Cody Garbrandt v Kai Kara-France: UFC 269 fight is flyweight debut for former bantamweight champion

By Manvir RaiBBC Sport
Cody Garbrandt laughs and applauds
Former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt is looking for a fresh start at flyweight

There's something different about Cody Garbrandt.

The former bantamweight champion is about to embark on a new chapter in his career, as he makes his flyweight debut this Saturday at UFC 269.

But Garbrandt's drop in weight isn't the only thing that has changed. So often a man ruled by his emotions, he now appears calm, composed and calculated. From his iconic feud with TJ Dillashaw to igniting a brawl with Conor McGregor on the Ultimate Fighter, Garbrandt can quickly lose his cool.

But speaking over Zoom, it was noticeable how confident he was. Garbrandt bristled at the idea he was 'one of the biggest stars in the division'. "The biggest," was his blunt response. Looking forward to his fight with Kai Kara-France, it's clear Garbrandt has one objective - to rule the flyweight division.

He told BBC Sport: "I feel great. I feel like this is the most armoured up I have ever been going into a fight. It's been a while since I've been inspired to fight.

"This is a huge fight in my career. It's an opportunity that I worked hard for. It's my division to take over."

The American is widely considered as one of the biggest names in MMA because of his exciting fighting style and sensational start to his career.

He is also covered in tattoos.

"My love for ink came from my uncle who was incarcerated and he was a tattoo artist before his conviction," said Garbrandt.

"He would send my grandmother all his drawings and my grandmother would have them on the refrigerator.

"My family are heavily tattooed. My grandfather always had ink on his arm and so did his son. I just fell in love with the artwork."

Garbrandt, 30, became the bantamweight champion in just his 11th professional fight, comfortably dethroning then bantamweight king Dominick Cruz in December 2016.

Following this win, UFC President Dana White said The Dan Le Batard Show: "He's a very marketable guy. I think Cody 'No Love' could be the next big star."

Then things changed.

An intense rivalry with Dillashaw saw Garbrandt suffer back-to-back losses, which was followed by a shocking knockout defeat by Pedro Munhoz.

After three consecutive defeats, Garbrandt needed a win and he bounced back in magnificent fashion when he beat Raphael Assuncao in what many consider as 2020's knockout of the year.

However, this win was followed by another setback as he lost to Rob Font in May, which led to the decision to change from bantamweight (135lbs) to flyweight (125lbs).

Garbrandt continued: "We all mistakes as we go through life but you have to learn from those mistakes.

"I've had to learn the hard way but it's all about timing and this is my time. I set out to do this a while ago [move to flyweight]. This is a seed that has been planted for over a year.

"It's a new camp and a new opponent. With fighting, every fight is different. Every fight is a fresh start."

Standing in his way at UFC 269 is New Zealand's Kara-France, who has been outspoken about Garbrandt's decision to drop a weight class suggesting it is a big mistake.

Garbrandt is unfazed about his opponent's comments and claimed: "The only reason I'm fighting Kai-Kara France is because he begged me to fight. He was one of them in my DMs asking for a fight.

"This is the highest profile fight he's ever been in. He will find out he's not going to like the situation he's put himself in. I'm going to knock Kai-Kara France out."

There have only been seven fighters in UFC history to be two weight-world champions. The list includes Conor McGregor, Georges St Pierre and Amanda Nunes.

However, a win over Kara-France could see Garbrandt elevated as the number one contender for the flyweight title, where he will then look to join that elite list.

"This is a new weight class and I'm excited to be here," he said. "He's going to dance to my dance and I will chose when to end it, whether it's submission or knockout, in whatever round I want.

"I'm going to go out there and enjoy myself. I'm inspired and I want to inspire people."