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Rob Font puzzled by perception of Marlon Vera ahead of UFC on ESPN 35 headliner

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LAS VEGAS – Rob Font knows the onus is on him to maintain his position in the upper tier of the bantamweight division in the UFC on ESPN 35 main event.

After suffering a loss to Jose Aldo in their December headliner, Font (19-5 MMA, 9-4 UFC) gets another chance to prevail under the spotlight when he takes on Marlon Vera (18-7-1 MMA, 12-6 UFC) on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on ESPN following prelims on ESPN2.

There was no shame in the setback against a legend like Aldo, but Font said he knows he made some tactical mistakes that diminished his chances for victory. He thinks he’s rectified some of those errors, and is glad the promotion put him in the position to show it on a big stage.

“Three back-to-back, three main events, especially against two former champions (in Aldo and Cody Garbrandt) – I think they trust me,” Font told MMA Junkie and other reporters at Wednesday’s UFC on ESPN 35 media day. “I think they know I’m going to put on an exciting fight. I think they know I’m going to make weight, I’m going to show up and I’m going to handle business.”

Font, No. 7 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie bantamweight rankings, had a four-fight winning streak snapped in a unanimous decision loss to Aldo at UFC on ESPN 31. Vera, an honorable mention in the latest rankings, is hungry to give him back-to-back losses and take a spot inside the top 10.

Vera has been on a hot streak coming into what’s his first UFC main event with eight wins in his past 10. “Chito” has the most finishes in the history of the UFC’s 135-pound division, including stoppages over future UFC Hall of Famer Frankie Edgar and rising star Sean O’Malley.

The attention around Vera has only really come in the past couple years, but Font said he’s well aware his next opponent debuted in the UFC just four months after he did back in 2014.

“He’s been around for a while,” Font said. “It’s weird. People are acting like he’s like the new guy, but he’s been around for a while – ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ shows, fought a lot of tough guys, fought Aldo. I definitely give it to that. I think he might not stand out in one particular martial art, but overall he’s tough. He’s gritty. And he’s not easy to put away, either. … This guy is there. He’s hungry and I know he’s going to be bring the fight, so this is an exciting fight for me.”

If Font, 34, can deny Vera, 29, in the upcoming clash, he would have a claim for another marquee matchup in the division. He had a lot of momentum prior to the loss to Aldo, and at one point was even offered an interim UFC title bout that he was unable to accept due to injury.

Font’s current energy isn’t directed on when he’ll fight for a belt, he said, because he knows it’s all predicated on winning this fight.

“Obviously this fight is one of those where we’re fighting backwards. That doesn’t necessarily catapult me to the title shot, which is whatever. I’m just trying to get my hand raised, try to get back to that win streak and we’ll see what happens after that.”

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