UFC on ESPN 45 breakdown: Kai Kara-France vs. Amir Albazi close, but expect fight to end inside distance

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC on ESPN 45.

UFC on ESPN 45 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.

Kai Kara-France (24-10 MMA, 7-3 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’4″ Age: 30 Weight: 125 lbs. Reach: 69″
  • Last fight: TKO loss to Brandon Moreno (July 30, 2022)
  • Camp: City Kickboxing (New Zealand)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA accolades
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt
+ Junior New Zealand kickboxing title
+ Regional wrestling experience (NZ)
+ 11 KO victories
+ 3 submission wins
+ 12 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Solid feints and footwork
+ Accurate shot selection
^ Works well off of a variating jab
+ Dangerous right hand
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Good wrestling and scrambling ability
^ Defensively and offensively

Amir Albazi (16-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC)

Amir Albazi

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’5″ Age: 29 Weight: 125 lbs. Reach: 68″
  • Last fight: Knockout win over Alessandro Costa (Dec. 17, 2022)
  • Camp: Xtreme Couture (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt
+ Multiple grappling accolades
^ In and out of the gi
+ 5 KO victories
+ 9 submission wins
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Solid sense of range
^ Good eyes in exchanges
+ Dangerous right hand
+ Hard leg kicks
+ Solid wrestling ability
+ Excellent transitional grappler
^ Super back control

Point of interest: Flyweight fisticuffs

The main event in Las Vegas features a fantastic matchup between two flyweight contenders who aren’t afraid to throw down.

Kai Kara-France, who initially started his martial arts journey in the world of jiu-jitsu, has steadily molded himself into a savvy striker. The New Zealand native always possessed his vaunted speed and power, but we’ve really seen Kara-France refine his game under the care of Eugene Bareman and the City Kickboxing crew.

Now, utilizing much more educated footwork and fakes, it is not uncommon to see Kara-France either feint his opposition’s guard out of place when coming forward or walking them into kill-shots when going backward. The 30-year-old talent also does a fantastic job of variating his jabs, smartly switching up his speeds and targets in order to set up hard right hands.

I’ll be curious to see if Kara-France leans heavier into his leg kicks this time around, but he, too, will need to be mindful of what’s coming back at him.

Enter Amir Albazi.

Although Albazi was a prospect who was initially hailed for his grappling accolades, the Iraq-born fighter has shown a natural aptitude for striking since stepping onto the UFC scene.

Albazi does well when it comes to keeping an active and educated lead hand, displaying a consistent feinting or prodding presence.

Offensively, this allows Albazi to connect punches and play off of prior work by hooking off of his jabs and so forth. Defensively, Albazi’s feinting presence helps draw out his opponent’s reactions which, in turn, can lead to some crucial counter opportunities.

Albazi also appears to have excellent eyes in exchanges, which is something that surely contributes to his solid sense of range. I’ll be curious to see if Albazi looks to control leg kick traffic, but he, too, will need to be careful about the counters coming his way.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Considering that Albazi is the more dangerous grappler on paper, do not be shocked if he is the first to engage in the grappling department.

As mentioned in the previous section, Albazi is a fighter who initially excelled in the grappling arts. A tenacious competitor, Albazi’s aggression shines through in transition – something he seems to be applying to his wrestling repertoire.

Even though Albazi has the athletic ability to shoot in the open, his more effective setups and takedowns seem to come against the fence or in the clinch. The smaller cage of the UFC APEX may assist Albazi’s efforts, but I suspect that Kara-France’s underrated abilities will provide a stern test for the 29-year-old.

Although Kara-France doesn’t come from a part of the world that is known for its wrestling, the New Zealander keeps some solid wrestling skills in his back pocket.

Offensively, Kara-France has a quick level-changing double that he can go to if he needs to ground his opponent. The 13-year pro isn’t completely impervious from a defensive standpoint, but his scrambling more than makes up the difference for any perceived shortcomings.

In fact, one could argue that Kara-France, at this point in his career, does much better against fighters who are trying to grapple him. For that reason, I’ll be curious to see how much effort Albazi makes in regard to grappling.

Albazi is an avid back-taker with fantastic controls from the rear mount, but Kara-France is a fighter who won’t make things easy when it comes to positional control and pacing.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

Despite the oddsmakers opening with Kara-France as a 2-1 betting favorite, public money has come in on Albazi, making this fight a pick’em (-110 a piece) at the time of this writing.

Although I’m not as confident as Albazi backers seem to be, I do agree that this fight should be closer to pick’em odds.

Kara-France may not have the same momentum on his side, but the City Kickboxing rep made a solid account for himself against the current champion in his last outing, cutting and hurting Brandon Moreno before ultimately being finished himself.

Albazi may have some solid striking chops that he can be proud of, but I haven’t seen him work the body or throw the left-sided strikes that have traditionally troubled Kara-France and his dipping propensities. That said, Albazi has a mean uppercut that I see serving as a legitimate threat he can either play or counter off of.

This will also be Albazi’s third camp with noted striking coach Dewey Cooper, so I suggest leaving some room for surprises and improvements given the current context of his career. Add in the perceived stylistic edge of the smaller octagon at play, and I find myself ever-so-slightly leaning with the grappling aggression and striking power of Albazi.

Kara-France seems like the smarter bet at this point, but I’ll take Albazi to eventually hurt his opponent and find a finish on the floor by the fourth round.