Feature | Nov 30 2019

The Away Fighter: “I just felt it was set up”

As British boxing claims responsibility for a spate of recent officiating controversies, Elliot Worsell speaks to an away fighter on the receiving end
Joshua Buatsi v Ryan Ford - WBA International Light-Heavyweight Title  |  Joshua Buatsi vs. Ryan Ford (Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)

THE Away Fighter knew both what was expected of him and what he was letting himself in for.

He knew the rules of the game and understood that his rules differed to those of his opponent. He realised, too, that his name, as the B-side, was all but irrelevant and that the same could be said for three scorecards and the expertise of the three judges tasked with putting pencil to paper and filling them in. By irrelevant, of course, he meant out of his control.

The last time The Away Fighter boxed out of the away corner he was in Germany losing a fight he was actually winning against a German. He was, despite dominating, somehow trailing on points, yet would recover from a vicious low blow in the third round to confound his opponent, the three judges and the rules of the game by securing a stoppage victory in the eighth.

Silence.

The crowd.

Then his phone.

Five months later, The Away Fighter left Canada for England, buoyed by his recent upset win, albeit forever haunted by previous decision losses in Germany and Russia. He was sure to go the distance – essentially his reason for being booked – but was just as sure he would have to do more than simply win to have his hand raised on foreign soil.

The Away Fighter weighs in (Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)

So, for the six and a half rounds he spent in front of Sky Sports cameras on a pay-per-view show, The Away Fighter simplified things: his mind, his strategy, his goals. He controlled all he was able to control and offered not so much as a fleeting glance at the bigger picture. He controlled the four limbs vital to both his chances of survival and his faint hope of winning and he controlled his temperament, the one component all good away fighters must keep in check if they are to partake in a rigged game and then smile and say thank you when their hands are left empty.  

“I know before we even start that I am already losing the fight,” The Away Fighter, 37, told Boxing News. “It’s part of the business.

“I know if it comes to a decision, most likely I will lose, and that knocking these guys out is the only way I am going to win the fight.

“I knew that because I fought Avni Yildirim in Cologne, Germany, in his hometown, on his promoter’s show, and I beat him. The scorecards came up on TV and said I won the fight. But they gave him the decision.

“It was nothing new. I know every time I go overseas to fight someone, I have to knock them out. And to tell you the truth, when I fight, I’m always there to finish. I’m not there to show my finesse or outpoint you. I’m an exciting fighter. When I’m done with my career, I want people to say I always showed up and tried to finish fights.”

On August 31, at London’s O2 Arena, The Away Fighter reverted to type. He attacked an unbeaten light-heavyweight and pushed forward to forget the past. He worked hard to maintain his record of having never been stopped and worked harder to ensure three ringside judges wouldn’t be necessary.

Yet in the seventh round Joshua Buatsi, 11-0, blasted him hard to the head then harder below the belt and The Away Fighter experienced both a pain like no other and a position inside the boxing ring – the canvas – he would typically only touch with his boots. Somehow deemed a legal shot, the fight was waved off when The Away Fighter, writhing in pain, failed to beat the count.

The referee, in crossing his arms, had produced the ending everybody except The Away Fighter had been expecting. The one they all wanted.

Referee Bob Williams watches Buatsi punch The Away Fighter below the belt (Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)

“I haven’t been hit that hard by a low blow in a very long time,” The Away Fighter admitted. “Thank God I have my two beautiful kids.” He laughed now, though didn’t – couldn’t – at the time. “I’m not a guy who’s going to complain about a borderline shot. I’m sure I’ve thrown plenty myself over the years. But when you get hit by a clear low blow like I did, there’s no contesting it. Even a blind person could see it. I just felt it was set up.”

Like most bad decisions in boxing, it was quickly attributed to human error, while The Away Fighter was, like most opponents, urged to find consolation in the grubby hands patting his back, the sympathetic applause of the home fans and in the salutations of television pundits who assured him he put up a good fight. He would then be booked on the earliest flight back to Canada.

“I felt like I was just starting to turn it on,” was one of the thoughts he was encouraged to keep to himself and take with him on the plane. “He’s never been past the sixth and I knew Eddie Hearn (Buatsi’s promoter) wanted him to get in rounds and go to places he’d never been before. But I don’t think they were ready for what I was about to start bringing.

“That’s one thing I am known for. I am tough, I am durable, and I don’t go across the world to just get beat. I come over to win.

“To have that KO on my record is false and anybody who watches the fight, and anybody who knows anything about boxing, will realise that. They will know I’ve never been properly stopped and have never even been close to being stopped in any of my fights.”

Charlie Edwards
The Away Fighter saw Julio Cesar Martinez do this to Charlie Edwards (Action Images/Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)

Before he left the venue, The Away Fighter’s misery was compounded when witnessing a WBC flyweight champion get hit with an illegal shot while grounded and then, moments later, before his eyes had even dried, discover a third-round stoppage defeat had in fact been ruled a No Contest.

Phew.

The Away Fighter didn’t dispute the call, for he knew it was correct, yet the speed with which the WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman stole the victory from Julio Cesar Martinez and delivered the good news to Charlie Edwards, the champion from London, left him reeling.

Were it not clear beforehand, he now knew exactly what it meant to be The Home Fighter. 

“I just wish they had shown replays like they did for the WBC flyweight title fight a little later in the night,” he said. “They showed about 20 different camera angles when it came to that punch but cut it pretty quick when it came to mine.”

Some defeats matter; other defeats don’t.

On his flight home The Away Fighter reflected on this truth before considering the pros and cons of dropping down in weight, having easily made the light-heavyweight limit of 175 pounds, and imagining what would have happened had he been allowed to recover from his low blow and continue. He then wondered why Buatsi, this prospect of whom great things are expected, wasn’t the monster he had been anticipating.

“Honest truth, I’ve had tougher fights,” he said. “I honestly thought because of all the hype behind him, and them all saying he was going to be the next world champion, it would be tougher.

“Don’t get me wrong, the kid is a solid athlete. He’s also got Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua behind him, so there’s a good chance he’s probably going to make it somewhere. But he did not have the craft or punching power I thought he was going to have.

“I feel like he has been able to bully previous opponents and get them kind of scared of him. He found out after the first round that that wasn’t happening with me.

“Every time I’ve seen him fight, he’s always been the guy putting on the pressure. In our fight, though, he was the guy fighting on the back foot. You never see him do that.”

Finally, once back in Canada, The Away Fighter thought about his father, Al Ford, a former Canadian lightweight champion who once boxed Ray Mancini and Aaron Pryor, and remembered the terms he had often used to refer to the sport from which his son now makes a living. After that, he remembered why his mother never wanted him to box in the first place.

“My dad told me when I started in boxing that it’s a very corrupt business,” said The Away Fighter. “My record is 16-5 but really I should be 20-1. I totally understand why I’m not.

“When you’re not the promoter’s guy, these things happen. I don’t even look at boxing as a sport anymore. I look at it more as a business. It’s all about money and it’s a shame.

“The guys with the power and big money get to call the shots and make things happen that shouldn’t happen. It sucks but unfortunately it’s what we have to deal with.”

The Away Fighter’s next fight takes place on December 6 in Edmonton, Canada. Though it will be considerably less lucrative than recent adventures, and watched by far fewer people, Ryan Ford will just be happy to be home.

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