Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Eight years ago to the day, Kai Kara-France fought in a very unique venue.
The Andaman Sea.
Competing on a cruise ship for a pirate-themed MMA event—incredibly, called Mixed Martial A’rr—Kara-France knocked out Dindo Camansa. The bout was Kara-France’s flyweight debut, and he held true to his “Don’t Blink” nickname, needing only 12 seconds to land the walkoff blow.
Only three weeks before, Kara-France needed just eight seconds to win a bout in Taiwan. This was an opportunity to win another fight, on international waters, enhanced by the lure of a casino on the ship as well as a trip back home.
“I was based in Thailand at that time, and I’d just fought in Taiwan,” says Kara-France. “The fights were at the ports when it was docked, so the ship wasn’t moving. Then we got to party on the boat and have a holiday.
“The cruise ship brought us from Malaysia to Thailand. I saw it as a chance to further my career. That was my focus—keep fighting, build momentum, and get to where I wanted to be. Even if that meant fighting on a pirate cruise ship, I never lost sight of my goal.”
Kara-France’s opponent at Mixed Martial A’rr was from the Philippines. He recalled quite a few people from the Philippines working on that cruise ship, leading to a running joke among Kara-France’s team that the entire crowd at the fight was against him.
“It basically turned into his hometown fight,” says Kara-France. “I remember even seeing people come out of the kitchen to watch him fight.”
The fight was over quickly, with Kara-France picking up a dominant win. Whether any fight fans got retribution on Kara-France is unknown, but he did laugh when mentioning that he was sick the day after the fight.
“I did get food poisoning the day after the fight,” says Kara-France. “It might have been from seasickness, I don’t know. But it was a cool trip and a memory I won’t forget.”
Long removed from fighting on pirate-themed cruises, Kara-France looks to return to the victory column this Saturday night. After an 11-month absence from the Octagon, he headlines the UFC on ESPN card against rising flyweight contender Amir Albazi.
“This is my chance to get back on track,” says Kara-France (24–10, 1 NC). “I’ve had time to reflect on what happened in my last fight, and time to work toward where we are now.”
Albazi (16–1) has ripped off five wins in a row, three of which by submission. He enters this bout a slight favorite, and a win will elevate him to the top of the title picture. Conversely, Kara-France is coming off a disheartening loss to UFC flyweight champ Brandon Moreno, who ended the bout with a devastating body kick to the liver.
“We have a winning culture at my gym, City Kickboxing,” says Kara-France. “No one lets me dwell on a loss at our gym. It’s a high-level caliber of fighters, and that’s a constant reminder that what we do works—you just need to stick with it and trust the process.
“I know I’m right there with the best guys. Now I’m working to run it back. I’ve come back from losses before, I know what I need to do, and that’s what I’ve done this camp. I’m looking forward to getting back in there and showing why I’m one of the best in the world.”
Kara-France has now lost twice to Moreno, so he will likely need more than just a victory Saturday to get another shot at the belt. Yet it is a necessary step he needs to climb back into the title picture. Up until his loss, Kara-France had impressive victories against Cody Garbrandt and Askar Askarov—and defeating Albazi would represent another significant win.
“I’ve heard people telling me he’s going to have his way, but I can go in there and prove why I belong,” says Kara-France. “Look what happened to Cody when he overlooked me. Look what happened to Askar when he overlooked me. I went in there and got it done, and I’m bringing that experience with me.”
‘The Ultimate Fighter’ delivers in first episode
Only one episode into The Ultimate Fighter, Roosevelt Roberts has already emerged as a favorite.
Competing on Michael Chandler’s “veterans” teams, Roberts defeated Conor McGregor–led “prospects” fighter Nate Jennerman. The bout lasted only eight seconds, with Roberts controlling every ounce of the action.
It is far from a certainty that Roberts will win The Ultimate Fighter, but he certainly makes an interesting candidate. Roberts had nine fights in the UFC from 2018 to ’21. He struggled in his past three bouts, losing to Jim Miller, Kevin Croom (which was overturned to a no-contest after Croom tested positive for marijuana), and Ignacio Bahamondes. After getting released by the UFC in the fall of ’21, Roberts (12–3, 1 NC) won his next two fights, and now starts The Ultimate Fighter on a positive note.
Roberts first earned a UFC contract from his performance on the Contender Series. Returning through a triumph on The Ultimate Fighter would be another remarkable stop in his journey.