While the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz had lions, tigers, and bears, Rob Font has had to deal with a different trio of adversity ahead of his second straight main event: USADA, COVID-19, and having to say no to a championship opportunity.
Font will face Jose Aldo in the main event of UFC Vegas 44, which takes place Dec. 4 at the UFC APEX. The New England Cartel standout is coming off of his fourth straight victory — a one-sided unanimous decision win over former champion Cody Garbrandt in the main event of May’s UFC Vegas 27 event.
While that is a big fight, Font was also on the short list to get the interim title fight against Petr Yan at UFC 267, which ultimately went to Cory Sandhagen. Font admits that, although he feels he made the right decision at the time, he felt a bit of FOMO watching Yan’s win over Sandhagen in Abu Dhabi.
“It was tough to watch knowing I could’ve been there,” Font told MMA Fighting. “Even just watching the weigh-ins, it was like, ‘F*ck, I could’ve been there.’ But it wasn’t right. I was still dealing with the whole USADA situation, so I didn’t even know if I would be even fighting for the next two years — that’s where I was at mentally trying to figure out how to clear my name and explain to everybody that I’m taking hemp lotion, not doing anything illegal.
“Literally, once we get that call and confirmation that we’re gonna be released from jail... two days later, COVID. So me and the wife were stuck in the house for two weeks, cooped up, I was hurting for maybe three days. After that, right when we’re about to get out, we get the call. ‘Hey, do you want to go to Dubai [and fight for the title]?’ F*ck! I had to tell them I can’t do it, hadn’t trained in a month. We thought about it, obviously. We even trained for a day, but after I thought, ‘I don’t know, man. It’s a great opportunity, but I’ll be doing it just to do it. It wouldn’t be a smart thing.’
“We tried to push it back a little bit, but they couldn’t push it back. Literally, the same day I get out of f*cking quarantine, they offer me that and I have to turn it down. But they let me know they might have something for me in a couple of weeks. I had a feeling it might be Aldo.”
The USADA situation Font talks about stemmed from testing positive for traces of 4-Chlorophenoxyacetic acid, a metabolite of meclofenoxate, which is a substance on the UFC’s prohibited list, on May 22. Upon further investigation, and an incredible amount of due diligence from Font and his team after working with multiple World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratories, USADA concluded that Font’s positive test was caused by a non-prohibited substance.
Imagine inching closer to becoming the best 135er in the world and an opportunity to become champion of the world and instead of celebrating the biggest win of your career, that time is now being spent trying to prove something that was already known.
In the end, Font was cleared, and even Garbrandt felt for the man who just defeated him.
“Even when they told Cody, he didn’t have any issues with it. He was like, ‘Oh, man, that’s f*cked up,’ he felt bad for me,” Font explained. “It was just an annoyance, like, ‘What the hell?’ I just got this big W, main event, went all five rounds, now I [am being accused of taking something] that helps me go five rounds and dealing with all of that. I knew for sure [I did nothing wrong], my whole team knew for sure we didn’t do anything, and it was all about proving it.
“It’s weird because if you couldn’t prove it, it would be up to [the Nevada Athletic Commission] and they could’ve went either way, maybe a year suspension. We had to do the whole sit down, the meeting with [the NAC] and it was time consuming, but we got it all done.
“But we’re doing this all in Texas, trying to relax and have fun, and boom, get COVID. So it’s like, ‘Oh, my god! I just dealt with one thing, now I have to deal with this.’”
Font did, however, end up with a big fight against another former champion in Aldo — who has found success since making the move to 135. After suffering a fifth-round TKO loss to Yan at UFC 251 in July 2020 in his quest to win the vacant bantamweight title, “Junior” has bounced back with impressive decision wins over Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz.
For the Boston-area native and his team, solving the Aldo puzzle has been a challenging, and welcoming, test.
“We’re dealing with a mature veteran,” Font stated. “With Cody, he had been a champion, but he had gotten there real quick, so he didn’t have to necessarily deal with a lot of ups and downs. We’re dealing with a whole different type of experience, I assume a whole different level of calmness, and he’s won a lot, and has been beaten up before. If you go back-to-back fights with Max Holloway, you know how to get hit and deal with punches, deal with being rocked and when you’re hurt a little better than most people. He’s not gonna panic if I hurt him. He won’t do anything drastic if I hurt him because that experience will be there.
“I just have to be a little smarter and sharper than him. It’s a really interesting puzzle to try and figure out. Tyson [Chartier] is on it, and I read the game plan twice a day. I know the game plan, I know what I need to do, it’s just about putting in the work, getting my cardio up the best that I can, and just going out there and executing.”
With the state of the bantamweight division, and champion Aljamain Sterling on the sidelines recovering from neck surgery ahead of a probable rematch with Yan to unify the belts, along with T.J. Dillashaw recovering from his injuries following his win over Sandhagen in July, Font knows that even if he adds Aldo’s name to his growing resume, it still may not be enough to get him a title shot in this next fight.
Still, it’s not every day you get the chance to face an all-time great, and Font is treating it as a title bout.
“We’re gonna go out there and have fun,” Font said. “I believe I’m gonna push a pace on him for the first two rounds and see how he deals with the cardio, then look for that finish in the third round.
“He’s fought everybody at this point. He’s seen it and done it, so there’s nothing I can throw at him that he hasn’t seen, except for how consistent I am with my jab and how much I believe in it, and how dedicated I am to it. I don’t think he’s fought anybody who lives and breathes with his jab.
“I’m ready to go in there, mix it up, and become a legend.”