'I've got another title run left in me': Fire still burns for Kara-France ahead of UFC 284

Moreno, Kara-France put on a show at UFC 277 (0:25)

Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France hold nothing back as they go at each other in their UFC 277 bout. (0:25)

New Zealand's Kai Kara-France is adamant he has another run to the UFC flyweight title left in him, a process he will start against Alex Perez with the duo to face off at UFC 284 in Perth on Feb. 12.

Kara-France has wasted little time dwelling on the "what ifs" following his third-round TKO loss to Brandon Moreno in July, a defeat that halted the City Kickboxing [CKB] star's three-win streak and, for the time being at least, his pursuit of the flyweight title.

"It's one of those tough pills to swallow, because we were winning the fight," Kara-France told ESPN. "I take a lot of positives away from it because knowing that we were right there with one of the best guys [in the division], the game plan was working and we had him hurt. It's just one of those things, I want to get back in there and do it all again.

"Moreno did well to capitalise on landing a kick to the liver, after I cut him he was more urgent and aggressive, and then he found that right shot. But we took a lot away from it, as well as just the experience of fighting for [an interim] world title, more pressure on you, fighting in front of 30,000 people where they're all going against you. It just all adds to the story and it's just good experience that I can take on board and prepare for the next time.

"I've got another title run left in me, I've got a few more years of fighting in this body. And now I get to take that first step February 12 after coming off a loss and it's a great matchup in front of me."

Asked to describe what Moreno's kick to the liver felt like, Kara-France said it was as if he had been "paralysed."

"I couldn't breathe for about two minutes, your body shuts down; mentally in my head I'm saying 'you're sweet, you're sweet', but my body, I didn't have control of it," he explained. "So when he was on top of me I was just guarding my body and then 30 seconds after the ref stopped it I was still gasping for air. Then you come right and think 'I can keep fighting' but obviously the ref has already stopped the fight.

"If you looked at us both after the fight, one guy's cut up and bruised [Moreno], and the other guy has just been winded. But that's the fight game we play, it's a game of inches, and I live to fight another day. But like I said, there was a lot of experience to take from that fight and we move onto the next."

Such is the machine that is CKB, Kara-France couldn't have had the opportunity to sulk even if he'd wanted to. With eight fighters in the UFC and many more preparing for fights in other promotions across a variety of combat disciplines, attention quickly turns to helping your teammates prepare.

And events don't come much bigger than UFC 281 in New York City, which saw four CKB fighters in action, including the much-anticipated showdown between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira, which the Brazilian won via a stunning final-round TKO.

"It's a revolving machine that doesn't stop, we just got back from New York last week and supporting the boys on that card," Kara-France told ESPN. "The boys going for two wins out of the four, but it was just inspiring being in the fight mecca of the sport in Madison Square Garden, so many historic fights have happened there.

"I just took in that moment of gratitude and thought 'wow, four guys from our team are fighting here,' we had the key to the city. So I'm really fired up after coming home from that trip, and I can't wait to get into work over the Christmas period and then put on a show for all the friends and family on this side of the world because I know they've missed it."

Barely any tickets remain for the UFC's return Down Under, with the 284 card boasting a lineup befitting the promotion's first event in Australia since October 2019.

Kara-France says a hugely parochial crowd will be on hand at RAC Arena to cheer on the Australian and New Zealand fighters, while those travelling from overseas and can have a taste of some of the challenges that athletes from his part of the world have had to deal with the past few years.

"We're going to put on a show for everyone who's missed it; we haven't had shows [Down Under] because of COVID," Kara-France told ESPN. "Now it's come full circle, they're excited and ready to support us going into battle, and to give all these other fighters a taste of what we've had to do; travelling halfway across the world, get used to the time difference, all these things that play a factor.

"So they can do that this time and we don't have to deal with it."

Knowing a win can thrust him back into title contention, Kara-France says having to train over the Christmas period won't be a distraction - the Kiwi determined to restart his pursuit of the flyweight title against a fighter he was originally slated to meet three years ago.

"He's got similar experience, he's got 24 wins on his record, he's fought for the title and he's a father, so there are a lot of things that matched up well when the UFC said we want you on this card but we want to make a matchup that makes sense," Kara-France said of Perez. "He's a guy that's right there [in the rankings] as well, so I'm not going to be taking this fight lightly.

"Stylistically he's a good wrestler, he's got good jiu-jitsu and he's got an aggressive style in his stand-up. I like that challenge and his style presents well for me. I like to be a counter fighter, I like it when they come forward on me because I can try and catch them.

"I don't watch too much fight footage, I leave that to my coaches, but I will be putting everything into it for the next 10 weeks over the Christmas break. We won't really be stopping at all, that's the kind of sacrifice you make when you're fighting in January or early Feb. But you can have a holiday after and that's the plan.

"Go get a highlight reel victory in front of my friends and family, and then go for a holiday afterwards."