Kai Kara-France finds solidarity in Israel Adesanya's 'boogeyman' journey as he eyes flyweight title

Kai Kara-France still has his eyes on the 125-pound title, but will Brandon Moreno still be wearing the belt after this summer? Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Kai Kara-France is continually drawing inspiration from his teammate Israel Adesanya. While technique and strategy are the usual focus points between the two, a third one has begun to loom large for both fighters -- the "boogeyman."

For Adesanya, his pursuit of finding a way through Alex Pereira culminated in "The Last Stylebender" reclaiming his middleweight title at UFC 287 earlier this year. Kara-France's title dreams could again go through UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno.

That begins Saturday at 6 p.m. E.T. on ESPN+ (Sunday afternoon in Australia) against Amir Albazi in the main event of UFC Fight Night. It will be slightly under four months since Kara-France sat Octagon-side in Perth, Australia, to watch another of his City Kickboxing teammates, Alexander Volkanovski, push lightweight champion Islam Makhachev to the final bell.

After he was forced to withdraw from his own bout in Perth through injury, Saturday night's showdown with Albazi is Kara-France's first fight since he was stopped by Moreno in their interim title battle in July 2022.

Such an extended layoff meant the New Zealander has perhaps stewed on that result -- his second loss against Moreno -- a little longer than he might have wanted, but at the same time it allowed him to break down the defeat in detail.

"Just experience, that's the main thing, that was my first world title fight, so just taking away a lot of stuff that we did right, the positives and then fixing the little holes," Kara-France told ESPN.

"So yeah, I've had a bit of time to process all that, but having Izzy as a teammate just shows that it's all possible, that even though you lost to a guy two or three times, you can get it back, it's just that self-belief you've got to have in yourself. And never lose track of what the goal is, and that's to be the best and to win a world title.

Moreno, Kara-France put on a show at UFC 277

Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France hold nothing back as they go at each other in their UFC 277 bout.

"And that's what I plan to [pursue] Saturday night, putting myself back in the race and working my way to the next title contention."

Training alongside Adesanya, day in and day out, has given Kara-France the ultimate insight into how someone might approach a rematch with an opponent to whom they had suffered multiple defeats.

Adesanya's twin losses to Pereira in kickboxing and then the Brazilian's dramatic TKO victory at UFC 281 left City Kickboxing's biggest star with an 0-3 record as they entered their title rematch at UFC 287. But 4 minutes and 21 seconds into Round 2 of their fourth meeting, Adesanya at last earned the victory he craved.

Adesanya's mindset, in particular, left a lasting impression on the Kara-France.

"Just seeing the hard work that goes behind it, you never lose sight of beating this guy, beating the guy who's your arch nemesis or your boogeyman, the villain in your story, you just hold yourself accountable," Kara-France said of Adesanya's challenge. "So I take a lot of inspiration about the way he carries himself, the way that Izzy never quit on himself. And that's what we do at City Kickboxing. We fight the best guys. We've never been a gym to pad our records and pick our fights. We're just here to fight.

"And I think that's what people love about our gym and respect, because we never shy away from a challenge."

While Kara-France was due to face Alex Perez in Perth, it is Albazi, undefeated in four fights in the UFC, who will be standing across the Octagon in Las Vegas this weekend.

The Iraqi has two submission wins, a KO (punches) and a unanimous decision on his UFC résumé, suggesting he is a well-rounded fighter with only one blemish on his 17-fight professional career.

"He's tough, he's durable, he's got momentum, but I've fought these guys before," Kara-France said of his opponent. "I've fought these guys and never lost. I've fought these grapplers, these specialists that think they can just get their way. If they could, they would have, and they never have.

"I welcome the challenge, I welcome everything that Amir brings to the table and when I go in there and beat him, I get all that hype and put myself back where I want to be. So it's going to be a great fight, a great showcase for the flyweights, but it's going to be a bad night for Amir."

Victory over Albazi might put Kara-France in line for the next title shot. With Moreno set to defend the flyweight strap against Alexandre Pantoja at UFC 290 in July, Kara-France will not have to wait too long to see what turn his journey takes -- that is, of course, if it all goes to plan Saturday.

"It's the fight that's open, I've just got to go out there and make a statement," Kara-France said. "I'm not going to think too far ahead and look past Amir. I have to respect him and respect the sport, and that's what I'm focused on. I'm not too worried on who's the champ and who's got a fight, I'm focused on who's in front of me.

"It is a great place for the flyweight division [to be in], and this is a great spot for me in a headline nontitle fight. It's nice that the UFC trusts me to deliver exciting fights. They know what I bring to the table, so to be able to do that for our division and coming off a world title, it just shows that I'm right there.

"So more eyes on me, more attention, we make a statement and we'll be there."

And if a statement win should see him cross paths with Moreno a third time, why does he think the Mexican can be beaten?

"He's human, he's got two arms, two legs, just like me. And that's what is awesome about sport. You get to compete, go out there and do it again," Kara-France said.

"So it's a fight that we'll run back one day, and that's what I look for. I look for the challenge, I look for him to make me better and then we just go out there and do it again."