‘This Is Where I Need To Be’

Ryan Ford is a man on a mission, determined to come all the way back from crime and prison and be not only a positive role model but also a world champion. On Friday night he takes another step towards that goal when he faces tough journeyman Juadiel Zepeda at the Club Regent Casino in Winnipeg. Last week Ford took a break from training at the Grant Brothers Boxing Gym to speak with The Fight City.

Growing up, the dream was football. From the time I was 13, I loved it, worked so hard, got to the pro level and was on the practice roster for the B.C. Lions, so close to the big time. And what happens? I blow out my knee. And that’s that. Seven years of sweat and work and dreams and it’s goodbye, football. So time for something different and boxing made sense. After all, my father, Al Ford, was Canadian lightweight champ. Took on the best fighters of his time, guys like Nicky Furlano, Ray Mancini, Ken Buchanan, Aaron Pryor. So let me get in the ring and see what I can do.

I had two amateur fights and lost them both. One of them, yeah, it was a legit defeat. I wasn’t quite ready. But the second one, no way I lost it. Just didn’t get the decision and that happens in boxing. But at the time, it was hard to swallow. And that’s not supposed to happen to Al Ford’s son. Especially in Edmonton, which is Al Ford’s town. I’ll admit I was disappointed. Discouraged. Started making some bad choices.

Ryan Ford during his MMA days.
Ryan Ford during his MMA days.

I was young and got into some stupid shit. It was the street life. You grow up watching those hip-hop videos and the gangbangers got the flashy cars, they got the girls, they got the money. And they don’t got a job! So, hey, let me try that. Selling drugs and being a badass. But you know, 50 Cent put it best; if you live that life, in the end there’s only two things that can happen: you’re in jail or you’re dead. And I’m not dead. But I did go to jail and that was something that made me change. I didn’t like it one bit.

My mom and dad split when I was three or four years old, so that whole thing was especially hard on my mom. She’s the one who raised me along with my brother and sister, so she’s the one who felt it and had to deal with it. Single mom, trying to take care of three kids on her own. But what I did had nothing to do with her. My mom actually raised me right and tried to teach me to be positive and responsible and have respect. Had nothing to do with her. I just chose that path. But now she’s happy. She’s been happy since 2007, when I got out of jail and turned everything around.

My wife, Nina, we’ve been together a long time and she stuck by me for that whole two-and-a-half years I was away. After that we had our first baby, my daughter, Bella, and that really changed my life. She really opened my eyes. Whatever I do now, it’s not just about me, but it’s going to affect my wife and my two kids. And if I’m not around, who’s gonna take care of them? So now it’s total focus. I want to become a world champion and provide for my family and be the best dad I can be. Because when I was growing up my dad wasn’t around that much, so I’m breaking that cycle and giving my kids something I never had.

Ryan's father, Al Ford, checking his spot in the world rankings in 1970.
Ryan’s father, Al Ford, checking the world rankings in 1970.

I love Evander Holyfield but the nickname really has nothing to do with him. My job in prison was to help take care of the gym and so every day I was training and I stuck with it and guys noticed and they were like, “Hey, you’re the real deal, eh?” And I told everyone, “I’m gonna be a fighter when I get out.” And naturally, people say all kinds of things when they’re inside, talk big, but I followed through. And I hear now from some of the guards at the prison and they’re like, “Hey, Ford, guys talk a lot of shit, but then they leave and they’re right back in. But you? You got out and next thing I know I’m watching you on TV! You never came back! You’re ‘The Real Deal!'”

And hearing that feels good. I know what happened is always gonna follow me. But if people want to focus on that, okay, go ahead, but that was a long time ago. 2003. So if you want to talk about the stupid stuff I did when I was young, fine, but it’s 2016 now, people. Look at what I’ve done since. So that’s what the nickname is about. I’m “The Real Deal” because I’m a man of my word. I said I would be a fighter and I am. I’m dedicated and focused and I’ve turned my life around.

People don’t understand, Ryan Ford has a story to tell. From negative to positive. Now I go to schools and talk to kids who are going through hard times and see the fast life as an option. And if I can talk one kid out of a hundred not to go that way, that’s good enough for me. They know I’ve been there, I went down the wrong road and I’ve done my time. So I speak from experience and the kids listen to that. I learned from my mistakes and what I went through made me the man I am today. My journey is on a positive path now. I had to learn things the hard way. But if you learn, then the past is gone and you’re moving on to something better.

I decided I needed something more wild than boxing because I got all this aggression in me, so MMA made sense. In 2007 I started training seriously, won my debut by first round knockout and that catapulted my career. From there, I was on my way, fighting in different leagues, and worked up to the World Series Of Fighting. But I had a problem: my right arm kept getting broken.

