On the biggest stage of his career, Kai Kara-France let the world know his name.
Matched up against Brandon Moreno at UFC245 in Las Vegas earlier in the month, the Kiwi UFC flyweight went back and forth against his Mexican counterpart in a fight of the night contender in his first bout on American soil.
Going to the judges' scorecards, Kara-France knew he got the better of the first round, lost the second, and the third round could have gone either way. Then he heard the first judge scored the fight 30-27 in Moreno's favour, and ultimately went on to lose the bout by unanimous decision – with the two other scorecards reading 29-28 to Moreno.
He won't have to wait long to turn his fortunes around, however, with the UFC's No 8 ranked flyweight set to get straight back into his work.
The Herald can confirm Kara-France will meet Hawaiian Tyson Nam at UFC Fight Night Auckland on February 23, joining City Kickboxing teammates Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell on the card. It's one of three fights to be added to the card, with a women's flyweight bout between Rachael Ostovich-Berdon and Shana Dobson and a welterweight clash between Callan Potter and Kenan Song also confirmed.
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Kara-France said the bout against Nam was the ideal way to bounce back from his hard-fought loss in Las Vegas.
"The judges were a bit harsh that night – I definitely won round one, for sure, and one gave it to him so right from the start they weren't going to give it to me," he said
"It's just one of those things, when you fight in America you can't just leave it to the judges because they'll screw you over. It's nice to be fighting in my hometown next where hopefully that doesn't happen – but I'm not looking to go to the judges for this fight, I want to put it on for my country and do it in dominant fashion.
"Fighting in Vegas reassured me that I'm where I'm supposed to be. Fighting on such a big card with so many big names, and to have a standout fight on such a big platform just kind of reiterated that I'm doing all the right things and I'm supposed to be here. We can use that momentum to take into this fight."
The 26-year-old will get back into his work soon after the festive season, taking time off to spend time with family in the Hawke's Bay.
It's an important part of the journey, Kara-France said.
"It definitely recharges you and puts things in perspective of why you do the sport and who is behind you and in your corner. It's a nice thing to do while I can; I'll see my mum and I'll go visit my friend that passed away, Pat O'Brien, during my last fight camp. I couldn't go to his funeral so now I'm in the area I'll pay my respects to him and see my cousins that are good close friends with him as well. It was meant for me to come home just to reset, refuel and start getting ready for Auckland, which has always been my dream."
In Nam, Kara-France faces a durable opponent. The 36-year-old Hawaiian made his UFC debut in September in a unanimous decision loss to Sergio Pettis.
Despite being ranked in the division's top 10, Kara-France said he had no issues welcoming an unranked opponent to Auckland.
"I told the UFC I just need to be on this card. Looking at the roster right now, pretty much everyone has a fight so it was pretty hard to get someone higher up. I'm just happy to have enough time to get an opponent and be on this card with my teammates Dan and Brad. Hopefully this could be on the main card, I think I deserve it.
"It's quite a fitting fight and I think the fans can get behind this one – two Polynesians throwing down in Aotearoa."
Confirmed bouts for UFC Auckland
Lightweight: Dan Hooker (NZ) v Paul Felder (five-round main event)
Strawweight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz v Yan Xiaonan
Flyweight: Kai Kara-France (NZ) v Tyson Nam
Light heavyweight: Tyson Pedro (Aus) v Vinicius Moreira
Lightweight: Brad Riddell (NZ) v Magomed Mustafaev
Welterweight: Jake Matthews (Aus) v Emil Meek
Light heavyweight: Jimmy Crute (Aus) v Michal Oleksiejczuk
Heavyweight: Ben Sosoli (NZ) v Marcos Rogério de Lima
Welterweight: Callan Potter (Aus) v Kenan Song
Flyweight: Rachael Ostovich-Berdon v Shana Dobson