After four training sessions and coaching two classes, mixed martial artist Kai Kara-France sat on the mats at Auckland's City Kickboxing on Thursday night with members of the gym.

He was told some gym-mates fighting in Australia this weekend had sent a video message to thank everyone for their support.

The screen went on and UFC boss Dana White appeared instead.

"What's up, Kai? Dana White here. Congratulations — you're in the UFC, brother."


Amid a chorus of cheers from his gym-mates, Kara-France sat stunned by the announcement for a moment before getting up to hug coach Eugene Bareman and fellow UFC fighter Israel Adesanya.

After years of hard work, Kara-France's dream of earning a spot with the world's top mixed martial arts promotion had come true.

"Eugene sold it to me," Kara-France told the Herald of the viewing party.

"Nothing was out of the ordinary, so when Dana White said my name, I didn't really register it.

"Then when he said 'welcome to the UFC', it wasn't until I stood up and hugged Eugene and Israel that it kind of kicked in. That's when the tears started to come down."

Bareman got the call from the UFC last week when he was in the corner at a UFC fight night in Idaho for Australian Alex Volkanovski, who also trains at City Kickboxing.

Bareman arranged for White to send him the video, which he could then show to Kara-France on his return to New Zealand this week.

"It was pretty sneaky," Kara-France said.


Kara-France could make his debut close to home, with the UFC announcing an event in Adelaide scheduled for December 2.

The 25-year-old flyweight made his professional debut in 2010 and has built up plenty of experience fighting in Asia and Australia.

Picking up the nickname 'Don't Blink' because of his knockout power, Kara-France holds a 17-7-0 professional record.

With his contract expected to arrive in the next week, Kara-France is the fifth New Zealand-based MMA fighter on the UFC roster.

He joins Hamilton's Luke Jumeau and City Kickboxing team-mates Adesanya, Dan Hooker and Shane Young.

As well as Volkanovski, Adesanya, Hooker and Young all fought in the octagon in recent weeks — and all four of them won, with Adesanya and Young also earning $50,000 bonuses for their performances.

"It's a movement right now," Kara-France said. "City Kickboxing, what we've done and what we're doing, that doesn't happen a lot.

"And to represent New Zealand in the pinnacle of the sport, it's amazing to be a part of that.

"I'm on a five-fight win streak right now and with the momentum of the gym, it was hard not to sign me. I'm just thankful to be in this position."

Kara-France got a taste of the UFC in 2016, competing in season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he was beaten in the quarter-finals by Brazil's Alexandre Pantoja by unanimous decision.

Pantoja went on to make his UFC debut in 2017 and is now the eighth-ranked flyweight, while Kara-France continued toiling away until his next shot in the UFC arrived.

"A lot of people in my position, they would have given up. They would have chosen a different route in the fight game, gone to different promotions or settled for something else, but I always had that hope of making my UFC debut and getting on that big show.

"It's something I've always thought I should have been a part of and now I'm here, I'm definitely not going to take it for granted. I'm more than ready to showcase what I've got."