Kai Kara-France is ready for his close up.
Unbeaten in the UFC and with wins in his last eight fights, the young Kiwi flyweight knows a title shot lies in his path – and the No5 ranked Brandon Moreno is standing in his way.
The two will square off at UFC245 in Las Vegas on Sunday (NZ time); with Kara-France looking to announce himself to the American market in the best way possible.
While he's been fighting professionally for almost 10 years, the 26-year-old has never fought in the United States. Now, he gets that opportunity on the biggest UFC card of the year, fighting on a night that will include three title bouts.
"It's going to be an exciting fight and that's the reason we're on this card; every fight is a pinnacle fight in their divisions and it's no difference in ours – five versus six," Kara-France told the Herald.
"Get past Brandon and that will be nine in a row; it'll be hard to deny me a title shot."
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Kara-France only made his UFC debut in December last year, but has won three straight fights and has been a driving force in the resurgence of the flyweight division. He's caught the attention of the UFC in the process, who have embraced the young talent and looked to give him plenty of exposure. Two months ago, Kara-France sat cage side next to flyweight champion and mentor Henry Cejudo as one of the UFC's guest fighters in attendance at UFC243, where his City Kickboxing teammate Israel Adesanya win the middleweight title and fellow teammates Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell claim the biggest wins of their careers to date.
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"Having a front row seat next to the champ in my division, it kind of just put things in perspective for me that it's where I'm supposed to be, all this hard work I've been putting into the sport is finally making sense, I'm getting rewarded and it's all right in front of me," Kara-France said.
"(But) I'm not naive; I'm making sure I'm getting back and putting all the work in in the gym, staying grounded and with (coach) Eugene (Bareman) always on our case keeping us accountable, it's always good to have him setting the next goal, next step so you're never too complacent on what you've just done.
"Like Izzy, when he won the title – he had it out for two weeks then put it away. He's just as hungry as ever. That's the mentality that rubs off on the rest of us – we're all striving to be better, striving to climb the rankings and one day be the champion. It's a great place to be, you thrive in this environment and you can see that in the results."
In Moreno, Kara-France faces the toughest test of his career. Housemates during their time on the Ultimate Fighter reality TV show in 2016, the two now sit at No5 and 6 in the flyweight rankings and are within touching distance of a title shot.
Speaking about the match up, City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman said it was exactly the challenge Kara-France needed before reaching the very top echelon of the sport.
"I think he's someone who can give Kai a test; someone who Kai has to watch in all facets – he can swing in the open and catch Kai, but he can also be dangerous on the ground – if Kai takes him down he can be dangerous from the bottom, but he can also be dangerous from the top and could take Kai down," Bareman explained.
"All of those are real distinct possibilities when it comes to this opponent because he's had fights that cover all of those bases. So in terms of preparing Kai for the top echelon of the division, this is the perfect opponent for us. This will answer a lot of questions and it will introduce Kai to the American market, and I think he will do well in the American market; I think he will appeal to quite abroad audience over there that will enjoy his personality."