Kai Kara-France. Credits: Image – Getty Images, video – Newshub
‘Don’t Blink’ is back.
The Kiwi flyweight phenom will return to the Octagon to face Alex Perez at UFC 284 in Perth on February 12, when the promotion makes its long-awaited return ‘down under’.
The fight will be No.3-ranked Kara-France’s first since his gut-wrenching interim title defeat against Brandon Moreno in July, when he fell to a third-round technical knockout at UFC 277 in July.
Perez – an American of Mexican heritage – will be looking to snap a two-fight skid, having fallen to champion Deiveson Figueiredo in a title shot and, most recently, Alexandre Pantoja via submission.
The pair had originally been scheduled to square off in May 2020, before the pandemic struck and the event was wiped from the schedule.
Sitting at No.5 in the official rankings, Perez, 30, offers the Aucklander an opportunity to rebound straight back into title contention and wash the bitter taste of that Moreno defeat from his mouth.
The City Kickboxing product rode an electrifying streak of three straight finishes into that bout, and he’s desperate to recapture that momentum at RAC Arena and kick off his 2023 campaign in trademark show-stopping style.
"In this division right now, a lot of people are booked. A lot of people are waiting and they wanted to put on a fight that makes sense," Kara-France told Newshub.
"I’ve had a lot of people calling me out that are lower rank than me and you know, they’ve got to earn that. 
"I know Alex is close enough. We fought on the last card together, and it’s a fight that I had booked pre-COVID. 
"Now we get to do it in front of friends and family closer to home, and I’m excited for that."
The event will be the first held in Australasia since Dan Hooker fought Paul Felder in the marquee bout of the UFC Fight Night at Auckland in February 2020 – when Kara-France earned a unanimous decision win over Tyson Nam.
The card features a wealth of Australian fighters, headlined by pound-for pound king Alexander Volkanovski’s attempt to become a dual division champion in a light heavyweight championship clash with newly crowned Islam Makhachev.
Kiwi-born Aussie and former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker fights Paulo Costa in the co-main event, while Justin Tafa, Jimmy Crute and City Kickboxing regular Tyson Pedro also feature.
With several fights yet to be announced, there are likely to be some more New Zealanders in action. Hooker demanded to be part of the action after his comprehensive win over Claudio Puelles in New York City earlier this month. Carlos Ulberg may also be in line to back-up his first round KO at Madison Square Garden, while Blood Diamond is on schedule to book a new opponent.
Kara-France said he took plenty away from his first championship bid against Moreno, when he overcame a slow start to capture the momentum in the third round, only to be caught by a debilitating kick to the liver as the round drew to a close.
Despite not having his hand raised, the 29-year-old insisted he left the bout hugely encouraged regarding his standing among the division’s elite.
"That was a tough one because we were winning the fight," he recalled. "We had the momentum and it was shifting towards my favour. 
"It kind of just showed me that I’m right there. I was winning and we had the right game plan. 
"But I left it in the ring. I didn’t take it with me, I’m not holding onto anything. 
"But there are a lot of things that I can work on that I took from that and just having that ring time under all the pressure, all the people watching. Now I get to do it in front of my family and friends that have missed us fighting on the side of the world.
"I know I’ve got another run at this title shot that I need to start doing, and that starts with Alex Perez."
That night at Dallas he drew the ire of a fiercely parochial crowd in Mexican hero Moreno’s favour, but he knows the opposite will be true when he takes the stage in Western Australia. 
"What I also learnt from that last outing was the more pressure on you when you’re in these hostile places, when you know you got 30,000 people going for the other guy, knowing that whatever happens, we can turn up and we can just block it out. 
"So now I’ll be able to do the opposite and fight in front of everyone that will be going for me. It’s pressure but it’s a good pressure – pressure to help you to to help you help you push on and you get a finish in front of them. 
"I’ve missed that. We haven’t had it in three years fighting on home soil or closer to home. 
"I’m not going to dwell on that loss. I get to go in there and I guess make another case of one of the best in the world."
Both Kara-France and Perez will be out to position themselves near the front of the queue for the first crack at whoever emerges with the belt between Figueiredo and Moreno, who will meet for a fourth time at January’s UFC 283 on the champion’s home turf in Brazil.
"He’s an aggressive fighter who comes forward. Slick on the ground, got good wrestling and he’s been in there with the best guys," Kara-France said of his opponent. 
"I’ve got to just stay composed, find the right targets, find the right shots, and I guess mix it up, trust my intuition and back myself. When I find the shot, I’ve really got to go for it and just leave nothing in there. Just, just go out there and do what I love.
"I want to put on a show and what that means is I’ve got to take risks, I’ve got to be calculated.
"That means that I’ll be hunting for a highlight reel… definitely going for the knockout."

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