fighter. I was in Thailand early in my career and told him I wanted to come home and try to get into the UFC. He said I just needed to keep turning up to training and the rest would take care of itself. That was in 2016, I made my UFC debut in 2018, and I haven’t looked back since.
“He’s such a selfless coach, too. He has to do two weeks in isolation every time he returns to New Zealand after cornering one of us. I swear he’s done it 10 times during the pandemic. He cares about us. He knows this sport is our lives and he makes sacrifices. Having guys like that around elevates you. You make sure you bring the right attitude and give everything.”
Speaking of the close-knit City Kickboxing team, there are usually two or three of them on a UFC card at once, meaning they can travel together. However, for scheduling reasons, Kara-France will be flying solo at UFC 269. The flyweight prospect isn’t worried – he’s too busy focusing on the positives.
“Not only is this one of the biggest events of the year, it’s the biggest fight of my life. I’m coming to make a statement, and hoping for a highlight-reel knockout against Cody. There are a lot of questions to be answered about him [at flyweight]. I’m excited!”
Given the number of UFC fight bonuses the two have between them, the clash has Fight of the Night written all over it. Is that how the New Zealander sees it?
“Yeah, I see us squaring off and swinging! I’m going to put the pace on him. I want to make him feel like it was a bad decision dropping down a weight class. Just because we’re lighter, doesn’t mean it’s easier.
“I think I’m going to be too quick, too sharp and too ready. Timing is everything…and this is my time.”
Don't miss Kai Kara-France vs Cody Garbrandt in the final pay-per-view of the year at UFC 269: Oliveira vs Poirier, live from T-Mobile Arena on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 6pm ET/3pm PT. Main card begins at 10pm ET/7pm PT.