EVERETT, Mass. – Rob Font admits Marlon Vera wasn’t on his radar when the offer came, but that doesn’t mean he has an easy task on his hands come fight night.

He expected a summer return, maybe against Cory Sandhagen or the like. In need of a UFC Fight Night headliner for April 30, the promotion booked Font (19-5 MMA, 9-4 UFC) in a fan-friendly matchup against Vera (18-7-1 MMA, 12-6 UFC) instead.

“I figured I’d be fighting by July, like somewhere around there,” Font told MMA Junkie on Thursday at Encore Casino. “But April is cool, too. I didn’t even have Chito on my radar. I figured that eventually one day, but I didn’t even have him on my radar. So it was especially a surprise when they brought up his name. But it’s another main event against a tough fighter. I’m here for the fight.”

It was a slow-but-worth-it grind for Vera and Font to get to the point of contendership. Their paths were both similar and different. They debuted five UFC pay-per-view events apart. Font made his first walk at UFC 175 in July 2014. Four months later, Vera debuted in November at UFC 180.

Since those initial appearances, Font has competed 13 times. Vera has 18 to his name. Though he beat Vera into the status of contender and headliner, Font is not underestimating the challenge in front of him. Sure, he’s fighting down in the rankings – but that means little outside of public perception.

“He’s No. 8, I’m No. 5. Obviously, I’m fighting backward but it’s still a big fight,” Font said. “He’s still a well-known fighter. In a perfect world, I would’ve liked to obviously fight Cory (Sandhagen) or somebody ahead of me. It didn’t work out. We got Chito. It’s not like he’s fought four times and is calling for a top-five guy. He’s been around. He’s fought everybody, tough fights. So yeah, I think his fight makes sense as far as for the fans, for sure. As far as entertainment, it’s definitely worthy of a main event.

“… You’ve got to be impressed with beating Frankie Edgar. If I’m not mistaken, he was losing that fight and he came back and pulled it off. That’s hard. I’ve been down on fights and it’s hard to pull it together and come back and get that W. He did and he finished, too. Yeah, he’s been looking impressive, looking good. I’m excited for this one.”

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What does Font have to gain taking a difficult matchup that’s backward in the rankings? He can not only get back in the win column, but display the improvements he made since a December loss to former UFC featherweight king Jose Aldo. The fight was a back-and-forth battle, which after Aldo swept the scorecards in.

“It just sucked, fighting a guy like that and not taking advantage of the opportunity like that,” Font said. “I’m happy for (Aldo) and hopefully we get that rematch. … For me, it was just not having the right distance in the first round, as far as thinking I was safe and not necessarily moving my feet. I was thinking I was good and then he jumps in. If you get hurt that hurt early, everything else from that point on, everything that touches you is kind of like, ‘I’m usually good with strikes like this and now I’m falling all over the place.’

“Obviously, (I’ll try) not to get hit too early. It’s huge. You can’t get hit at this stage with some of these guys. It takes one and it’s a long night for you. Just again, learning how to fight that five-round fight and not just looking for the finish the whole time, you’ve got to strategize and fight that five-round fight. Yeah, man, I’m excited. I’m going to be back there against another tough opponent. He brings it. I know he’s not going to be running the whole time.”

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Despite the quick launch into a seven-week fight camp, Font remains consistent with his dedication to his close-knit New England Cartel team. After days spent helping teammate Calvin Kattar as he promoted an event, Combat Zone 75, at Encore Boston casino.

New England as a region is now well-represented in MMA, but most events take place outside of the Boston area. Font wouldn’t hate seeing that change and hopes the UFC soon makes a return to Massachusetts for the first time since October 2019.

“We’ve got to bring it back,” Font said. “We have to bring it back. It’s a must. It only makes sense, especially at the Garden, so we’ve got to bring it back.”

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