Ryan defeated David Whittom last March in Edmonton.
Ryan defeated David Whittom last March in Edmonton.

First time it happened was for the Aggression Fighting Championship. Busted it in the first round and fought four more rounds and choked my opponent out with 30 seconds left. Had no idea it was broken. Went out that night to celebrate, had a couple drinks, felt no pain, but the next morning I knew something was seriously wrong. The people at the hospital, two of them had actually been to the fight and they were like, “Dude, your arm is broken!” I had told my corner something was wrong with the arm after the first round, but they said, “Hey, you’re doing good! Keep going!” and I just put it out of my mind. What can I say? Adrenaline: hell of a drug.

Had surgery, fought again, won the World Series of Fighting, Canadian welterweight title, first round, front-kick knockout that they said was the kick heard around the world. Big win, so sign up to fight Jake Shields and I’m training at Tristar and I get hit with a back kick in sparring, hits my arm, and it’s broken again. So here I am, the biggest fight of my life coming up, and I need it, man. I can go hungry, no problem, but the people depending on me can’t. So, I just decided, “I don’t care, I’m gonna take this fight.” I go in and fight Jake Shields with one arm. I actually drop him early, but he gets me down and chokes me out in the first round.

How did I pass the pre-fight physical? Good question. Looking back, I don’t know. I did everything they asked me to do, including push-ups, with a busted arm. I don’t know how I did it. It hurt like hell. But I had to do it, so I did it. And I know that now they do different exercises in the physical to make sure that can’t ever happen again. And after the fight I put up a video to show everyone the reality of the situation. And I wasn’t trying to take away from the loss or undermine Jake Shields. It was about telling everyone, “Hey, I had a job to do, and I did it. Most people, if they take a sick day, they still get paid. If I’m sick and I don’t fight, I don’t get paid. So I did what I had to do.”

So, arm heals up and I’m getting ready for another big fight, training hard, and sure enough, I break my arm again. So I had to sit down with my people and think about what I wanted to do and just decided, let’s go back to my roots. Boxing. I’m a stand-up fighter anyway. So here I am, undefeated, 8-0, five knockouts. And the arm is fine.

And what I like is, with boxing you focus on one thing and have the chance to refine your technique and be great at it. In MMA, you have to work on so many things and can’t be really great at any one thing. My stand-up was good and my wrestling was good, but I had to keep working on my jiu jitsu and other things and you don’t have the chance to actually be excellent at something. With boxing, that’s all you do, every day, and that allows you to get to a different level. Plus, no one is gonna kick me in the arm. You can punch me in the arm as hard as you want, it’s not the same thing. So I’m in love with boxing again and I feel like the sky is the limit. Got fights lined up for October 28 and December 2nd and by the end of the year I’m gonna be 10-0.

Ford training at the Grant Brothers gym with Francis Lafreniere and Lucian Bute.
Ford training at the Grant Brothers gym with Francis Lafreniere and Lucian Bute.

I’m giving myself four years to get where I want to be. I believe I can fight for a world title. But my time is now. I’m 34-years-old, but I’m fresh, never been knocked out, in terrific shape. Give me a week and I can fight at 175; give me an extra week and I can do super middleweight. I’ve never missed weight and I’m ready to go. Within four years, I want to fight for a world title. And it’s not like I’m your average 8-0 boxer. I’ve been fighting and training for years and I believe I’m ready for anything, any of the top guys. If you look at my record, I’ve been beating guys with 15, 20, 30 fights, so that has to count for something. I’ve told my people, it’s time to try and move it to the next level as soon as possible.

In Edmonton I don’t really have guys to spar with. I need other fighters who are at my level or better to help me get sharp. I have good trainers there and I was working hard, but I know Montreal is where I need to be. There’s so many good fighters here and the Grant Brothers Gym is a great fit. I have the chance to work with guys like Shakeel Phinn, Dario Bredicean, Erik Bazinyan, Lucian Bute. These are the kind of boxers I need to work with if I’m gonna be sharp and take on the top guys. So this is where I need to be.

I’ll take on anyone, anytime. I’m that kind of fighter. Light heavyweight, super middleweight: doesn’t matter. I know I’m gonna train hard and be ready. And in the end, it’s about heart, and I’ve got that heart. So, I give myself a chance against anyone because I train my ass off and I’m ready to go and I’ve got the desire to battle all the way. Friday night it’s another win, another step forward. I’m doing this for my family, for Nina and RJ and Bella. And to show the world a man can turn his life around, go from the lowest, from prison and failure, to success and glory. And then the whole world is gonna know, Ryan Ford is “The Real Deal.”                    — Michael Carbert 

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