After solidifying his place in the UFC flyweight title picture in March, Kai Kara-France expected he would be sitting out for the next few months.
All conversations regarding the title indicated the promotion would be booking a fourth-straight fight between champion Deiveson Figueiredo and former champion Brandon Moreno – who have a 1-1-1 record in three fights again one another.
Kara-France had just claimed a unanimous decision win over previously undefeated Askar Askarov – then ranked No 2 in the division – earning his place as the next man up after that situation played out and expecting to have to wait until then.
The 29-year-old was wrong – and happy about it.
With Figueiredo nursing an injury and out of action until later in the year, Kara-France will meet Moreno in the co-main event at UFC 277 in Dallas on July 31 for the interim title.
"It's the best news to just keep this ball rolling," Kara-France said.
"I don't want to wait and sit on the shelf for things to happen. I want to go out there and showcase why I'm the best in the world. Having that momentum now, not waiting too long between fights and just getting straight back in there.
"Mick [Maynard], the matchmaker, pretty much said to me after my last fight 'you're the next guy' - so it all depended on if that fourth fight was going ahead."
The title bout will be the second meeting in the UFC between Kara-France and Moreno. The pair fought at UFC 245 in December 2019, where Moreno claimed a unanimous decision win.
It was an entertaining bout in which Kara-France got the better of the early stages, but Moreno was able to storm back and win the second and third rounds. The pair were also teammates on the reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter back in 2016.
Reflecting on their first meeting, Kara-France said he can identify several areas of improvement in his game, but self-belief has arguably been the biggest area in which he has lifted his performance.
"When things weren't working out, it's not doubting it - just back yourself and you'll find a way. I think that's what my last three fights have shown; when things aren't working out, I'm finding a way to make it work and stay in it. That's something I've worked on and you've seen it in the cage," Kara-France said.
"There are definitely a lot of things we can work on and take from that fight, but it's just confidence. Knowing that he went on to win the title and now we're scheduled to fight again for the title just shows I'm in the right place. I can't wait to get in there and mix it up. I know he's just going to do what I do – swing."
Kara-France's is the third UFC title fight the team at Auckland's City Kickboxing gym are preparing for in July, with Israel Adesanya (middleweight) and Alexander Volkanovski (featherweight) putting their belts on the line at UFC 276 on July 3.
Volkanovski is based out of Freestyle MMA in Wollongong, Australia, which has become a sister gym to the Auckland group. Volkanovski spends time training in both buildings during his fight camps.
This week, he and head coach Joe Lopez touched down in Auckland to get some work in, and Kara-France said there was an atmosphere in the gym right now that was hard to replicate – with several other fighters, both UFC and local, also preparing for upcoming fights.
"I'm training with world champions, so you know where the standard needs to be. Everyone's lifting to that level and feeding off each other.
"This is going to be one of the fights of the year. I can see Brandon pointing down, me obliging, and we're both swinging. May the better man win. I just want it so much more. I know I'm the best in the world; I know that wherever this fight goes, I'll be more than ready.
"I look forward to the challenge, getting in there and bringing that third world title back to City Kickboxing."