Rob Font felt like he had just stepped into enemy territory when he entered the cage for his highly-anticipated amateur showdown two years ago against Andre Soukhamthath in Massachusetts.
“I swear Andre brought the entire world to the arena that night,” Font said with a laugh.
The transplanted Tampa native fighting out of his new home in Boston made a great first impression that night, beating Soukhamthath, the fan favorite, by unanimous decision in a fight few thought Font had a chance to win.
“To be honest,” Font said, “they brought me in to lose.”
Fair or unfair, Font has grown accustomed to the underdog role in his brief, yet successful, career. The 5-foot-8 featherweight, now the reigning champion of Classic Entertainment & Sports’ wildly-successful MMA division, has played the part flawlessly since the day he began training at Sityodtong Boston four years ago in Somerville, Mass., a young, unknown scrapper with nothing more than a kickboxing fight on his resume.
A lot has changed since that fateful night in 2011 when he upset Soukhamthath in front of a largely pro-Soukhamthath crowd. As he prepares for his main-event showdown Friday, Dec. 6th, 2013 at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., Font (7-1, 2 KOs) — with six consecutive wins and counting — figures to have a few more fans on his side as he continues his climb to the top of the featherweight division, and, perhaps more importantly, continues to become a well-deserved household name in the northeast.
“I’m not from here, so people still don’t really know me,” said Font, who grew up in Tampa and moved to Boston in 2009, “and, honestly, if you’re not from here, no one really cares about you.
“I’ve been the underdog my whole life. When I fought Andre, no one gave me a chance to win that fight. There was no way I could win that fight. Everyone was saying, ‘Who’s this guy coming in? He’s going to get killed!’ I’ve always had to prove myself. It’s motivating, but I really don’t need to be the hometown favorite. I’m just trying to get better with each fight. I’m never satisfied.”
Font will face Canadian Matt DiMarcantonio (4-3) in Friday’s main event as he aims for his seventh consecutive victory at “CES MMA XX,” the 20th show in the promotion’s three-year history. Font’s last three wins came against three of the top featherweights in the northeast — Saul Almeida, Lucas Cruz and Chris Foster, each of whom he “wasn’t supposed to beat,” according to Font — no doubt raising a few eyebrows throughout local gyms. His ultimate goal is to clean up the region and become the undisputed top dog among featherweights, but he’s running out of opponents.
There are a few names on his radar — Calvin Kattar and Matt Bessette, among others — but it’s all in the spirit of competition; the truth is Font will fight anywhere, anywhere, regardless of whether he’s the favorite or the underdog. Why change now?
“For me to prove I’m one of the best, I have to go up against the best,” Font said. “[CES matchmaker] Pat Sullivan does a great job. He’ll always find me fights. Obviously, it doesn’t matter who it is. I’m coming to fight regardless.”
Font’s on such a rapid climb he hasn’t had time to step back and take it all in, nor does he want to. After destroying Foster in August via first-round knockout to capture the vacant CES title, Font took little solace in the victory, instead choosing to focus on what he needed to improve upon the next time around.
“I felt I made basic mistakes, something simple like not flipping the jab and getting caught with his right hand,” he said. “There’s a lot more work to be done. I want 10 wins in a row. I want more finishes. I want another knockout. Six wins in a row against tough competition, I’m happy about that, but I’m definitely not satisfied. I always want more.”
The underdog mentality is what motivates Font to continue doing what others say he can’t do. Four years ago, he joined Sityodtong Boston without a single amateur fight on his record. Within two years, trainer Mark Dellagrotte began using him as a sparring partner for some of the school’s pros, including Bellator Fighting Championships veteran Rick Hawn and regional standout Tateki Matsuda. Font held his own, but still felt he could do more.
“I thought to myself, ‘Give me five or six months and I’ll be even better,'” he said.
By then, Font was ready to test the waters in the competitive New England amateur circuit, where he not only beat Soukhamthath, but also upended Rhode Island’s Joe Pingitore. His timing was perfect; Font waited nearly two years for the opportunity to throw hands, and, suffice to say, it was worth the wait.
