Eighteen months after knocking out George Roop in his UFC debut at UFC 175, bantamweight Rob Font gets a second chance to dazzle inside the UFC Octagon.
Taking on fellow New Englander and former training partner Joey Gomez at Sunday's UFC Fight Night 81 event in Boston, Font (11-1) recognizes the enormity of it all. The ring rust. The local crowd. The familiar foe. The 10-fight winning streak in tow.
For Font, it all adds up to either one major disappointment or one praiseworthy triumph.
"The anxiousness might be an issue," Font told MMAFighting.com. "I gotta just calm down. If I feel myself doing too much, I mean, I know my coaches. They’ll let me know to chill out, pull back, and get it together. I don’t foresee myself going out there and going crazy. But if I do, I know my corner will check me real fast.
"Everybody’s asking me, ‘Oh, how do you feel about fighting in your hometown with all the pressure?’ And I’m like, ‘Listen. I’ve been doing this since I started. It’s nothing new. There’s going to be a couple more people watching at the arena. But I experienced that in Vegas. That was probably one of the biggest events of 2014. I’ve been here. I’ve done this.’ I actually felt better in Vegas with all those people than I did on the local scene."
After Font's original opponent, Patrick Williams, bowed out of their UFC Fight Night 81 matchup with an injury, the UFC booked Joey Gomez, an undefeated local bantamweight sporting a 6-0 record, all via knockout. When Font received the news, some mixed emotions followed.
Gomez previously helped Font prepare for a CES MMA title fight against Chris Foster in 2013, and the two share the same strength and conditioning coach, Mike Perry. While the two maintain a friendly, amicable front, Font knows when the lights go down inside the Octagon, the smiles and handshakes will have to wait.
"He’s been tearing it up on the New England scene for a while now, so I know exactly what I’m getting myself into," Font said. "It’s weird, because I kind of want to congratulate him on getting into the UFC, but I also want to knock him out. I’ll just take care of business first, then we’ll hang out afterward."
Gomez's six-fight knockout streak isn't lost on Font, either. Despite preferring to trade hands himself, Font acknowledges his opponent's skill set in the stand-up department, and he's used his 18-month layoff to hone other areas of his game.
Against Gomez, Font says he may have to unleash some of these newly developed wrinkles.
"I’d say a solid year has been straight training, straight drilling, doing a lot of privates and bringing guys in to get different looks," Font said. "Before, obviously, I would train everything, but this time I really took a lot of time out and got on the ground with guys like Tony Martin and Tim Barchard. I really focused on a lot of different things. I think I love the ground work more than standing now...I’m getting real good with my foot locks and heel hooks. Obviously, my first thing is to keep it standing, but if it hits the ground, I think I just might surprise you.
He’s a strong opponent with an awesome striking background. It might be in my best interest to take him down and look for the heel hooks and all that."
As if the pressure wasn't already enough for Font, an 18-month layoff for somebody who cashes checks with his fists and shins is not exactly ideal. While he earned a cool $50,000 bonus for his knockout of Roop at UFC 175, Font said the time off has been made financially possible through one person: his girlfriend.
"I’m fortunate to have a girlfriend who can secure the day-to-day bills, the day-to-day finances," Font said. "So it didn’t hurt that much for me on that level. She’s been taking care of me with finances since like 2010, so it wasn’t that big of a deal for me. She’s my biggest supporter, and really, this whole year, year and a half, I’ve just been training, getting better, and she’s been taking care of everything.
"The pressure’s there, man. The pressure’s there. She definitely wants that money back. I definitely gotta go out there and perform."