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Rob Font believes long layoff ‘only helps’ Sean O’Malley before eventual UFC title shot

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Rob Font was one of UFC 287’s most overlooked fighters heading into his recent matchup against Adrian Yanez. After losing back-to-back bouts for the first time in his career, Font was not only a betting underdog to Yanez, it felt as if the 35-year-old had been written off entirely — and Font could sense it from the moment he touched down in Miami.

“It was kind of like that feeling of everybody looking past me,” Font said on The MMA Hour. “[Yanez] is talking about Sean O’Malley and not worrying about Rob Font. He’s sitting there trying to get a Sean O’Malley fight, which I’m like, that doesn’t even make sense.

“[I thought,] alright, this guy, he’s obviously overlooking me too. Then we’re like, ‘Maybe he’s young. Maybe he’s just young.’ But I’m like, nah, he’s [almost] 30 years old, he’s not that young. He’s not like 18, so I can’t use that. I’m making excuses for him, ‘Maybe he’s just young and he’s got cameras in his face and he’s got to say something cool.’ [But] no, he’s actually not that young and he knows exactly what he’s saying, he knows what he’s doing.

“I’m like, bro, he’s definitely looking past you. Let’s just go out there and make a statement. And obviously we try to sell him [in the media] as much as possible and make him seem like the biggest monster possible, but deep down, we knew what we had. We knew what we did. We knew the work we’d done. And it was kind of like our little secret.”

Font, of course, defied the betting odds, demolishing Yanez with a highlight-reel first-round knockout at UFC 287 to fend off the up-and-comer and preserve his own spot near the top of the UFC bantamweight ranks. All in all, it was a much-needed reminder from one of the division’s most veteran talents. Now Font is hopeful that he’ll get a chance to fight upwards up the rankings next, ideally in pursuit of a potential return to title contention.

“Obviously I would love to get that rematch back with ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera], the ‘Chito’ rematch would be huge,” Font said. “A Petr Yan fight would be huge, even though he’s coming off a couple of losses. If I can sneak in there and somehow get a Cory Sandhagen or Merab [Dvalishvilli] fight, which I doubt, that’d be great. Obviously O’Malley is not fighting anybody — I’m assuming he’s not fighting anybody until it’s for the belt. And I definitely don’t want to fight backward again, so I figured that Deiveson Figueiredo fight made sense. I know he wanted to come up, he had a big name, ex-champion who wanted to fight, but obviously that’s not happening, he’s staying down [at 125], so that’s not in play anymore.

“So yeah, there’s fights out there — we’ll see how it all plays out. It seems like, unfortunately, I’ll probably have to fight a guy coming off a loss. … I’ve fought most of everybody in the division too, so it’s kind of like, I’m in a weird spot. But regardless of whatever happens, I’m going to be ready, I’m going to be patient, and I’m excited to find out who it is.”

A Massachusetts native, Font said his ideal next step is a bout against Yan at the UFC’s return to Boston, which is expected to take place sometime in the second half of 2023.

Still, Font knows he’s ultimately at the mercy of a bantamweight pecking order that is already log-jammed awaiting Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo at UFC 288, with O’Malley waiting in the wings as the likely next man in line. Font said he expects O’Malley to sit on the sidelines until his title shot rather than accept another fight, which could result in “Sugar” missing up to a year by the time his opportunity rolls around. But after undergoing his own year layoff before UFC 287 to great effect, Font believes O’Malley’s strategy is sound.

“I think it only helps him,” Font said. “I think he’ll be well rested. If he’s smart, he’s obviously [training], he’s wrestling as much as possible, he’s trying to get better, which I’m pretty sure he’s doing. He’s not getting banged up. If he’s smart, he’s not in the gym going at it with fighters and getting little bumps and bruises that are unnecessary. It gives him time. He’s in a good position. He doesn’t have to fight anybody. He definitely — it seems like he doesn’t need the money, so it’s not like he’s in a rush to get to that belt. I think it only helps him.

“I’ve done it twice, I know what a year [off] feels like. It happens pretty quick. Especially when you’re training and trying to get better at something, and the way the UFC [is], they just keep putting out these shows — before you know it, he’ll be right back in there. So I think it only makes sense for him to wait out, and I don’t think the year will affect him at all.”



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