“At Sityodtong, they don’t rush guys,” Font said. “They make sure you’re ready before you jump in there. It took some time, but I was ready once I got in there. I took me a year and a half before they even let me start training with the pros.”
Asked what he’d be doing now if he weren’t fighting, Font admits he would’ve probably gone back to school to pursue a degree. Instead, he’s teaching the entire northeast an important lesson, answering the question everyone’s been asking for years. Who is Rob Font? Watch and learn. You might see the next big thing in mixed martial arts.
“I’m taking tough fights for a reason,” he said. “I want to get to the next level. I don’t want to pad my record and then get to that next level and be like, ‘Oh no! I’m not that good!’ I’ll find out soon enough whether I’m ready or not.”
Tickets for “CES MMA XX” are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased by calling 401-724-2253/2254, online at www.cesmma.com or www.ticketmaster.com, or at Players Club at Twin River.
Also at “CES MMA XX,” Providence, R.I., veteran Luis Felix (9-7, 3 KOs) and Boston’s Lucas Cruz (6-1, 2 KOs) will battle for lightweight supremacy in the highly-anticipated co-feature. The Cruz-Felix bout — a CES title eliminator in the 155-pound division vacated by Mike Campbell — could steal the show, one of several fights worthy of main-event status on this stacked card. Felix typically saves his best for his most important fights, as evident by his wins over former Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) veterans Marc Stevens and Joe Proctor, while Cruz, despite his recent loss to Font, owns impressive wins over John Ortolani and Pete Jeffrey at 155.
In another highly-anticipated between two of the region’s top fighters in the welterweight division, fifth-ranked Brett Oteri (11-5, 1 KO) of Dedham, Mass., will face Dennis Olson (13-7, 1 KO) of Amherst, N.H., formerly ranked No. 1 in the 185-pound weight class. Olson last fought at Twin River in April when he submitted Todd Chattelle in the opening round of their main-event rematch.
Also on the undercard, Soukhamthath (6-1, 3 KOs) will aim for his fourth win of the year and seventh consecutive overall, the latter which would make him the winningest fighter in CES MMA history, breaking a tie with the aforementioned Chattelle. The Woonsocket, R.I., featherweight will face 5-foot-7 challenger Corey Simmons (5-5) of Defiance, Ohio.
Not to be outdone, Providence light heavyweight Greg Rebello (15-5, 8 KOs) will end his short-lived retirement and return to the cage Friday following a loss in his last bout in June. Once considered the top fighter in his weight class in New England, Rebello won 11 consecutive fights between 2006 and 2010 before a tough loss to Dan Cramer at the Bellator Fighting Championships. After losing a split decision to Lewis Rumsey in June — his third loss in six fights — Rebello announced his retirement, but has decided to resume his career Friday in CES MMA’s 20th celebration show.
The undercard of “CES MMA XX” will also feature the return of fan-favorite Charles Rosa (5-0, 2 KOs), a rising star in the lightweight division who wrestled collegiately at Providence’s Johnson & Wales University before returning home to Boynton Beach, Fla., but still maintains a strong fan base in Rhode Island. Rosa made his CES debut in October with an impressive submission win over Steve McCabe and will now face the dangerous Ralph Johnson (6-8, 6 KOs) of Worcester, Mass., who is coming off an impressive, first-round knockout win over Jason Ward in November, making that six first-round knockout wins for the 6-foot-5 slugger in his career.
Looking to keep his perfect record intact, East Providence, R.I., lightweight Nate Andrews (5-0, 2 KOs) will step up face seasoned Miamisburg, Ohio, veteran Tyler Combs (13-11, 8 KOs), while another unbeaten prospect, Providence welterweight Eric Spicely (2-0), will return for his third and final fight of 2013 when he faces Connecticut native Tyler Rose (1-0) in a three-round bout. Providence featherweight Tom Evans (2-2, 1 KO) will look to snap a two-fight losing streak when he faces Ruso Khubejashvili (3-2) of Massachusetts and welterweight Keenan Raymond (1-0) of Providence will face Addison O’Neal. All fights and fighters are subject to change.