Rob Font didn’t think much of it when he felt his knee pop in the second round of his fight against Ricky Simón just over a year ago at UFC DC. He not only finished the round, he returned for the third round, going another five minutes to take the unanimous decision and improve to 17-4.
He would spend the next day walking around Washington D.C., sightseeing, even venturing to the National Zoo. Describing his knee as a little wobbly, Font eventually had an MRI and went to a surgeon, who informed the bantamweight that he needed surgery to repair a torn ACL.
“It was frustrating. I did not want to do the surgery. I didn’t even think I needed surgery,” said Font, who resides in Haverhill and trains with the New England Cartel.
After getting over the initial shock, Font set his sights on rehabbing and getting back to the cage. The road back included shadow boxing on one leg, then figuring out ways to kick, holding on to the couch as leverage.
“I made rehab my new martial art,” said Font, who teaches muay thai classes in Lowell. “I was just figuring out ways to stay active. Once I was able to ride the bike and shadow box, it wasn’t the worst.”
Font, 33, will make his return to the Octagon Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 183 in Las Vegas. Ranked No. 11 at 135 pounds, he will be facing his most high profile opponent to date when he takes on No. 3 Marlon Moraes. The fight is scheduled for three five-minute rounds, and a victory would vault him into the top 10, and possibly even in the top five, which would put him on a short list of candidates for a shot at the title.
He has been down this road twice before, but came up short each time. The first opportunity came in October, 2017 when he lost by submission to Pedro Munhoz. At UFC 226 in July, 2018, he dropped a unanimous decision to Raphael Assunção. His coach, Tyson Chartier, believes he was capable of winning both fights, and that the lessons learned from those losses could pay off this time around.
“He needs to be disciplined for 15 minutes,” said Chartier. “That’s been the motto of the whole camp. A disciplined Rob Font can beat anyone in the whole division. Unfortunately the last couple of times he’s fallen short. I always say if he stays disciplined for 15 minutes, he won’t need the whole 15 minutes.”
Moraes is 23-7 and has fought for the championship before, suffering a knockout at the hands of Henry Cejudo in June of 2019. He has dropped two of his last three fights, including a TKO loss to Cory Sandhagen his last time out on Oct. 10.
“Sometimes I get away from the game plan. I have to stay focused, stay nice and long with my range and keep my feet moving,” said Font. “I’m a hard matchup for anybody, let alone this guy. I’ve got the reach advantage on him, and he’s shown he’s had difficulty with guys that have a reach advantage.”
Although this will be Font’s first time in the Octagon since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the sports landscape, he has experienced being part of a camp leading up to a fight in these strange times, having been in the corner for each of Calvin Kattar’s two fights since last May while he was rehabbing.
“I got to tag along with Calvin. It kept me busy, so it wasn’t the worst. But it was frustrating watching everybody else fight,” said Font. “I know the process. Obviously I haven’t done it myself, but I have a real good idea of what it’s going to be like in the cage. The most awkward part of the situation is the walkout, because you’re used to the crowd.”
Kattar, the Methuen native who has won both of his fights during the pandemic, will headline a card on Jan. 16 when he takes on No. 1 featherweight contender Max Holloway. But Saturday night he will return the favor and be in the corner for his stablemate with the New England Cartel.
“This is big,” said Font. “We have to go out there and win these fights. It brings us one step closer to bringing the belts back to New England, back to Boston, and obviously holding it down for the cartel.”
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