Chances are you’ve heard Aesop’s classic fable about the tortoise and the hare – two unevenly matched competitors who engaged in a race.
As the story goes, the hare rockets out to an early lead and, confident that he’s got the slow, plodding tortoise beaten handily, opts for a mid-race nap only to wake and discover that the methodical land-dwelling reptile has overtaken him and emerged victorious.
The mixed martial arts version of this story plays out on the regional circuit, where eager fighters jockey for position, stockpiling victories in hopes of getting the call to the UFC.
Some approach it like the hare, blasting out of the gates against overmatched competition only to struggle when the going gets tough or an early invitation to the big leagues arrives. Others, like UFC newcomer Rob Font, are happy to play the role of the tortoise – content to take things one step at a time, knowing they’ll arrive at their destination in due time.
Over the last two and a half years, the Team Sityodtong member has amassed a 10-1 record competing throughout New England, gaining experience and victories over solid opposition along the way. His last six bouts have come under the Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) MMA banner, winning the organization’s featherweight title last summer.
While a move to the UFC probably could have come at any point in the last year, Font continued fighting for CES, picking up three more victories to push his winning streak to nine.
This weekend, the freshly turned 27-year-old gets a belated birthday present as he crosses the threshold and enters the Octagon for the first time, stepping in against Ultimate Fighter and WEC vet George Roop on the preliminary card of the UFC’s annual Fourth of July weekend fight card in Las Vegas.
“He didn’t rush me,” Font says of his head coach, Mark DellaGrotte, the respected leader of Team Sityodtong. “(He told me) `This UFC stuff is never going anywhere. It’s going to be here. We’re not in a rush. We’ll take our time with it.’ They got behind me, invested a lot of time with me and slowly built me up.
“It wasn’t an “if it happens,” but “when it happens,” so they wanted to make sure that when it happened, I was ready. They got behind me, stuck with me, and I really appreciate all the help from all my coaches and teammates.
“I also wanted to know for myself – to prove to myself that I could really fight,” he says of staying active and continually testing himself on the regional circuit. “I didn’t want to get to the UFC and realize, `Wow – I’ve been fighting too many cans!’ I’ve seen everything on the local scene. I’ve seen the wrestlers, the boxers, the jiu-jitsu guys, the tall guys. I never wanted to get to the UFC and be blown away. I’ve seen it all. I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard, but I’m battle-tested and I’m ready to go.”
Though he emulated the tortoise on his way to the UFC, now that he’s been called up to the major leagues, Font has the opportunity to sprint out of the starting blocks like the hare in his debut assignment.
While many newcomers find themselves matched up with fellow first-timers or less established opponents the first time around, the son of military parents who was turned on to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu when he delivered a pizza to two guys rolling in their garage will share the Octagon with the 32-year-old Roop.
A contestant on Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, the Arizona native has already graced the UFC cage 11 times in his career, sporting a 5-6 record to go along with a perfect 1-1-1 split of three appearances inside the little blue cage of the WEC.
“I think it’s huge. I think I can open a lot of eyes by beating George Roop come July 5th,” offers Font of his impending debut, which kicks off the televised portion of the UFC 175 prelims. “He has a big name – I used to watch him in the WEC. He’s experienced and it’s going to be a tough fight, but I notice that he gets hurt a lot – not finished, but hurt in all his fights. He gets touched and he gets wobbly; sometimes he pulls it together, other times he loses.
“I feel like I’m accurate enough that if I hurt him, I can stay on him and put him away, but we’ll see. I can’t wait. It’s a big day and a huge card. I’m ready for the opportunity.”
On paper, Font doesn’t profile as a prototypical finisher or a fighter with one standout skill. Four of his 10 wins have come by way of decision and the remaining six victories have been split evenly between submission and knockouts, technical or otherwise.
But a closer examination of his record shows three finishes in his last four bouts, including a first-round knockout win over Canadian veteran Tristan Johnson in his most recent appearance in April.
Like everything else with Font, his development as a finisher and progression as a fighter has been slow and steady, a constant learning experience to help him be fully prepared for Saturday night inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“I feel like towards the beginning I was forcing it too much,” says Font, echoing a sentiment shared with great frequency in the fight game. “I was looking for it too much. Now I kind of let it happen, let it all flow.
“I used to think too much – `I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that’ – but I don’t even game plan any more. Obviously, there is a way to fight a southpaw or a wrestler, but besides that, I kind of get in there and react to the situation. Ever since I started doing that, finishes have been coming, so I’m going to keep doing that for this fight and hopefully everything goes smooth and I get the finish.”
For Font, the tortoise in this MMA adaptation of Aesop’s fable, that would be the storybook ending to a moment he’s been working towards slowly, but surely, one step at a time for the last three years.
“This was the goal from the beginning. We’ve been grinding for three years straight – I haven’t been in school, haven’t been working. I’ve been fighting as much as possible and going wherever I needed to go to find the right training. I’m so happy that it’s finally here and I’m just going to get in there and prove that I belong here.
“I want to catch him with something big and I want to lay him out, but it’s going to be hard. He’s experienced, he’s been there, done that. He’s fought 20 of me, but this is my first time fighting a big name like him. This is nothing new to him.
“I have to bring the fight; he has a name already. I have to come in, make a name for myself and have an exciting fight.”
Rob Font: Slow and Steady
"I never wanted to get to the UFC and be blown away. I’ve seen it all. I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard, but I’m battle-tested and I’m ready to go." - Rob Font