Rob Font may have been fighting in his home state of Massachusetts when he faced Andre Soukhamthath in April of 2011, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the amount of people that showed up to cheer on his Rhode Island-based opponent in their amateur bout at the Holiday Inn Grand Ballroom in Mansfield.
“He had a huge following and the kid would sell a ridiculous amount of tickets,” Font said of Soukhamthath. “I was the underdog and I wasn’t even supposed to be in this type of fight and it was nuts. He had these shirts made up, and it was just a sea of red when I walked out. Everybody in there was for him.”
The 23-year-old Font, 1-1 as an amateur at the time, was going to be a pro by the end of the year, but it was situations like this that introduced him to the wild wild west of prizefighting.
“I had maybe six people there, and there were at least 150 to 200 of his fans,” he laughs. “It was ridiculous.”
But he won anyway, taking a decision victory over the crowd favorite. On Saturday, a little over five years later, he will be in a similar situation when he faces John Lineker in Curitiba, Brazil. And though it’s on a much larger scale when he plays the “bad guy” against the local hero in a UFC show in a soccer stadium, he has an idea of what the lay of the land will be.
“It’s going to be insane,” Font said. “Fortunately, I don’t speak Portuguese, so I won’t know exactly what they’re saying, so that’s a plus. (Laughs) But it’s definitely going to be rowdy and a crazy crowd.
"I think I thrive on stuff like that. I like to prove everybody wrong, and I’ll feed off the energy of everybody booing me and knowing that I do believe that towards the end, they’ll be like ‘Wow, this kid can fight.’ Brazilian fans are definitely hardcore fight fans, so they appreciate fighters, and I’m a fighter through and through. I can’t get wait to get out there.”
Font has good reason to be excited. Unbeaten since 2012, the North Reading product has won both of his UFC fights by knockout over George Roop and Joey Gomez, and considering that he’s fighting an opponent nicknamed “Hands of Stone,” these bantamweights have the potential to steal the show from the host of stars on the UFC 198 card.
Yet on a more personal level, it’s an opportunity for Font to make a statement and make a move into the top 15.
“This is a fight that I think is perfect for me at this time,” he said. “It puts my name in the conversation with Cody Garbrandt, Thomas Almeida, TJ Dillashaw and all those guys. So this fight, maybe two more, and I can be in that top five, number one contender conversation. So this is definitely a huge fight and a huge opportunity for me. There are a lot of eyes on this fight, so it’s my time to shine.”
And the funny thing is, despite not having the Octagon experience of some of his more-celebrated peers on the roster, with his style, there are seemingly endless matchups that could produce fireworks in the division. That’s a good place to be in, and he knows it.
“It’s a Who’s Who right now,” he says of the 135-pound weight class. “We’ve got some established guys like (John) Dodson, TJ, (Dominick) Cruz, (Urijah) Faber, guys like Bryan Caraway, and then you’ve got the younger guys like (Aljamain) Sterling, Almeida, Garbrandt, Jimmie Rivera. There’s a lot of big fights and exciting fights in this division. So it’s definitely interesting to see how it plays out. But I feel like I match up well with everybody in the division and I’m constantly doing my homework on everybody. My job is to get out there and get more experience, get my name out there a little bit more and I’ll be ready for any fight.”
He even plans on a trip to Las Vegas at the end of the month to check out the highly-anticipated Almeida vs. Garbrandt bout.
“I just to watch it live and enjoy the show,” he said. “I’m watching first as a fan and then getting together with my team and we’re breaking guys down.”
So no jumping into the Octagon after the bout to call out the winner?
“Nah, I’m not gonna pull off that WWE stuff,” he laughs. “I’m a respectful guy. That’s their time to shine and I’m gonna let them do their thing.”
First, Rob Font gets to do his thing on Saturday. Is he satisfied that his night in Mansfield in 2011 has him prepared for the Curitiba crowd?
“I know this is going to be that times a hundred, but I’m definitely ready for it.”