Ryan Ford closed the door on his run as a mixed martial artist last month, closing out his 17-year career with a 24-6 record that included stints in MFC, Bellator, and World Series of Fighting Canada before wrapping up inside the Unified MMA cage.
But just because the 41-year-old veteran hung up his four-ounce gloves doesn’t mean “The Real Deal” is done with combat sports just yet.
“Going back into MMA after seven years of straight boxing — I had the itch to get back in there, but I wasn’t truly in love with MMA; it was just an itch I had to scratch,” explained Ford, who faces off with Curtis Millender in the main event of Unified Boxing Promotions’ debut event this Friday, May 26. “I had three fights, I scratched that itch, but now it’s time to show people this is what I’ve dedicated myself to for the last seven years.”
The son of former professional boxer Al Ford, who shared the ring with the likes Aaron Pryor and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini in the later stages of his 74-fight career, the Edmonton native made the shift to “The Sweet Science” towards the end of 2015 after taking and winning his first boxing assignment all the way back in 2010.
Ford defeated Olympic gold medalist Manus Boonjumnong five fights into his shift, and claimed the UBO light heavyweight title four bouts later, eventually running his record to 14-0, resulting in a step up in competition, a series of championship bouts, and some less than desirable results.
After that initial unbeaten run, which saw him log 10 of 14 appearances on Canadian soil, Ford only made one appearance in his home and native land, picking up a sixth-round technical knockout win over Orlando Vasquez in December 2019 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton.
Now, after plying his trade internationally for the better part of the last six years, the combat sports veteran gets his boxing homecoming.
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“I’m happy to actually be fighting at home,” said Ford, who was initially slated to face fellow Canadian Jordan Mein before he was replaced by Millender. “They call me ‘The Road Warrior’ — I’ve got gloves, I’ll travel to fight wherever it is, and I’ll make sure that I give whoever it is in front of me the hardest fight of their life.
“The same thing is going to happen on the 26th, just this time, I’m going to have the home crowd on my side.
“It’s going to be awesome because boxing is what I have been doing for the past seven years, all over the world, fighting the best competition, the top boxers in the world,” he continued. “I haven’t had a chance to showcase my skills back home, in the ring, so it’s going to be exciting on May 26th that people are going to actually see what I’ve dedicated my life to when I step into that ring.”
In addition to being fired up to compete at home for the first time in far too long, Millender has given Ford an unneeded, but welcomed additional push in the lead-up to this fight, suggesting that he’ll make quick work of the local favorite.
The 35-year-old Californian is 2-0 as a boxer, earning a pair of wins close to home over opponents with just a single professional appearance to their names. As a mixed martial artist, the former UFC welterweight is 20-9 with one no contest, having more recently registered a unanimous decision win over KB Bhullar in their rematch at Unified MMA 50 on March 31.
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“These guys that want to flap their gums and think that they’re gonna take my spot, it’s not an easy task, especially when you don’t have the boxing experience,” said Ford, chuckling when asked about Millender’s pre-fight assessments of how things are going to shake out. “People keep talking about ‘You’re an old man; you’re 41 years old,’ but the thing they don’t understand is that when I’m in the gym, I’m in there with the 24- and 25-year-olds and when I leave, I feel 24 or 25.
“They can keep talking about ‘this guy is old,’ but when I get in the ring, they’re gonna understand I’ve got that old man dog in me.
“I’ve been in there with the pound-for-pound toughest, baddest boxer in the world, Artur Beterbiev,” added Ford. “I’ve fought the current world champion Joshua Buatsi at The O2 on the Lomachenko undercard. I get to show people this is the real deal — this is what I’ve been doing for seven years."
This isn’t a one-and-done or his boxing swan song either.
“One hundred percent you’re gonna be seeing more,” said Ford when asked his plans for the future. “I’ve still got lots of life left in me for boxing. I love being in the gym. I love the repetition of getting in sparring rounds. I have so much more to give.
“I just love it; it’s in my blood. I’ve got the motivation every day to get up, grind, and I’m not gonna stop until I wake up that day and feel like I don’t have the motivation and drive to be in the gym and put in the work.”
And over the last several weeks, Ford has been documenting the work he’s been putting in, filling his Instagram with clips of him preparing, counting down the days until he steps through the ropes, stands across from Millender, and asks the boisterous younger man to back up everything he said in the preamble to Friday’s main event.
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Ford doesn’t believe Millender will be up to the task, and he is looking forward to making him pay for suggesting he’d be easy work.
“I am gonna punish him a little bit for the talking, and that’s something I can do because boxing is different than MMA — it’s not small gloves,” he said, his voice tinged with excitement. “These are bigger gloves, so I can put a little bit of a beating on you before I feel like ending the fight, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.
"I’m gonna let these guys know that if you want to talk, talk, but let’s see what comes when you’re standing across from in that ring,” he added. “Let’s see if you can walk the walk.”