Mixed martial arts: Hunting UFC title run, Kiwi flyweight Kai Kara-France joins NZ exodus

UFC flyweight contender Kai Kara-France is joining the mixed martial arts exodus out of New Zealand, due to the continuing COVID-19 issues.

But 'Don't Blink' wants to be clear, he'll be back as soon as it makes sense to do so.

Kara-France's City Kickboxing teammates Israel Adesanya and Dan Hooker have confirmed they will be based in the United States for the foreseeable future, because training and fighting from home is no longer feasible.

Adesanya and Hooker have both spent several stints in quarantine after flights home, while Hooker's last training camp was shut down by Auckland Police.

Hooker won't return from his current trip, with the UFC flying his wife and daughter to Las Vegas, and setting him up with a temporary residence.

Adesanya will soon join 'Hangman', while Kara-France - who is preparing to face former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt in December - confirms he will pack up his whanau and move with his teammates.

Recently married, with an infant son, Kara-France is nervous about the move, but insists it's the right time. 

"I'm hoping it will only be for six months at the most," he tells Newshub. "From what I've been hearing, New Zealand will hopefully open up a bit once the vaccination rate hits above 90 percent, so we are banking on that happening maybe in the first quarter of next year.

"I will be basing myself and my family overseas from December, after my fight. We are going to play the waiting game a bit, I guess, but I want to stay active and have a pretty quick turnaround, maybe fight on Izzy's [Adesanya] card early next year - we will see how that plays out.

"When the opportunity comes I want to be more than ready to take that."

Cody Garbrandt
Cody Garbrandt Photo credit: Getty Images

The CKB crew will have options when it comes to training. How many coaching staff and fighters will join the veteran UFC trio is unknown, but Kara-France says they've had offers from rival US gyms eager to learn the secret to their success.

Kara-France, 28, says they will be very selective about accepting those opportunities.

"Different gyms have made contact, asking if we need a facility to train in, which is pretty cool," he says. "I've had a couple of UFC fighters asking to train with us as well, so there are plenty of options for us, but we have to keep our circle small. 

"We are one of the very best gyms in the world and we can't be giving away all our secrets. Eugene [Bareman] and the coaching staff are clued into all of that, and they will ultimately make that decision and we will follow that."

Kara-France's fight with Garbrandt is scheduled for the biggest event of 2021 - UFC 268 at Las Vegas.

The card also features a lightweight title fight between champion Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier, Amanda Nunes defends her bantamweight title against Juliana Pena, while superstar Jorge Masvidal will try to stop the title-contending momentum of welterweight Leon Edwards.

Kara-France says being among such esteemed company is eye-opening, but also provides the opportunity he has sought his whole career and deserves.

"I can't wait to soak in fight week," he says. "I am more than ready for a moment like this and I know what I have to do - I have to make a statement. 

"I want to separate myself from this stacked card and make everyone remember my name, and convince them I am next for the title shot.

"You work so hard early in your career for these pinnacle moments. This is going to be massive for me, in Vegas - the fight capital of the world on a stacked card - I can't wait."

Victory over the American would propel Kara-France to a flyweight title fight next year against either Brandon Moreno or former champion Deiveson Figueiredo.

Moreno upset the Brazilian to claim gold earlier this year and Kara-France sees the UFC 270 rematch going the same way.

"I don't think there is enough time between fights for Figueiredo to reinvent himself.

"He's a fighter who fights really aggressively and relies on his power. That's who he is and I can't see him executing another gameplan effectively. 

"Moreno is better everywhere and I see him getting a finish."

UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno
UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno Photo credit: Getty Images

A win for the reigning champion would provide the former Mt Albert Grammar football standout with a chance for revenge on the first man to beat him inside the Octagon.

And while Kara-France admits Moreno has improved since edging him via decision in 2019, he too has made fundamental changes, both professionally and personally.

"That fight kind of tells me where I am in the division - right at the top. That was a close fight. "Brandon has done well since we fought and improved a lot, but so have I. I took a massive learning curve from the fight that, no matter what adversity you face during camp, you need to put it on the side and show up to fight.

"I am in a different place now - I am a dad, newly married and I am 100 percent focused on what I am doing."