The last time Rob Font was in the Octagon, he felt like a swimmer struggling to get his head back above water amidst a non-stop crush of powerful waves.
“That’s the perfect analogy because I can get some air, but then I’m sucked back down again,” Font said, recalling his fight one year ago with Marlon “Chito” Vera, which saw him set a record for the most significant strikes landed and attempted in a fight while landing on the unhappy side of a unanimous decision loss.
After winning the opening round on all three scorecards, the fight shifted in the second, with Vera dropping the 35-year-old bantamweight standout, who returns to action this weekend against Adrian Yanez on the UFC 287 pay-per-view main card, in the waning moments of the round.
Order UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2
From there, it was a case study in quality over quantity when it comes to landing blows, as Font threw and landed at a far greater clip overall, but Vera responded with more immediately damaging blows.
One man looked like he’d been in a car wreck; the other looked like he’d just finished a hard sparring session in the gym.
Rob Font | Top Finishes
Rob Font | Top Finishes
“It’s frustrating feeling like I’m there, but out of nowhere, I’m not,” continued Font, peeling back the layers on what was going through his head during the fight with Vera as he prepares to make the walk to the Octagon again on Saturday, hoping to snap his current two-fight skid. “I’m almost about to cross that finish line and win that round, and BOOM — 30 seconds left and I’m losing that round off of one big shot followed by some ground-and-pound.
“My face is a mess — I’m physically feeling the shots — but I kind of feel like i’m winning, but I don’t think I’m winning, and you can definitely hear the urgency and the desperation in your coach’s voice to where, ‘Okay, they definitely think I’m losing.’
UFC 287 FREE FIGHTS: Jorge Masvidal vs Nate Diaz | Gilbert Burns vs Neil Magny | Rob Font vs Marlon Moraes | Adrian Yanez vs Tony Kelley
“There is a lot of confusion because I’m getting off a lot of strikes, but not really landing as flush as I would like them, but they’re still landing. As far as points, I feel like I’m up, but I’m not really winning.”
He continued, playing it all back without pause, as if he’s able to simply call up the file in his memory and instantly access the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that ran through his head that evening in Las Vegas.
“I’m bleeding — I can feel the blood, I can smell the blood, I can taste the blood — and now it’s a sense like I’m starting to rush myself to get a finish, because I need one, even though at certain points, I was still winning the rounds.
“I believe it was the second round where I got dropped with the hook — it was late in that round too — but I got up thinking I was really down a bunch of rounds when I could have slowed it down, get back to it and it could have been even going to that third, where I could have just recovered a little more instead of spamming more punches. I think that was a big lesson.”
GREATEST HITS: Jorge Masvidal | Gilbert Burns
The need to remain patient in those moments when things go sideways isn’t the only lesson Font learned while sharing the cage with Vera.
“You never really want to find out how tough you are,” he said with a laugh I know I’m tough, but I don’t want to do that again.
“I know now that I can go that far, and I do know that I’m not going too quit on myself. Even if I’m having a bad day at work, a bad attitude, my emotions are going up and down — I made it through and I’m never going to quit on myself, but I never want to get to that point again.”
Rather than hustle right back into a training camp and feed those competitive urges that are desperate to get one back as quickly as possible, Font and his team opted to take the same long road back to the Octagon as they did with another member of the New England Cartel, featherweight standout Calvin Kattar, after he landed on the business end of a similar result in clash with Max Holloway at the start of 2021.
Kattar spent the next year on the sidelines, never giving into the desire to return or feeling pressure to step back into the fray before he was ready. When he did return, the Top 10 fixture turned in a blistering effort against Giga Chikadze, instantly re-establishing himself as one of the top contenders in the 145-pound weight class.
“I had a great example with Calvin when he did it, so I’ve seen it,” explained Font, who was also pushed by the desire to be home with his partner Kathy, and completely present as the two welcomed their daughter, Emerald Monroe Font, into the world in December.
UFC 287 Embedded | All Episodes
“The best thing about the UFC is that they’re not going anywhere and they’re always putting on shows, so I know the moment we say ‘Yes’ to (UFC matchmaker) Sean (Shelby), he’s going to get me a fight. There was never a point where it was like, ‘Damn, when am I gonna fight again?’ — it was more about being patient, taking my time off, heal up, spend as much time as possible with Kathy, be there, be present; heal up and get better.”
Eventually, the UFC called with a name and a date for April, offering Font a main card bout against Yanez this weekend in Miami at UFC 287.
A graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series, the 29-year-old Yanez has been perfect since moving to the main roster, posting five wins in as many starts while collecting four finishes and post-fight bonuses each time out.
Currently stationed six spots behind Font in the bantamweight rankings, it looks on paper like a classic matchup between a tenured veteran in the midst of a skid and an ascending newcomer looking to keep working his way forward in the rankings, but Font sees it as something else.
“Obviously this is a dangerous fight,” began the proud new father. “I’m not treating him like he’s an up-and-coming kid — I’m treating him like he’s a grown man coming in to take my head off, and I’m not looking past him.
Jon Anik Sits Down With Israel Adesanya | UFC 287
“There is nothing in my favor as far as if I win: I don’t instantly get a title shot or get to the Top 10. Not too many people are going to be like, ‘You’re back!’ It’ll be, ‘You just fought this up-and-coming kid.’”
He chased the statement with a laugh, but there was clearly plenty of sincerity behind his words.
While it’s been nearly a year since he last felt the Octagon canvas under his feet, it’s been almost two years since Font last had his hand raised in victory, as he landed on the wrong side of the cards in a main event clash with Brazilian legend Jose Aldo five months prior to his meeting with Vera last April.
Much like how the waves kept sweeping him under in the fight with Vera, sitting on setbacks and being forced to deal with long stretches of time where you haven’t experienced that winning feeling can have a serious impact on a fighter’s psyche.
But part of the reason Font was quick to embrace the timetable laid out before him by the team following his last outing was that he’d already witnessed Kattar turn a longer-than-usual stay on the sidelines into one of the most impressive performances of his career, and he’s ready to do the same thing this weekend.
“Out of all the up-and-coming guys, he’s a better matchup than anybody else out there, plus he has a fan-friendly style,” he said of Yanez, who carries a 16-3 record into his first pay-per-view assignment on Saturday night in Miami. “In a perfect world, I’m fighting a bigger name as far as the rankings, but the people that know, know this is a tough fight.
Order UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2
“I also feel like it’s gonna be one of those fights like with Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev where people were kind of forgetting that Justin is a killer and you’ve just got to go out there and remind them,” Font added, citing the UFC 286 co-main event, where the former interim champion and two-time title challenger entered as the underdog and secured a unanimous decision win to get himself back in the win column and solidify his position in the divisional hierarchy.
“I gotta get one of those kind of performances where it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! I forgot — you’re good!’”
Sometimes you just have to remind people of what you’re capable of doing, and sometimes, that might even include yourself.
UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2 took place live from Kayesa Center in Miami, Florida on April 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!