The UFC returns to action at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas this weekend after taking last week off, and they return with an ESPN main card headlined by two dynamic flyweights. Former interim title challenger Kai Kara-France returns to action against rising star Amir Albazi.
Kara-France was on the wrong end of a “Fight of the Night” showdown when he lost to current champion Brandon Moreno in Jul. 2022. Albazi has been on a hot streak since signing with the UFC, putting together a four-fight winning streak in the promotion, improving his overall record to 16-1. His lone loss came in BRAVE CF when he lost a unanimous decision to UFC veteran Jose Torres in 2019. A win in his first main event with the UFC would be a major boost to his profile and could vault him up the rankings to potentially fight for the title in his next outing.
The co-main event comes in the featherweight division, as Alex Caceres squares off against Daniel Pineda. At 34 years old, Caceres is a long-tenured UFC veteran who made his organizational debut back at UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Davis all the way back in 2011. Now, 12 years later, he remains a relevant player at 145 pounds and is in the midst of one of his career’s best stretches. Caceres has won seven of his last 10 contests, and six of his last seven. He takes on Pineda, who is also entering this fight with momentum behind him, after beating Tucker Lutz the last time he stepped into the cage. Pineda is also a veteran, both inside and outside the UFC, as this is his second stint with the promotion after leaving to fight in several other organizations including Bellator, LFA, Fury FC and, most recently, the PFL.
UFC Fight Night: Kara-France vs. Albazi event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 6 p.m. ET. The main card also airs on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the event this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Kai Kara-France lost a “Fight of the Night” contest for the interim flyweight championship the last time he stepped in the cage; can he get back to his winning ways by defeating Amir Albazi?
Sumian: Kai Kara-France’s interim flyweight showdown with UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno was extremely competitive. He certainly had his moments, and one could argue he was perhaps winning prior to being knocked out by a vicious body kick. Unfortunately, he came up short, but this did not hurt his stock as a top-ranked flyweight in any shape or form. To get back on track, he will have to get past rising contender Amir Albazi, who is currently riding a five-fight winning streak as the seventh-ranked flyweight contender.
Kara-France is explosive, fun and downright entertaining. He is definitely one of the biggest names in the division and has proven time after time that he is must-watch flyweight action. The 30-year-old top contender is a known striker, given his background training at both Tiger Muay Thai and City Kickboxing. He is also one of the few flyweights who has close to one-punch knockout power and is capable of shutting off the lights of anyone who stands and trades with him. Kara-France has all the makings of a star and will likely find himself in the title picture yet again in the coming years. A win over Albazi will cement Kara-France as a top-three contender for years to come.
Albazi has certainly proven himself worthy of holding a top rank in the ever improving flyweight division. He has been nothing short of impressive in his UFC campaign thus far, but lacks the name-power on his resume to consider him a top-five flyweight at this point in time. Albazi is 16-1 as a professional and has shown he is capable of knocking out his opponents or submitting them inside the Octagon. For Albazi, a win over Kara-France will certainly move him into the top-five flyweight rankings and likely position him for a title-eliminator fight in the year or so.
Five rounds of flyweight action between these two competitors is going to be great, guaranteed. Both are exciting, explosive and capable of putting on a show when called upon. This will be back-and-forth in the beginning with both men finding success on the feet, and Albazi possibly holding some top position over the former interim title challenger. However, as this fight progresses, Kara-France will break away and start landing the quicker and more powerful strikes. He will take control in the fourth and fifth round and win a 48-47 decision over the surging Albazi. Albazi will show that he belongs, while Kara-France will show the world that he is still more than capable of winning a title in UFC flyweight division.
Petela: I’m really high on Amir Albazi as the future of the flyweight division. He has three finishes under the UFC banner and has yet to lose since joining the promotion. That doesn’t change this weekend. Not only will Albazi get the victory, he will finish Kai Kara-France inside of three rounds.
Kara-France is a very good fighter, bordering great. However, he is just a shade behind the best of the best fighters in the flyweight division, which is growing by leaps and bounds in terms of the talent level and depth of talent. He won’t go down as the best fighter never to win a UFC title, but he will be a small part of that conversation. Conversely, Albazi will one day wear UFC gold. He might very well be the next champion and could likely be the guy to dethrone current divisional king Brandon Moreno.
