UFC 277: Kiwi Kai Kara-France misses out on UFC interim flyweight title after falling to third-round TKO defeat to Brandon Moreno

Kai Kara-France in action on Sunday.
Kai Kara-France in action on Sunday. Photo credit: Getty Images

Kiwi Kai Kara-France will have to wait a little longer to bring a belt back to New Zealand, after being felled via technical knockout to Brandon Moreno in their co-main event rematch at UFC 277 with the interim flyweight title on the line.

After 'Don't Blink' had captured the momentum coming off two tightly contested rounds, Moreno powered the City Kickboxing product down with a devastating liver kick in the dying stages of the third, before swarming with shots to his shelled-up opponent to force the referee to intervene and send the partisan Mexican crowd at Dallas into hysterics.

The defeat snapped Kara-France's three-fight win streak, while the Mexican claimed his second victory over the Aucklander to secure a fourth showdown with champion Deiveson Figueiredo, when their titles will be unified.

Kara-France cut a dejected figure in the immediate aftermath, rueing a missed opportunity to cash in on his growing advantage as the contest progressed towards the championship rounds.

He appeared on track to claim the most clear-cut round of the fight, after opening a cut below Moreno's right eye with a searing elbow that seemed to throw the former champion out of kilter.

Moreno lands the fight-ending blow.
Moreno lands the fight-ending blow. Photo credit: Getty Images

Instead, 'The Assassin Baby' showed his class by finding the killer blow he needed to lock in a chance to avenge the controversial decision loss to Figueiredo that cost him his belt back in January.

The bout had been widely tipped to be the highlight of the card and the first two rounds delivered on that hype, setting the tone for what seemed destined to evolve into a five-round classic. 

Moreno started strongest, using his left jab and kicks to excellent effect in the opening round. He ramped that pressure up in the second, as Kara-France struggled to find his target due to Moreno's deft head movement and footwork.

Kai Kara-France after the fight was stopped.
Kai Kara-France after the fight was stopped. Photo credit: Getty Images

The tide began to turn in the third round, with Kara-France seizing control on the back of his razor elbow, finding his rhythm on the feet and winning a series of exchanges that followed, before Moreno's lethal kill shot.

The judges' scorecards were split heading into the third round, with one putting Kara-France up 2-0, another deeming him down 0-2, while the third had them at one apiece.

Softening the blow somewhat for Kara-France will be his bonus cheque for Fight of the Night - the fifth post-fight award of his career - handing him an extra US$50,000 (NZ$80,689).

The loss rounded out a disappointing event for the City Kickboxing contingent, with Blood Diamond recording his second-straight defeat in the opening bout of the preliminary card to Orion Cosce.

In the main event, Amanda Nunes bounced back to deliver a dominant five-round clinic against Julianna Pena to regain her bantamweight crown.

Pena shocked the MMA world with her upset second-round finish of Nunes back in December but had no answer for 'The Lioness' in their rematch.

She was dropped three times in the second round and, although she showed plenty of fortitude to survive the distance, was thoroughly outclassed by the Brazilian.

Earlier on the main card, Alexandre Pantoja shot out of the gates to earn a first-round submission win over Alex Perez to cement his status as a flyweight title contender and perhaps a potential next opponent for Kara-France.