Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff WriterJun 4, 2023, 12:54 AM ET
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS — Iraq’s Amir Albazi picked up a massive win in the UFC’s flyweight division, as he narrowly edged former title challenger Kai Kara-France via split decision at UFC Fight Night on Saturday.
Albazi (17-1) defeated Kara-France (24-11) over the course of five competitive rounds inside the UFC’s Apex facility in Las Vegas. Two judges scored the bout for Albazi 48-47, while a third saw it 48-47 for Kara-France. It’s the biggest win of Albazi’s UFC career. He was ranked No. 7 going into the 125-pound bout, while Kara-France was ranked No. 3.
Immediately after results were read, Albazi called for the winner of a flyweight title fight between champion Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja on July 8.
“There is no name,” Albazi said on what he wants next. “The only thing I want is to get the title. That’s all that matters. [UFC 294 in] Abu Dhabi on Oct. 21. I know they’re going to Abu Dhabi. Whoever wins that [title fight on July 8], I want to be next.”
Originally from Iraq now fighting out of Las Vegas, Albazi improved to 5-0 since debuting with the UFC in 2020. He is known for his finishing ability on the ground, but Kara-France did very well against the takedown, defending eight of nine takedown attempts according to UFC Stats.
In addition to defending the takedown, Kara-France, of New Zealand, outlanded Albazi in total strikes 122 to 65, although Albazi was more efficient with his output. Neither flyweight ever hurt the other, but Albazi landed at a higher percentage and when he did convert a takedown in the third round, he accumulated some control time in top position.
It was a very close fight that could have gone either way. Albazi winning is a massive boost to his title aspirations. Kara-France won three in a row between 2021 and 2022 before coming up short to Moreno in an interim title fight last July. That was Kara-France’s last appearance prior to Saturday. This is the first time he has suffered consecutive losses since 2015.
“I know it was a close fight,” Albazi said. “It’s not how I planned the fight to go. It is what it is. I showed my guts and what I can bring to the table. I can stand with these guys no problem.”
Albazi, 29, has recorded finishes in three of his five wins in the UFC. Moreno (21-6-2) will be seeking his first title defense against Pantoja at UFC 290 next month in Las Vegas. He won the undisputed championship by defeating Deveison Figueiredo at UFC 283 in January.