MMA: City Kickboxing teammates Kai Kara-France, Carlos Ulberg join Israel Adesanya at UFC 259

Israel Adesanya will be accompanied by a pair of City Kickboxing teammates for his dual world title bid against Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 on March 7 (NZ time).

As part of the undercard for Adesanya's headliner against the Pole, Kai Kara-France will take on Rogerio Bontorin, while Carlos Ulberg will make his official UFC debut against Kennedy Nzechhukwu.

The event's location has yet to be confirmed, although indications suggest Las Vegas will be the likely venue, ahead of Abu Dhabi's 'Fight Island'. 

Kara-France (21-9) will attempt to get his title run back on track against the Brazilian, after his momentum was derailed by Brandon Royval in September.

That bout included one of the most electric rounds of the year, which - despite not having his hand raised - did little damage to Kara-France's stocks.

"It was a bittersweet scenario to be in," Kara-France tells Newshub. "To get the Fight of the Night bonus was awesome, but it would've been even better to get that, as well as the win.

"But that's just the fight game - you're only one punch away from winning or losing. We can take a lot of positives away from that performance and fix some holes that we saw.

"In this flyweight division right now, it's so competitive and anyone can beat anyone. You're only ever a few shots away from a title shot."

Kara-France in action against Brandon Royval in September.
Kara-France in action against Brandon Royval in September. Photo credit: Getty

Coach Eugene Bareman shares the same frustrations, but insists Kara-France is still very much among the division's elite and remains right in the mix for title contention.

"Kai is still right up there," Bareman says. "He's still in that exact same position where, if he can string together one or two wins, he could potentially be in a title shot - even though he lost his last one."

With a freshly inked four-fight contract, the 27-year-old's focused on beginning both his new deal and the year on an exceptional note against Bontorin (16-2), who's working his way back from a six-month injury layoff, due to ankle surgery.

He hasn't fought since February 2020, when he lost a unanimous decision against Ray Borg, and Kara-France believes that inactivity will give him an edge come fight night.

"That's definitely a factor in this fight - me coming off a big fight on Fight Island.

"He's a legit black belt on the ground and he's heavy handed, so we've done our homework and we've been game-planning for an action-packed fight.

"I want to start this year off the best way I can and let's go for a highlight reel knockout.

"The title is the ultimate goal. I've got to keep my eye on the prize and I'm not going to stop until I get there."

Ulberg will try to back up his eye-catching performance on Dana White's Contender Series in November, when his precision first-round knockout of Bruno Oliveira made enough of an impression for the UFC boss to offer him a multi-fight contract on the spot.

With light-heavyweight division in a transition period since the departure of incumbent champion Jon Jones, Ulberg is eager to send an early warning shot to his new rivals.

"It's definitely a great time for me to make a statement straight away," Ulberg says. "It's the most important fight of my MMA career to date, but I'm oozing with confidence right now."

Sporting a 3-0 record, the two-time King in the Ring champion is still in his mixed martial arts infancy, but Bareman says he's made huge strides over the past few months, particularly with his ground game, as well as his overall approach to his craft.

"It's very hard to get him down, but it's even harder to hold him down," says Bareman. "He's very good at getting off the ground.

"He's had supreme focus, and a renewed kind of vigor and energy for the sport… just a greater appreciation of the work ethic that it takes to be at this level. 

"He was already a real professional, but he's become a lot busier and more attentive with the details."

Ulberg lands the finishing shot on Bruno Oliveira in November.
Ulberg lands the finishing shot on Bruno Oliveira in November. Photo credit: Getty

The 30-year-old is itching to show off the fruits of his labour against American Nzechhukwu (7-1), who's returning from an 18-month absence from the Octagon, having last claimed a unanimous decision win over Darko Stosic in New Jersey in August 2019.

"Kennedy will be a great stepping stone for me," says Ulberg. "He's an exciting fighter as well. He's tall and very unpredictable. 

"To overcome that is a great challenge for me, and after that we'll head towards bigger and more advanced fighters.

The blockbuster card is already shaping to be one of the biggest of 2021, with three world title fights at the top of proceedings. 

Alongside Adesanya's clash with Blachowicz, Amanda Nunes will defend her women's featherweight crown against Australian Megan Anderson, while Aljamain Sterling will try to dethrone champion Petr Yan at bantamweight.