Garbrandt, he learned, didn’t want to call him by his son’s name, Kai, and so he subbed Steven as a first name: Cody Garbrandt vs. Steven Kara-France.
“See you in 12 weeks, Corey!” the 28-year-old New Zealander jested in the captions of a video clip of a Garbrandt posted to Instagram.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” it wasn’t. But as Kara-France settled in to the rhythms of fight week, he quickly realized there was disrespect more intentional than a moniker. During the press conference this past Thursday in Las Vegas, Garbrandt spent more time jawing with bantamweight star Sean O’Malley than him.
“Biggest thing I took away from this week was he didn’t take me serious,” he said Monday on The MMA Hour. “He said, ‘You begged for this fight.’ When I said, ‘Don’t worry about Sean O’Malley, worry about me,’ he said, ‘I don’t have to worry about sh*t.’
“At the weigh-in, I gave him a taste of what’s coming, and he just laughed it off, like he was just going to run through me.”
Kara-France got right in Garbrandt’s face and mock-slashed his neck in a familiar fight gesture. He was hyped up naturally, but he’d also recently taken up with a sports psychologist, who recommended he read 20 books a year. “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali’s autobiography, was then on his nightstand.
The story of Sonny Liston’s snub, calling Ali his Christian name Cassius Clay before their rematch on May 25, 1965, resonated. So did that iconic photo, of course – Ali standing over a floored Liston. Reading about his heroes gave him energy he channeled into training.
When Garbrandt laughed his throat slash at the presser, it was just another opportunity for Kara-France to use those feelings on fight night.
“When I stepped into the cage, I felt so calm and in control, and I knew it was going to happen,” he said.
Whatever Garbrandt felt about Kara-France as an opponent before the fight, he was quickly forced to confront the physical reality of his choices in the octagon. A right hand sent the ex-bantamweight champ to the canvas early, the worst-case scenario predicted by pundits who figured his chin wouldn’t hold up with less bulk, and a follow-up combination put him out at the 3:21 mark of the first round.
Kara-France celebrated, rightfully so for a fighter who’d seen his own ups and downs in the octagon and had now knocked out a former champion to climb into the title picture. But he quickly went to Garbrandt to offer words of respect and encouragement.
Still in Las Vegas after the pay-per-view event, Kara-France had a different takeaway on Monday.
“Now he remembers my name,” he said.
The UFC flyweight champ, Brandon Moreno, also got a reminder. A Garbrandt win likely would have set up a potentially lucrative title showdown. That went down the tube in the first round, and Moreno playfully lamented on social media.
Brandon Moreno is hilarious as Kai spoils his red panty night ❌ pic.twitter.com/fgXRNlTcmp— Dan the Gangbang Hooker (@Danthegangbang) December 12, 2021
“Yeah, I lost him some money, and I’m about to lose him the belt, as well,” Kara-France said with a smile. “Moreno, he’s funny. He is the champ. He’s good at adapting – that’s one of his strengths. The first round probably not going his way, but then he’ll adapt and make the adjustments. But it’s different from when we last fought.
“I know I’m right there. I’ve got all eyes on me now, taking on a former champ and making a statement. It’s a different time now when I last fought Moreno. A lot has changed. Momentum’s a powerful thing in this sport, and now you’re seeing the proof of that.”
Moreno will take on ex-champ Deiveson Figueiredo in a trilogy bout set for UFC 270, which takes place Jan. 22 in Anaheim, Calif. After Kara-France’s most recent fight, scheduling and pandemic travel restrictions have intersected to keep him stateside for the next month. He’ll take a trip to Hawaii to soak in his latest success, and after that, he’ll stay ready.
The Mexican champ would present the opportunity to avenge a 2019 loss, while Figueiredo would offer a stylistic guarantee of an exciting fight. His managers are working to get him into the mix.
“I’d love to be an alternate and step in if no one makes weight,” Kara-France said.