Not every workout for a professional fighter is ripped from the pages of a Hollywood movie script with sparring partners crashing to the canvas one-by-one like trees in a forest.
Training can be rather humbling, even for CES MMA featherweight champion Rob Font, but it’s far better to be humbled in the gym than in the cage when it really counts.
“I’ve sparred with guys who make me say to myself, ‘Holy shit, what am I doing?’ Some of these guys make you feel like you know nothing about the sport,” Font said.
“I put myself in that position all the time. I don’t want to get in that cage and feel like I can’t handle a certain situation. You’ve got to be truthful to yourself.”
In mixed martial arts, it pays to be humble, and, in Font’s case, it pays to be humbled, too. The hard work in the gym, which fuels his success in the cage, has put Font at the head of the class in the Northeast. As he prepares for Friday’s fight at Twin River Casino against the dangerous Tristan Johnson in the main event of “CES MMA XXIII,” Font (9-1, 2 KOs) knows every fights brings him closer to the proverbial call every fighter dreams of, but it’s a call Font won’t answer unless he’s 100 percent ready.
“I don’t want to just squeak by,” he said. “I want to be a household name.”
Font’s big-picture approach is what separates him from others; having won eight consecutive fights since his lone loss in 2012, he’s out for long-term success on a global scale, not instant gratification, or a quick “cup of coffee,” as similar promotions are often referred to in other professional sports.
“It’s a difficult decision,” Font said. “If you get that call, it’s tough to say no because you never know if you’ll get that opportunity again, but if it’s not the right time, you have to be honest with yourself.
“You don’t want to be there just so [the promoter] can fill up the undercard. I’ve seen guys win 10 fights in a row with 10 finishes and they go in there and they can barely get a punch off. It breaks a lot of guys. You start to think you’re not really that good.”
That’s why Font prefers his beatings and black eyes — as rare as they might be — at Sityodtong in Boston, where he trains under the guidance of Mark DellaGrotte alongside teammates John Johnston, Tyson Chartier and others.
Another teammate, undefeated, 24-year-old welterweight Bekzod Abdurakhmonov, is a former collegiate wrestler. He and Font tangle often at Sityodtong, with Font typically winding up on the wrong end of the exchange.
“He literally toys with me,” Font said. “He makes me realize how far out of my realm I am.
“But I put myself in these battles. If a great boxer comes into the gym to get some work, I’m going to work with him. If I can take it to these guys, I’ll be okay once I step inside the cage. That’s the only way you get better.”
Font may or may not be the hardest-working fighter in mixed martial arts, nor would he ever claim to be, but his work ethic in the gym has drawn praise from teammates and coaches who aren’t at all surprised by his meteoric rise. The Tampa native who moved to Boston four years ago didn’t even begin his amateur career until 2011, yet he’s now 9-1 as a pro sitting atop the featherweight division as one of the most feared fighters in the Northeast.
“Rob is just a very dedicated, hard worker,” said Johnston, the head Muay Thai trainer at Sityodtong who is also the reigning undefeated CES MMA heavyweight champ.
“And he listens. He listens 100 percent. I always see him taking bits and pieces of what he’s taught and continuously working on it. He never questions what we ask of him or tell him to do.”
Listening might be Font’s greatest strength. For every physical marvel that steps foot inside a gym, there’s a fighter off the side quietly absorbing every last bit of information to use it to his advantage once the stakes are raised. That’s Font — always listening, always learning, and always focusing on what he can do better next time around.
“MMA is his life,” Johnston said. “This is what he does every single day. Someone who is that passionate and that dedicated to the sport, who’s constantly training and getting better, taking the tough fights he does, is going to make a splash.”
As the fights get tougher and tougher, so does Font. The last time out, he made quick work of Bombsquad veteran Ahsan Abdullah, choking him out within four minutes of the opening round. Friday’s opponent, Johnson, might be the toughest fighter he’s faced outside of Northeast. The Nova Scotia native has won three of his last five, including a split decision win over Bellator vet Will Romero in 2012.
“Tough guy — definitely another tough fight,” Font said. “He’s a striker, and I feel better with a classic striker. I’m not trying to get into a brawl — that’s not my style — but I’d prefer to go tit-for-tat with a striker and see what he’s got. If the opportunity to take him down presents itself, I’ll go for it.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘Rob, you really don’t need all of these tough fights anymore. You’ve proven yourself. Take a couple of fights to work your way up.’ I see guys fighting guys who are 10-20. That just doesn’t seem right. I feel like a tough fight keeps my confidence up. These guys step up when they haven’t even fought anyone and when they get beat it’s a big shock to them. Then they start pointing fingers, blaming their camp or blaming their coaches.
“You have to trust yourself. You can’t keep fighting tomato cans. When it’s my time, I’ll be ready, and my team will let me know when I’m ready to take that step.”
Tickets for “CES MMA XXIII” are on sale now at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesmma.com or www.twinriver.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The card also features a potential Fight of the Night showdown between Boston’s Tateki Matsuda and unbeaten bantamweight Matt Doherty (3-0, 2 KOs) of Salem, Mass. Matsuda has lost his last two while Doherty is coming off a submission win over Shaun Marmas in January.
Also on the undercard, fan-favorite Andre Soukhamthath (7-2, 4 KOs) of Woonsocket, R.I., will face Joshua Killion (10-4) of Defiance, Ohio, in a bantamweight bout. Lightweight Bobby Flynn (4-1, 1 KO) of Mashpee, Mass., will battle Providence’s Tundee Odumuso (2-2); and featherweight Pete Rogers Jr. (0-1) of Baltic, Conn., will face Franklin Isabel (3-7) of Chelsea, Mass. Two-time Bellator vet Rico DiSciullo (1-0) of Peabody, Mass., will face Jordan Espinosa (3-3) of Findlay, Ohio in a three-round bantamweight bout, while East Providence, R.I., heavyweight Eric Bedard (6-4, 4 KOs) battles Matthew Thompson (18-9, 7 KOs) of Austin, Tex. Providence, R.I., welterweight Eric Spicely (3-0, 1 KO) will be featured in a separate three-round bout.