Kai Kara-France is on the verge of becoming New Zealand’s second UFC champion as he lines up Brandon Moreno at UFC277 – proving he’s come a very long way since he was bullied as a kid at a Kiwi school with some very famous alumni.
The dimuntive Kiwi has seen a rapid ascent in the flyweight division, recently knocking off the deadly Russian Askar Askarov in a dominant display in March.
Champion Deiveson Figueiredo called out Kara-France and said he deserved the next shot at his title after three fights against Moreno – but an injury means the 29-year-old will fight the Mexican on Sunday for the interim title.
Kara-France believes he will bring back a third title to Auckland gym City Kickboxing, which boasts Lightweight Champion Israel Adesanya and Featherweight king Alex Volkanovski.
‘I believe I’ve been the champ for the last three years. That’s what I’ve learned from Izzy and Alex,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘You don’t get things given to you, we don’t take this for granted.’
Kiwi UFC star Kai Kara France (pictured) is a proud Maori man – and is looking to become the latest in an impressive line of UFC champions from Australia and New Zealand
Kara-France, a proud Kiwi with Maori heritage who regularly performs hakas at weigh ins and prior to his fights, admitted he turned to the world of MMA after being bullied at high school due to his height.
He began fighting at 10 after being taken to a class with his friend’s dad. He immediately connected with the other people at the gym, drawn in by the sense of community.
‘It was the personal growth I loved about martial arts. It was something team sports just didn’t have,’ he said.
Kara-France, attended Auckland’s heralded Mount Albert Grammar – which boasts Sonny Bill Williams among its esteemed alums.
‘I was bullied a lot. I didn’t want to go to school, so my parents got me into martial arts. I’d never have thought that shy kid in high school would become this,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘It’s crazy how things turn out.’
The 29-year-old is looking to join City Kickboxing teammates Israel Adesanya (center) and Alex Volkanovski (left) as the latest champion from the region
The 29-year-old, who welcomed his first child with his wife Char during the pandemic, said he was at a local sandwich chain in Auckland when a person came up to him claiming to have gone to the same school.
‘He was walking past and he came up to me and said we went to high school together. He’s a bit bigger now, he’s a tradie, and said he’s been following my journey,’ the flyweight told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I said: “Bro, I should give you a hiding right now”.’
City Kickboxing teammate Dan Hooker also attended the Mount Albert – but Kara-France says the school refuses to acknowledge their achievements.
‘I guess they think we’re just thugs who fight on the street,’ Kara-France said.
‘I don’t waste my time thinking too much about it, but if they ever want me to come back and speak, the price just went up.’
He joined Adesanya in slamming the New Zealand Government’s treatment of fighters, particularly through Covid where special travel exemptions were granted for the All Blacks, but not for them.
‘We were the only sport held through the pandemic, we helped a lot of people get away from the reality of lockdowns,’ he said.
Adesanya has said he will never fight in New Zealand again as a result.
Kara-France (pictured with his wife Char and their new child) recently had a run-in with a bully who terrorised him during school
On the verge of becoming the region’s latest champion, Kara-France said he’s now motivated by ‘legacy’ and said he will attempt to bring a unified title fight against Figueiredo to Australia.
‘I’m not overwhelmed by this I expected it. I’m ready to be the next face of this division,’ he declared.
‘I’m teammates of world champs, I’ve seen what they have to do. It’s like déjà vu, it’s destiny.’
Kai Kara-France will fight Brandon Moreno at UFC277 live from American Airlines Center from midday Sunday (AEST).