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‘I should probably thank you’ - Kai Kara-France recounts meeting high school bully

Kara-France recently talked about encountering one of the people that bullied him in high school, and put him on the path to mixed martial arts success.

Kai Kara-France poses for photos after his victory over Askar Askarov at UFC Columbus.
Kai Kara-France poses for photos after his victory over Askar Askarov at UFC Columbus.
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Kai Kara-France has truly shed his ‘dark horse’ status to become a UFC title contender. The City Kickboxing flyweight first entered the Octagon back in 2018 as something of a highly experienced journeyman. A holdover from a seemingly doomed TUF season that came right as the UFC appeared to be abandoning the flyweight division altogether.

Fortunately for him, and despite a few bumps in the road along the way, the UFC reversed course on their plans to kill off his weight class—giving Kara-France the chance to put together a fantastic three fight run that should have him fighting for gold sometime in 2022.

In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour, the 29-year-old recalled the start of his long journey in martial arts. Notably a the bullying he went through in high school that pushed him toward a career in fighting.

“That’s the story of my life, though, Just being the underdog,” Kara France said, reflecting on his recent run of success. “If you follow my journey, people know that I started this sport because I used to get bullied. I used to be the smallest and vulnerable, shy kid in class that—I guess I was timid and people saw that as a target. So that at one point, I didn’t go back to high school, because I was getting beaten up every day. I was about 12-13, and that’s when I walked into a gym to get more, I guess, confidence in myself and to learn, obviously, some self defense. And I just stuck at it.

“It wasn’t for anyone else. I wasn’t in the gym to get attention or to, ‘Look at this guy, he’s a fighter now!’ I did it for myself, because the personal growth I was getting from it, that’s what I fell in love with.

“And eventually I just stuck at it,” he continued. “Had my first pro fight when I was 17. I only had two amateur fights, but there was no one else to fight. So it was just, like, either sink or swim. And I won by headkick knockout. And then the next day I had my exams in high school. So I was fighting grown men, but I was just a young boy. And then, yeah, just stuck at it, bro.

“That’s the thing about this fight game, it’s not the guys that are the best in the gym or are the most aggressive or most violent. It’s the guys that stick to this, and eventually find their feet; that, after the losses, still come back to the gym, still get better. Eventually it all will work out, but you gotta just ride it out. Even if things aren’t working out—or they are—you go on to the next thing. You just evolve and get better and adapt. And if you’re faced with adversity, or you have to go through a rough patch, just ride it out and eventually it’s all gonna work out.”

Kara-France added that he even just recently re-encountered one of his high school bullies, who’s now cheering him on from the sidelines.

“I didn’t go for a week,” Kara-France told Helwani speaking of having to leave school due to bullying. “Obviously, I had all these bruises on me and, yeah, was in a tough spot, man. I remember getting full nelson-ed in the bathroom and then just bullies body-shotting me in the bathroom.

“And this was just, like, a normal thing. Just because I was small, and they thought, you know, ‘Let’s beat this guy up, he looks vulnerable. Obviously easy target.’ And obviously they had a lot of insecurities and shit going on in their lives.

“But, crazy story, I actually bumped into one of my bullies, like, not even four or five months ago,” Kara-France recounted. “I was just at a takeaway spot close to my house. And then this guy comes up to me and he’s like, ‘Hey Kai!’ And I was like, ‘Hey bro, do I know you?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s me.’ I won’t say his name, but he’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s me, we went to high school together.’ I was like, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t recognize you at all.’ Because, obviously, it was more than 10 years ago.

“And he’s a tradie now, different life. But he was like, ‘I’ve been following your journey, bro! Big fan.’ And in my head I was just, ‘Bro, I should give you a hiding right now.’ But then I was like, ‘I should probably thank you, because you’re the reason why I started this. Here we are now. Life works out. You know, I’m one of the best fighters in the world now because of you.’”

Currently the New Zealand based fighter is awaiting the potential outcome of a fourth bout between flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno. Although both fighters took a chance to call him out after his win over Askarov, asking to fight Kara-France rather than face one another again. Whether that means he’ll be fighting for gold sooner than expected remains to be seen. For the moment, Figueiredo vs. Moreno 4 has been penciled in for July, plenty of time for plans to change.