Kai Kara France says fighting at UFC 253 this weekend is something of a bucket-list moment on the back of a year filled with uncertainty.
The New Zealander will join three of his team-mates on the card at Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, when he takes on Brandon Royval that could see him push for a top-five flyweight fight.
France, a product of City Kickboxing in Auckland, will be one of four Kiwis from the gym on the card, including headliner Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell and Shane Young.
The gym has taken the UFC by storm in recent times, claiming two world champions and going a combined 23-3 in the last 24-months.
At UFC Auckland in February, France and Riddell scored wins alongside Dan Hooker, and ‘Don’t Blink’ is looking to go one better in the UAE capital.
“It has been seven months since I last fought at UFC Auckland – that time we did the three-peat, this time it’s the four-peat,” he said.
“Having four of us on the card is amazing. This is a bucket list moment, especially in 2020 and how the world has been. We are privileged to be here on Fight Island and can’t wait for things to get underway and represent New Zealand and our gym, City Kickboxing.”
In a year that has seen the world swept by a global pandemic, the unity of the gym and its fighters came to the fore as they sought ways to keep training amid lockdowns and restrictions.
“We moved in to the gym,” explained the 27-year-old. “About ten of us all moved in with our mattresses. A lot of the boys were on the jiu-jitsu mats, but I was lucky enough to have my own space in the physio room. That’s what we did for two and a half weeks – train, eat, sleep, repeat. That really kick-started us into the position we are in now, in the right head-space and condition to be ready for the weekend.”
In a wide-open 125lbs division following the retirement of former champ Henry Cejudo, seventh-ranked France knows he is only a couple of fights away from potentially challenging current incumbent Deiveson Figueiredo.
Amercian Royval is ranked three places below him but France was keen to stay active and then push for a fight at the top end of the division.
“At the point I was given this fight there was no-one else to fight,” explained France. “Nobody in the top-five was in a position to fight, and I didn’t want to sit on the shelf and miss this opportunity. Even though he is lower ranked, I know he is a tough opponent and I have to give him the respect he deserves.
“I am realistically only two fights away from a title fight, but I can only concentrate on what’s in front of me at the moment and that’s Brandon.”
This will be the Kiwi’s sixth UFC fight in a 29-fight career (21-8, 4-1 in the UFC) and while his previous five fights have all gone the distance, he is keen for the exclamation point that can catch the eye of the matchmakers.
“I want to push the action in this fight, I want to push the action and I want to get the finish. I know I can’t rush these things, I have to be patient so won’t be putting pressure on myself. That’s the way to climb the rankings and that’s how you get title fights.”
UFC 253 from Fight Island Abu Dhabi takes place in the early hours of Sunday morning UAE time. The event can be watched exclusively on the UFC Arabia app.