UFC bantamweight Rob Font believes he made ‘the right call’ in turning down short notice interim title shot

UFC Fight Night headliner Rob Font has no regrets turning down an interim UFC bantamweight title shot against Petr Yan.

Font was the first of two choices selected to replace UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling in what would be an interim title fight against former champion and top contender Yan. The No. 4 ranked contender opted out of the UFC 267 co-main event slot on Oct. 30, which was eventually awarded to fellow contender Cody Sandhagen. Font had recently been cleared of responsibility for adverse drug test findings by USADA. He contracted COVID-19 shortly after.

“I think it was the right call. It sucked. I was still dealing with the whole USADA situation. I wasn’t even sure if I was fighting for the next year,” Font tells CBS Sports ahead of his headlining clash with Jose Aldo at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. “We went to Texas to relax and hang out. We finally had our hearing and we passed it. We got cleared of everything. Unfortunately, obviously, going to Texas we f—ed around and got COVID. I’m hurting, my throats killing me. My girl is throwing up everywhere. We finally get over that, we were in the house for two weeks. My manager calls me and says, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Dubai?’

“I was hurting, I hadn’t been training. We went outside and jogged a little and sprinted to see how far off I was. It didn’t feel too bad but, man, it felt rushed. It’s a long flight, there is a lot to it. The opportunity was there but I just didn’t know. Collectively, we all felt it would have been rushed.”

The complicated state of the UFC bantamweight division puts Font (19-4) in limbo even if he is able to score an impressive victory over Aldo (30-7). Exploring the parting paths at 135, Font envisions a No. 1 contender’s matchup against former champion T.J. Dillashaw in the near future.

“If he’s not guaranteed that next title shot, as he said, I think it’s that fight,” Font said. “The champ [Sterling] still has to come back and fight Petr. If he’s still sidelined, I might be able to jump in there and get the Petr fight. If Aljamain is healthy and active, I think they fight and it leaves me and T.J. out there.

“I’m in a weird spot where even a big finish or win, I’m still stuck waiting.”

Font, 34, is just one year younger than Aldo; however, the Brazilian legend carries with him a seven-year experience edge over the Boston native.

“He’s Aldo. He’s seen it all and done it all. The experience level is there,” Font said. “Obviously, I can’t match up with him when it comes to experience. I was watching him when I first started this. I learned a lot from him but also learned from him a lot of what not to do. I’m going to capitalize on the mistakes he’s made before and make him make those mistakes again.”

Font (19-4) was marked as one to watch upon his arrival in the UFC, knocking out veteran George Roop in the first round in 2014. Alternating between wins and losses from 2017 to 2018 slowed his momentum; however, he roared to life with consecutive wins over now Bellator bantamweight champion Sergio Pettis, Ricky Simon, Marlon Moraes and former UFC bantamweight king Cody Garbrandt.

“I stopped trying to be perfect,” Font said. “I stopped waiting for the perfect opportunity to make things happen. Especially after that [Raphael] Assuncao fight, I was never going to go out like that again. Going and attacking these fights and giving myself permission to mess up. Sometimes I was trying to be too perfect or I wouldn’t throw too much if it wasn’t a perfect shot or if it wasn’t the technical look. I wouldn’t throw it.

“Now I’m just throwing whatever and having fun with it. Having a game plan but if I need to switch it up, switching it up on the fly. Reading and reacting. If you notice in most of my fights, I try to pressure these guys backwards. I’m trying to get them to throw off their back foot and counter them. It was just giving myself permission to fail. Not trying to not fail or to look bad. If you look bad, so what? Get up and have fun.”

Font also offered his assessment of fellow ranked bantamweight Cory Sandhagen who, despite a high ceiling for potential, has fallen short to Yan, Dillashaw and Sterling in the last year.

“I just think he’s still finding himself,” Font said. “He’s taken all tough fights. Three losses are not that big of a deal in MMA when you break it all down. It’s not like boxing where you get three losses and you’re basically done. Especially at the top of the division. One big win and he’s back there and [everyone] forgets he even lost those fights. Now we’re talking about performing on the night of the fight. The Aljamain fight was super quick and got done with it. The T.J. fight was close, but I feel he was backing up too much. In the Petr Yan fight, he was looking good for the first two [rounds] and then slowed down.

“For him, it’s all about executing. He has the skill set, he has the ability to do it. I believe he is one of the best strikers in the division. He puts it together well. I think sometimes he’s backing up a little bit too much and that hurts him. He’s dangerous, he’s slick. I like his style. I learn a lot from his style. I watch his style. I mimic a lot of stuff that he does. He beat two guys that I lost to, so he’s definitely dangerous. It just comes down to that night. When it comes to this game, you can be great at all aspects but it comes down to execution.”

Font fully expects and endorses a future fight against Sandhagen.

“It’s definitely going to happen for sure,” he said. “I see him being around for a while. It’s going to be a great fight because he has a fun style he brings.”