Kai Kara-France is making a business decision.
When the 28-year-old UFC flyweight contender sets out for the biggest bout of his career in Las Vegas in December with his wife, Chardae, and son, Cobi, he will do so with no idea of when he might return.
Like many athletes, Kara-France has had his plans for 2022 scuppered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and with such a short lifespan in his chosen career, he is among those who now find themselves needing to be overseas in order to cash in while they can.
"Every New Zealand athlete has to make a decision at the moment," Kara-France said. "I've tried to get an MIQ spot maybe four times now over the last few weeks and I'm going backwards. I started at about 12,000 in the queue, but was around 20,000 most recently, so that's not looking any good."
Kara-France will take on former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt on the main card at UFC 269 on December 12 (NZ time) in a bout that shapes up as a title eliminator in the flyweight division. He is one of several fighters out of Auckland's City Kickboxing gym to be booked toward the back end of the year. Dan Hooker will fight Islam Makhachev in a blockbuster lightweight clash on October 31, while fellow lightweight Brad Riddell will meet fellow striker and former training partner Rafael Fiziev on December 5. All three of the fighters have not got MIQ vouchers, and their families will be joining them in Las Vegas where they will be based for the foreseeable future.
It's the start of a potential expansion into the United States for City Kickboxing, as several of their professional athletes are committed to living in the US to ensure they are able to compete. While the complete details of the move are yet to be ironed out, Kara-France said "New Zealand is always going to be home" but the move was what was best for the fighters right now.
"It's not set in stone, what's actually happening. All I know is once I fly over to America, I won't be coming back – because I can't. So, I'm making sure I'm doing everything, tying up loose ends here in New Zealand before I do head over – having to sell my truck, stuff like that – just making sure once I do make the move I'm set, then when it is time to come home it will all work out.
"It is bittersweet. I don't want to leave our families, and having my son, who is 8 months old, grow up with his cousins. I want to keep them close with everyone and I want to keep that relationship really tight. But they understand it's all for the best and they don't want me to be away from my wife and my son, so it's all for the best. However long it has to be, we'll just make it work."
Booking a bout against Garbrandt is a big step in Kara-France's career and he looks to continue his surge to a title shot. While many have criticised the flyweight (57kg) division in the past and there were suggestions the UFC might get rid of it all together at one point, Kara-France has been among the athletes leading the charge for the division and showing just how exciting the lighter weight class can be. Kara-France has been awarded a Fight of the Night bonus twice and a Performance of the Night bonus for his most recent win - a first-round knockout over Brazil's Rogerio Bontorin.
For Kara-France, currently ranked at No6 in the division, the booking also offers him the opportunity to square off against someone who grew up watching for the first time in his career.
"I remember my first ever UFC event was watching Cody Garbrandt headline against Thomas Almeida. I was over there in Vegas for the Ultimate Fighter try-outs back in 2016 and he was the headliner for a fight night. So, it's pretty cool how things turn out."
This booking is one that should have fans of the sport watering at the mouth; two fighters who do their best work in the striking department, who like to come forward and see what their opponent is made of.
Having spent his entire career fighting at bantamweight and enjoying a speed advantage there, Garbrandt will make the cut to flyweight – 4.5kg lighter – for the first time in his career, which poses plenty of questions ahead of the bout.
"Stylistically, we're a great match up. I come forward, I like to swing, I like to kickbox and I've got great cardio. He's always had the speed advantage at bantamweight but now coming down to flyweight, he won't have that because we're all fast. We all have great cardio; that's just a given at the flyweight division. If people are underestimating me, don't put money on Cody because you're going to lose it. It's going to be a tough night and it's going to be a great card."
T-Mobile Arena. Las Vegas, USA. December 12 (NZT)
Main card (Pay-per-view)
Main event: Charles Oliveira ( c) v Dustin Poirier for the lightweight title
Co-main event: Amanda Nunes ( c) v Julianna Pena for the women's featherweight title
Welterweight: Leon Edwards v Jorge Masvidal
Flyweight: Kai Kara-France v Cody Garbrandt
Bantamweight: Raulian Paiva v Sean O'Malley
Welterweight: Geoff Neal v Santiago Ponzinibbio
Bantamweight: Pedro Munhoz v Dominick Cruz
Middleweight: Andre Muniz v Dricus Du Plessis
Flyweight: Maycee Barber v Erin Blanchfield
Flyweight: Alex Perez v Matt Schnell
Featherweight: Ryan Hall v Darrick Minner
Strawweight: Gillian Robertson v Priscila Cachoeira
Bantamweight: Randy Costa v Tony Kelley
*One fight still to be added.