Kiwi Kai Kara-France books third fight, eyes UFC superstar Henry Cejudo

Kai Kara-France celebrates his win over Raulian Paiva at UFC 234 in Melbourne, February 10, 2019 Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

First and foremost, Kai Kara-France is just happy to have a job.

Not the 9-5 kind, the daily grind that others dread when the alarm signals a return to the office on a Monday morning.

No, the 26-year-old Kiwi prefers to earn his keep in the gym. And with his immediate UFC future secured, Kara-France can't wait to throw down with Mark de la Rosa in Shenzhen Shi, China, next month.

"I'm looking forward to this fight extremely, it's been a little while since I've fought and I miss that feeling of making that walk to the Octagon and having all the work done and feeling as fit as I can," Kara-France said of the August 31 bout at UFC Fight Night: Andrade vs. Zhang.

"I'm really looking forward to testing myself; I know he's going to be coming in motivated and I know he's going to be hungry to get the win. But in the UFC, there's no easy fight, and I'm ready to leave it all out there again."

Kara-France has bigger goals, too. And they don't come any greater than a shot at multi-division champion Henry Cejudo. The bona-fide UFC superstar may seem a little out of reach for Kara-France at this point, but the Kiwi sees an opportunity to rise through a flyweight division that until recently appeared to be on shaky ground.

"Henry was my coach on the Ultimate Fighter Season 24, we still have a relationship and we still talk from time to time," Kara-France explained to ESPN. "When he was at my fight in Melbourne we had a good catch-up, it was the first time I'd seen him since the show. So it was cool to see him at my fight and I saw him straight after I won, and he congratulated me. It's been awesome to see his rise and see how well he's been doing.

"He's always been on my radar even though he was my coach, but now he's right in front of me. There are only a few more guys that I need to take out before I'll be in title contention. It's a great place to be, especially with Dana White confirming the flyweights are still going to be around.

"Obviously Mark's [de la Rosa] dropping back from bantamweight back to fly- but I've still got a job and I've still got eight more guys in front of me. But I'm just looking to get past Mark and then just go from there; hopefully I'll get a bigger name after this fight, just keep climbing the rankings and then hopefully I can get a title shot."

It's been more than five months since Kara-France came through a split decision victory over Raulian Paiva at UFC 234 in Melbourne, the same card that saw fellow Kiwi Israel Adesanya defeat Anderson Silva.

All things going well against de la Rosa on August 25, Kara-France would love the chance to back up at short notice and secure a spot on the UFC 243 card that will see Adesanya face Robert Whittaker for the unified middleweight title.

In a blockbuster year for New Zealand sport that has already included one World Cup final [New Zealand's loss to England in the ICC Cricket World Cup], Kara-France predicts mixed martial arts will only garner greater interest in his homeland into the future.

The UFC's return to Auckland would certainly help, too.

"Just representing the New Zealand flag on the world stage [is an honour]. Being in the UFC has been a dream of mine ever since I started mixed martial arts when I was about 15, I'm 26 now so it's taken a little while to get here. But obviously it's earnt and that's when it's most satisfying.

"It's only going to get bigger and better; I've heard rumours that they want to come back this year to Auckland for the UFC. If that happens I definitely want to be a part of that; that's always been my dream to be on a card in Auckland in my home town.

"But ideally I think they'll come back next year, I feel like they'll need a bit of time to advertise it. If they have it straight after the Izzy fight; obviously if there are a few of us on that card they'd want us to be on our hometown one as well."

For now, though, Kara-France is focusing on the preparations for his bout with de la Rosa and improving his UFC record to 3-0, this time, hopefully, with a finish.

"The roadmap to get the win against de la Rosa is just to shut him down wherever he goes, put pressure on him and then, eventually we'll figure out the puzzle and we'll get the win," Kara-France told ESPN.

"Hopefully we'll get a finish this time - I said that at my last fight - but hopefully no injuries happen in the fight and it all goes to plan and I can get the finish. I'm feeling confident for this."