The past can be a dark place, a fact Canadian mixed martial artist Ryan “The Real Deal” Ford knows all too well.
On Jan. 6, 2003, at the age of 20, Ford joined two other men in carrying out a violent home invasion in Abbotsford, Alberta, Canada. The trio showed up on the doorstep of an Abbotsford family, reportedly in an effort to collect a debt. They threatened the man of the house at gunpoint, while also assaulting his wife as she tried to call 911. Ford’s role in the attack included nearly cutting two of the man’s fingers completely off.
“Growing up, being a kid, I was always hanging around with the wrong people,” Ford regretfully admitted in an interview with MMA DieHards. “(I) got caught up in the wrong situation.”
It was a choice that cost Ford four years in prison.
It has also cost Ford in the eyes of many MMA fans, as evidenced by a glance at any message board conversation discussing Ford’s potential future in the UFC. Any talk of Ford’s merits is overshadowed by his detractors pointing to the crime as sufficient reason to deliver final judgment on him.
Ford claims he’s a changed man now. Instead of taking part in such activities, he works hard to share his experiences with today’s youth in the hopes of preventing others from choosing a similar path. He has worked with Prestige Athletics and Learning and spreads the message during his visits to schools about the effects of these bad decisions.
“My life’s on a different path now,” Ford stated. “I go and I talk to kids at schools. I go talk to kids at troubled youth shelters and kids who are going down the wrong road in life, and I’m pretty much trying to help them steer back on the right way and let them know that ain’t the way to go.”
Family has also changed Ford for the better. He looks at life and his career in a different light now, as he upholds his responsibilities as a father to his two-year-old daughter Bella and his nine-week-old son Ryan Jr. Any parent can attest to the changes that can be brought about by just one look at their children, and Ford is no different.
“It makes me look at life not for myself,” Ford said. “I have a family to feed now. These are the people that I live for and I’m going to make sure I’m there for them 100 percent.”
If his current actions speak for him, they’re saying he deserves a second chance.
The past can be a thing better left alone, something Ford believes when it comes to his infamous feud with Maximum Fighting Championship president, and Ford’s former manager, Mark Pavelich.
Ford fought his first professional fight under the MFC banner in 2007, and has spent the majority of his career with the organization. However, Ford and the MFC head have had a couple of well-publicized fallings-out, the most recent of which resulted in Ford leaving the promotion to sign with Aggression MMA.
The disputes have come over Ford’s contract and compensation, though the arguments have often turned ugly. However, Ford would rather look forward than reflect on his not-so-positive experiences with Pavelich.
“I’d rather just talk about being with Aggression and don’t give MFC any face time,” Ford admitted. “They had their time with me and blew that chance.”
The future is still to be written, and Ford hopes it will be a place filled with light, rather than darkness.
A former high school football player, Ford tried boxing before eventually turning to mixed martial arts.
“I figured out boxing wasn’t related to my style – I like to get in there and use everything that I can do,” he explained. “I’ve been watching UFC from the beginning and always thought, ‘Yo, I wanted to do that,’ but I was always putting it to the backseat to football. Now I’m in there and I’m loving it. That’s what I do to pay my bills, feed my family.”
His time in the MFC, and in other promotions including The Fight Club, yielded impressive results. Ford tallied 13 victories against just three defeats over the course of three-and-a-half years and has put himself on the map as a top 170-pound prospect. He has finished his opponents in all but one of his wins, but has suffered three tough defeats.
The welterweight has twice succumbed to submissions, once at the hands of Pat Healy and once against Douglas Lima. He was defeated a second time by Healy, with the fight ending in a split decision. While those three fights might have resulted in losses, Ford sees them as the three most beneficial outings of his career.
“You win some, you lose some and you only gain knowledge from the ones that you lose,” Ford theorizes. “Everytime you win, I don’t really think you pick up too much of the things that you did good.”
In that sense, his three losses have allowed “The Real Deal” to realize what he needs to work on to improve his chances in the ring.
“The second loss (to Healy) that we went to a decision, I felt like I did good that whole fight. I should have kept it standing more,” submits Ford in analysis of his defeats. “The first fight I lost to Pat Healy was pretty much my inexperience in the fight game; I was a raw fighter.
“And with Douglas Lima, I think the one thing that I just needed to learn is to stick to a game plan. I feel that if I would have kept the fight standing, I would have won that fight.”
An entrepreneur with his own apparel line, G’d Up Clothing, Ford’s business sense has led him away from the MFC following his latest clash with Pavelich and to a new home with Aggression MMA. He has a four-fight contract that gives the organization exclusive rights to him within the confines of Edmonton. Beyond those boundaries, Ford can fight wherever he chooses.
“I’m open to – if it doesn’t conflict with the Aggression card – if anybody else wants me, I can come and fight,” Ford said.
He’s still waiting for his paperwork to clear the way for him to compete in the United States, but is hopeful that the UFC’s ventures abroad will open the door for him to make his Octagon debut in spite of that roadblock.
“UFC does fights in Canada and they do them overseas, the only spot is in the U.S.,” he said. “Now that they’ve been coming to Canada a lot and fighting overseas, I can travel all those places.”
Until that day comes, his focus is set on Aggression MMA and his March 11 fight with Johnny Davis, set to take place in Edmonton. While Davis’ name might not be as familiar to fight fans as Ford’s, the welterweight is 13-4 according to Sherdog’s fighter database and poses a unique challenge for Ford.
“(I’m) coming in pretty much blinded, without being able to do any research on him,” Ford explained. “He’s got a good record. … He’s been to a few decisions.
“(I) don’t know much about him, so I guess I’ll get to find out what he’s got to bring to the table on Friday night.”
Despite the lack of information on Davis, Ford is confident in his own game plan.
“I think that he’s going to have to follow my pace and fight the fight that I’m going to put on him,” Ford said.
A product of the Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts gym, which is also home to former Strikeforce women’s champion Sarah Kaufman, the welterweight has been training for his upcoming bout in Edmonton under the tutelage of Hayabusa Training Center instructor Paulo Azambuja, who earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under renowned practitioner Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu.
“Training for this fight has been going good,” said Ford. “I’ve been training with a lot of guys out in Edmonton. I’m going two times a day, training hard. I’ll be ready for Friday night. I’m looking to finish it early in the first round, but if it has to go three, my gas is there, always.”
For Ryan Ford, the past cannot be changed. All he can do is move forward and redeem himself as best as he can.
Outside the ring, that means turning his past transgressions into a model for what kids should not do.
Inside the ring, that means learning from past mistakes to transform himself into the best fighter possible as he seeks a chance to step into the Octagon and someday compete for the UFC welterweight title.
Ryan Ford would like to thank his sponsors Full Tilt Poker, Headrush and TapouT, and his new manager Jason House at Iridium Sports Agency.