Kara-France and Albazi are less than a year apart in age, but their career trajectories will go in different directions after this fight. Albazi will continue to climb the rankings, as he gets better and better, whereas, in my opinion, Kara-France is as good as he will ever be in his career. He will still put on fun fights for several years, but “Don’t Blink” won’t challenge for a title again. The sky is the limit for Albazi, and he will use this main event spot as a launching pad towards title contention.
Alex Caceres and Daniel Pineda both enter this fight coming off of victories; which fighter keeps the momentum going?
Petela: Alex Caceres. His lone loss in his last seven fights is a decision loss to Sodiq Yusuff. Other than that, he has rattled off six victories and has two “Performance of the Night” bonuses to go along with those wins. That trend continues, and he not only picks up another victory, but another bonus check to go along with it.
Daniel Pineda is going to bring the heat. There is no doubt about that. He is going to look to get the fight to the mat and sink in his twentieth career submission win. His last victory over Tucker Lutz was impressive to say the least, Lutz is a talented prospect from the Baltimore region who is no slouch on the mat himself. However, Cacares won’t allow Pineda to get close enough to him to get the fight on the canvas. His swift footwork and unorthodox striking style will be the key to keeping the fight at kickboxing range throughout, until he lands one precise shot that ends the contest in an instant.
Sumian: I am going the other way on this one. Daniel Pineda is 37 years old, and he is 2-1-1 in his second UFC run. All of those fights have gone to finish, even when he was accidentally poked in the eye by Andre Fili. I think he will come in striking, and he will put away Alex Caceres before the final bell.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: Jinh Yu Frey is badly in need of a victory. She is 2-4 since joining the UFC and is currently on a two-fight losing streak. One more loss will likely send the Arkansas native packing and looking for a new home.
Petela: I know he is coming off a win, but it just seems like Tim Elliott’s time with the promotion is coming to a close. The flyweight division is in the midst of doing some turnover with new stars on the rise. Elliott is not that old, but at 36, he is certainly a bit long in the tooth for a smaller fighter. If he comes up short this weekend it wouldn’t surprise me to see the UFC cut ties with him.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: The opening bout of the night, a light heavyweight tilt between Maxim Grishin and Philipe Lins. Grishin has alternated wins and losses over his four fights in the UFC, and he hasn’t really found a firm footing in the light heavyweight division. That changes this weekend, as he will pick up a second straight victory and defeat Lins in a thriller that captures the audience right off the bat. Grishin will win by knockout late in the fight, and both men will go home with bonuses.
Sumian: Luan Lacerda vs. Da’Mon Blackshear. The bantamweight division is always exciting, both of these men are submission threats who can go the distance, and they combine for a 24-7-1 professional record. Expect this one to be exciting for as long as it lasts.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Andre Arlovski continues to defy father time and compete at a high level despite a lengthy, savage and illustrious career. He will take Don Tale Mayes down and earn a slick submission or TKO victory. It is amazing that he continues to compete and look fairly good despite his age and mileage.
Petela: Jamie Mullarkey. Win or lose, he’s always fun to watch, and I expect him to come away with a jaw-dropping victory over Guram Kutateladze to open the main card. A knockout in the first round will earn him an extra fifty-thousand dollars from Dana White and company.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Anytime Jim Miller is fighting, it calls for celebration, as he extends his lead for the most UFC bouts in the organization’s history. So celebrate with a decent bottle of champagne and enjoy another fun performance by Miller.
Sumian: I also agree that a bottle of champagne is due, but only because I will be celebrating my honeymoon during this one. So, cheers to a great fight night card this weekend.
Main Card (ESPN/ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Kai Kara-France vs. Amir Albazi
FW: Alex Caceres vs. Daniel Pineda
LW: Jim Miller vs. Jesse Butler
FlyW: Tim Elliott vs. Victor Altamirano
Women’s FlyW: Karine Silva vs. Ketlen Souza
LW: Guram Kutateladze vs. Jamie Mullarkey
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
WW: Elizeu Zaleski vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov
BW: John Castaneda vs. Muin Gafurov
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Don’Tale Mayes
BW: Daniel Santos vs. Johnny Munoz Jr.
StrawW: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Elise Reed
BW: Luan Lacerda vs. Da’Mon Blackshear
LHW: Maxim Grishin vs. Philipe Lins
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