Like the acclaimed philosopher D.J. Khaled once said: “Another one.”
That’s right, City Kickboxing — the small Auckland gym that has taken over the UFC — will introduce the world to its latest product on Sunday (AEDT) when Carlos Ulberg makes his promotional debut.
Ulberg will fight on the UFC 259 early prelims, flyweight contender Kai Kara-France on the televised prelims, before Israel Adesanya looks to add light heavyweight gold to the middleweight strap he already holds.
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All three Kiwi fighters went through camp together. All three made the trip over to Las Vegas together. And all three will look to start 2021 with a win under head coach and mastermind of the whole thing, Eugene Bareman.
“It’s so good to be away from all the hard training now,” a relieved Ulberg told foxsports.com.au during fight week. “It’s been a little more gruesome in some ways. I guess Eugene has pushed me more in this training camp.
“He’s pushed me a lot more and my body has been taking some gruesome beatings.”
Ulberg (5-0-0 MMA) introduced himself to the UFC world when the former kickboxing champion secured a first round knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a contract in the organisation.
“He’s a good looking kid, right?” White said of the former model. “How can you have that many fights and have a face like that? It doesn’t even make sense.”
First up at light heavyweight, Ulberg will fight Kennedy Nzechukwu, an opponent Bareman hand-picked from a list UFC matchmakers provided.
“They sent me five or six [names],” Bareman told reporters. “That’s a good sign. That means they want me to choose whoever I think is the most appropriate for Carlos.”
“ … That says to me they see some potential in Carlos. They’re going to back Carlos, they’re going to not look after him, but they’re going to help him along his way.”
“As you know there is a little bit of some unfair treatment in the UFC. If they think you’re a rising star, they really do get behind you. And I think they see that in Carlos, and that’s the same thing we see as well.
“So, he’s had a fantastic camp, if he gets a big statement win, he’s on the same trajectory as The Stylebender [Israel Adesanya]. That’s the kind of potential that I think Carlos has.”
Ulberg, like Adesanya, was a kickboxer who fought in China and is a multiple-time King in the Ring champion.
And like Adesanya, the 30-year-old is planning a quick rise. His undefeated teammate debuted in the UFC in 2018 and is fighting for a second title just three years later.
“I basically did exactly what he had done,” Ulberg said. “And I’m hoping to do and follow the blueprint that he’s done with the UFC as well. Now that he’s set that standard, it makes a bit easier for me to understand and to know the road.”
If you ask Kara-France, Ulberg is set to make a splash.
“He was made for this,” the 125-pounder told foxsports.com.au. “He looks the part and he’s got dynamite in his hands. He’s more than ready for these big moments.”
Kara-France will fight for the first time since dropping to a disappointing defeat at the hands of Brandon Royval last September. He left his two-week old son in New Zealand as he looks to get back to winning ways against Rogerio Bontorin.
“At CKB, Eugene has one rule if you miss training. You can only have two excuses: the birth of your child or if you’re getting married,” Kara-France said.
“The same day my son was born I was still at training to finish off our camp.”
After signing a new four-fight deal, Kara-France is grateful for the job security in a division that not-so-long ago seemed on its deathbed in the UFC.
“The flyweight division has definitely taken a full 180,” he said. “At the start of my UFC career people were saying, ‘What’s it like to be one of the last flyweight fights in the UFC?’, before I’d even fought.”
While Kara-France keeps on his journey to the top, Ulberg debuts, and Adesanya looks to cement his all-time status, the City Kickboxing name continues to rise.
“This has been a long time coming,” Kara-France said. “This has been in the making for years — long before any of us made the UFC, so being here now it doesn’t seem so insane because it’s been on our minds and we knew this was going to happen.
“Eugene is such an intelligent guy, where he will foresee the future, and he knew this was going to happen, and we just needed to take our time.”
City Kickboxing has had some serious highs over the last couple years, including Adesanya dethroning Rob Whittaker and Australian Alexander Volkanovski becoming featherweight king.
And they’re expecting more of the same from Adesanya when he takes on light heavyweight champion, Jan Blachowicz, on the weekend.
“Israel can adapt. He’s been there before. He’s fought heavyweights, he’s fought light heavyweights, he’s got the speed — and speed kills,” Ulberg explained.
“Israel has got power, he has got speed, he has got the ability, he’s got great athleticism, and I believe that he will get this light heavyweight title and he will hold that title for a while.
“There won’t be anyone who will be able to match his abilities.”
Watch UFC 259, Blachowicz v Adesanya and Nunes v Anderson on Foxtel’s Main Event, on Sunday 7 March at 2pm AEDT. ORDER NOW >