Kai Kara-France's quest for a taste of UFC gold goes on.
In his bout for the interim flyweight championship at UFC 277 in Dallas, Kara-France was stopped late in the third round by Mexican counterpart Brandon Moreno.
After a back-and-forth fight that had the judges split through two rounds, a liver shot - delivered through pin-point kick with force - sent Kara-France to the canvas. While the shot came late in the round, unfortunately for the Kiwi, Moreno still had enough time to work with and he swarmed Kara-France to force the referee to step in, stopping the bout with 26sec left in the third round.
It had been a tight tussle up to that point. Both fighters made strong starts to the bout, with Kara-France looking to work Moreno's legs with kicks while Moreno relied on his reach advantage to land good jabs from range early.
While Moreno was expected to have a grappling advantage in the fight, Kara-France showed his well-rounded set of skills to fend off the grappling exchanges in the opening two rounds.
It was reflected in the judges scorecards just how tight the bout was through the first two rounds. One judge had scored both to Kara-France, one scored both for Moreno, while the third had them level with one round each.
The third round was going Kara-France's way too, when he scored a takedown early in the fight and put some heavy shots on Moreno - cutting him open under his right eye with a slicing elbow shot.
While Moreno stayed strong and worked back to his feet, Kara-France was starting to show more confidence and get the better of the exchanges.
However, it's a sport where everything can change in an instant, and it was one perfectly-placed kick from Moreno that ultimately decided who would leave Dallas with gold around their waist.
The loss was the second in an unhappy day inside the octagon for the New Zealand contingent. Kara-France's teammate from Auckland's City Kickboxing gym, Blood Diamond, lost by unanimous decision in the first fight of the event.
Diamond was out-wrestled in the first round by American opponent Orion Cosce, before coming back strong in the second. He had Cosce hurt towards the end of the second round, but rushed in to try and find the finish which allowed Cosce to clinch and see the round out.
The third round followed the script of the first, with Cosce taking the fight to the mat and grinding out a decision.