No one can say born warrior Ryan Ford hasn’t had his chances to break through to greater prominence and a higher ranking in the light heavyweight division, but at the same time no one can say he’s gotten a fair shake in all of those chances either. More than one hometown decision has stymied his progress and betrayed his willingness to journey to Russia or Germany in order to get meaningful fights. And more than one ranked contender has avoided the former MMA battler who earned his nickname “The Real Deal” the hard way. (For more on that extraordinary tale, click here.)
But the always game Ford took matters into his own hands last April when he scored a memorable one-shot knockout of undefeated German prospect Serge Michel, which in turn led to the chance to face another undefeated prospect, young Joshua Buatsi, on the undercard of last weekend’s Lomachenko vs Campbell event at the O2 Arena in London, England.
No one doubted that Ford was a long-shot to derail the Buatsi express. After all, the Ghanaian-born Brit is not only an Olympic medalist with an extensive amateur career, but he’s managed by no less a boxing superstar than Anthony Joshua, which means he has all the resources of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport backing him. But it was an opportunity Ford had to do his best to take advantage of, as he trained as hard as ever and then once again journeyed across the ocean to try and buck the odds.
In the end, it was far from the outcome that Ford and his supporters had hoped for, but losing a boxing match is one thing; being the victim of an injustice is another. From the opening bell it was clear the man from Edmonton had his work cut out for him. Buatsi was longer and quicker, circling the ring and pumping his jab as Ford patiently waited for openings. But if the younger man clearly won the first round, Ford edged the second with solid right hands and some solid work to Buatsi’s mid-section.
At the start of the third Buatsi asserted himself with a sharp uppercut that stunned Ford and forced him to cover up. But if the UK fight fans thought Ryan would fold-up like so many of the young prospect’s past opponents they were dead wrong, as Ford battled back in the middle part of the round, landing right hands from the outside and holding his own on the inside.
Buatsi’s jab and longer reach told the tale of the fourth, but Ford stayed in it, always pursuing, and there was no doubt he was giving the Ghanaian the toughest challenge of his career thus far. Both men picked up the pace and landed right hands to start the fifth, but now Buatsi was controlling with his sharp jab while Ford’s right hands were more often missing the target. In the sixth Ford appeared to be slowing down and Buatsi responded by putting some extra snap on his shots, including some punishing body punches.
Still, no one could question it was a competitive match and Ford opened the seventh with some solid blows, but then Buatsi ratcheted up the intensity and connected with a series of clean shots punctuated with a left hook that buckled Ford’s knees. The Briton immediately unloaded with both hands, looking for the finisher, and he eventually found it. But the pivotal punch that decided the fight wasn’t a hook to the jaw or a right hand to the chin, but a brutal left to the groin, followed, it should be noted, by an illegal rabbit punch. Ford fell in sections to the canvas and was immediately counted out, but not before telling referee Bob Williams that he’d been fouled.
For spectators in the arena, the illegal shot was perhaps easy to overlook in the midst of Buatsi’s wild two-fisted assault, but referee Bob Williams could not have been better positioned to see that the final, wicked shot that incapacitated Ford was obviously south of the border. But instead of acknowledging the foul, pausing the action, and giving the injured fighter time to recover, he simply counted ten, waved his arms, and the match goes into the books as a knockout win for the undefeated Buatsi.
Ford has since made it known to all that this was not a legit stoppage win and that he will be filing an official protest. And it’s worth noting that later, on the same card, flyweight champion Charlie Edwards was struck, while on his knees, by a very hard and very late body punch from Julio Cesar Martinez. He too was counted out but the result has been since overturned and the bout officially ruled a “no contest.” If justice was done in that case, surely the same should happen for Buatsi vs Ford.
But putting the unfortunate outcome aside for a moment, photographer Jeff Lockhart also made the long journey from Canada to London to cover the big event at the O2, and the intrepid lensman ended up in Ford’s dressing room before the showdown. Thus we are proud to present these exclusive shots of Ryan Ford’s pre-fight preparations, photos which highlight both Lockhart’s talent and the unique atmosphere in the dressing room before a big fight.
The process of preparation — from wrapping the hands, to consulting with officials and warming up with the trainer — highlights how much meticulous work is required before a professional prizefighter can answer the bell. These photos show that Ryan Ford was primed and prepared before he went out and gave his all in front of a huge crowd in London. Final outcome aside, he did himself and his Canuck fight fans proud.
— Neil Crane
Photos by Jeff Lockhart.