Dark Horse no more, big fights are looming for Rob Font

“There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup”

The jab is the singular most important punch in Boxing, with it often being the difference between victory and defeat. The same truth can be told in mixed martial arts, where a correct use of the jab allows an athlete to set up their arsenal of attack in order to claim a win.

UFC bantamweight Rob Font is one of the best and more frequent users of the jab in high-level MMA, actively fighting behind the punch to plan offense, deactivate pressure and maintain range. It is a key factor in each of his appearances and will be today’s main subject of discussion.

Standing at 5’8” with a 71 1/2 inch reach, Font is no stranger to upper-echelon competition. Since his promotional debut seven years ago, he has fought the likes of John Lineker, Pedro Munhoz, Marlon Moraes, and Raphael Assuncao to name but a few, yet it has taken up until last year for the 33-year-old to crack the top 5. Despite this, he earned his rank with a lovely first-round stoppage over Marlon Moraes, a former title contender with explosiveness similar to that of an angry Barboza.

It’s worth noting that Moraes was just two months removed from his knockout loss to Cory Sandhagen, and ever since his bout with Henry Cejudo, his chin had looked brittle. In more informal words – Moraes was, and still is on the decline. But don’t let this distract you from Font’s mild offensive genius.

Font jabs to create space in order to escape being backed against the cage. A perfectly timed snapping jab upon re-entering range stuns Moraes, and a double-hook combination follows. This is a sign of what’s to come – Moraes is glaringly uncomfortable in lengthy exchanges.

Font was doing the correct things at the correct time; switching his jab, doubling up on lead hand attacks, and exiting range. This froze Moraes, who resorted to stagnant movement and a high guard when met with force. And despite it being early on, Font had already laid the foundation for his finish, knowing Marlon relied on leading and fighting at his own range.

While his offensive jab was stealing the show, he also used the punch defensively as a way to alleviate pressure. To do this, he would step forwards with a jab from orthodox as his opponent shuffled towards him. Moraes was unable to slip the punch due to its speed and precision, meaning that this primary layer of defense was enough to neutralize a large proportion of his game.

As the pair are seemingly out of punching range, Moraes lowers his guard in an attempt to reset, causing Font to capitalize on this window of opportunity with a jab. He had conditioned Moraes to the jab; Moraes was accustomed to that punch leading combos, which is why it came as a surprise when Font easily rattled him with the right hand.

Font moved in with a throwaway jab (it distracted the opposition and allowed him to cover distance), using it to set up the triple hook combo. The series of hooks were dished out in a sloppy manner as there was no real regard to defense, but the fact he had eaten Moraes’ biggest counter and remain unfazed was a positive sign.

From here on, Rob showcased his experience by picking his shots. He would enter punching range with a jab, pump it back out as a throwaway and then clobber Moraes with the rear uppercut, splitting the guard and dropping him. Plenty of ground and pound would warrant a stoppage from referee Marc Goddard – he had secured a first-round knockout over the “Magic Man.”

With a victory over Moraes, Rob Font was immediately thrown into the title picture, many impressed by the skills he had shown that December night. Yet his thoughtful finish of Moraes was far from his best performance.

Against the smaller, yet crafty Sergio Pettis (Bellator’s reigning bantamweight King), Font once again displayed his jab, ability to pressure and tactical shot selection. The two threw down in December 2018, with Rob being the last athlete to hand Sergio a defeat.

Font begins the fight long, sporting a wide, high guard with plenty of feints. He is able to fire his jab while slipping back to avoid counters, establishing his preferred punching range. Note how he jabs and feints as Pettis subtly pressures; this defuses Pettis’ attempts.

The lead hand was used regularly to intercept the forward movement of Pettis, ultimately ruining his goal of pressuring. Countering the jab proved to be an ineffective option, too, as the reach advantage and footwork of Font made for a difficult moving target. Due to this, Sergio quickly brought out his kicking game, aiming to stifle Font’s growing constraint…

…but Font countered these kicks with punches, letting it be known that his attempts would come at an expense.

In the clip, you will also see Font ripping to the body. His right straight to the mid-section – like his jab – is used to ease pressure and create space.

Following a defensive body kick from Pettis, Font applies pressure and walks him onto a heavy hook. He was able to land this through a combination of his pressure/cage cutting abilities; Pettis would avoid the cage at all costs, hence why Font chose this strike.

This approach was further witnessed in his submission win over Douglas Silva de Andrade, where the small and stocky bantamweight found himself forced into body shots and shutout through feints. Font’s depth shone bright, as he would add layers to his offense in the process of throwing (timing knees according to de Andrade’s dips, etc).

Douglas Silva de Andrade struggled with all these factors and would panic when met with flurries. Font again managed distance well, avoiding counters while landing some of his own to pick apart his 24-1 counterpart.

After forcing de Andrade backwards, Font draws out an elbow through his level changes. He then turns to pressuring, emphasizing my point that his opponent is almost allergic to flurries and fighting off the backfoot. I like how Font lands a short hook to the body up close as they finish their exchange; this lead to de Andrade lowering his guard.

Font finally had de Andrade trapped against the cage, cutting off his options while looking to score some damage. Early in the GIF, he slips a jab and draws a reaction with his lead hand – Font knew at this moment his preferred shot would soon land. His opponent lunges forward yet couldn’t create any space, and Rob cuts off the cage to send him into the lead hook.

The jab featured far, far less in this fight, however, he still found major success through many other developed tools. Feints and practical pressure are just two that play a fitting role.

Here is a fine example of Font forcing de Andrade into a right hook; look how he jabs to the right handside of de Andrade’s head, prompting him to shift left into the planned punch.

Font’s lead hand deters an attack from a fatigued de Andrade, who stumbles backward due to the pressure. Font marches on, feinting out a counter to time an overhand right. The overhand flies above the lead arm of de Andrade, who gets torn apart in the clinch and submitted moments later.

Currently scheduled to face former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt on May 22, Rob Font has a decent-sized task to work through. Garbrandt packs more than just your average punch, and with lightning-fast hands, any poor effort with the lead hand will more likely than not be punished. But Font brings his own set of weapons to the Octagon, each having the potential to harm Garbrandt; feints (level changes, light actions with the shoulders, throwaways), his ever-present pressure and wicked jab (whether that be snappy or pawing), should feature frequently throughout their encounter.

Since shedding his skin of a ‘dark horse’ in December, Font now exhibits a mix of experience, danger and contendership. Gone are the days of losing to gatekeepers or failing to climb the ranks. Big fights are looming, and on May 22, his pedigree may get that much more impressive.

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