BN Preview: Kholmatov and Ford meet in a fascinating clash of prospects-cum-contenders

Kholmatov, trained by former heavyweight contender Timur Ibragimov, was mandated to face the winner of the May 2023 WBA featherweight rematch between Mauricio Lara and Leigh Wood which the latter won comfortably. The sanctioning body then asked the Uzbek to wait his turn once again after approving a request from Wood’s team to take on Josh Warrington in Sheffield last October.

Wood’s come-from-behind win was his last hurrah at 126lbs. Fast forward five months and the 25-year-old Kholmatov finally gets his shot to win the now vacant belt. To do so, he will have to defeat New Jersey’s sharp-punching 24-year-old Raymond “Savage” Ford, 14-0-1 (7), at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. Kholmatov-Ford also pits Top Rank against Matchroom, and it was Bob Arum’s outfit who outbid Eddie Hearn to stage the fight.

In March 2021 Ford – according to a press release – described himself as “the best prospect in boxing”. As fate would have it, in that same week, he fought to an eight-round split draw against the unheralded but tough Aaron Perez. Ford had hoped to land a rematch but found himself at Matchroom Fight Camp, during Covid, on a night when he dominated and stopped Reece Bellotti in three rounds. That result continues to look better when one considers Bellotti’s subsequent resurgence.

Ford hit another hurdle in February 2022 when he was fortunate to walk out of the Footprint Centre in Phoenix with a 10-round split-decision win over Edward Vazquez. Hearn said afterwards that his man Ford was “lucky” to win. Since then, wins over Richard Medina, Sakaria Lukas and Jessie Magdaleno were more straightforward. Kholmatov, however, will be anything but.

The all-southpaw contest represents the biggest test for both fighters to date and an argument can be made for either side to win. Ford is the more polished of the two and has the quicker hands. Kholmatov appears the bigger puncher but is no one-trick pony as he showed in his 12-round points win over Andranik Grigorian in March 2022. He is comfortable on the front and back foot and has a jab that can both keep an opponent at bay and cause damage.

The level of Ford’s performances against Perez and Vazquez can’t be replicated here. However, the feeling is that fighting such a versatile and dangerous opponent will bring the best out of him. All evidence points to an improving fighter, too.

One can imagine the early rounds being sprinkled with caution, then it will come down to who settles the best. Though both have been 12 rounds once, managing the championship distance effectively is a challenge for each. Danger will lurk during those 36 minutes. By carrying his right hand low, Ford invites it, but Kholmatov’s bravado may see him take some quick counters himself.

If the American’s chin holds up, it’s feasible he could outwit the Uzbek with some slick movement but, to do so, he needs to be switched on and motoring throughout. It seems like too great an ask against someone like Kholmatov, who never stops punching and can win a decision. Incidentally, Ford is ranked seventh in the world by TBRB and BN whereas Kholmatov is outside the top 10.

There is more featherweight action in chief support which features IBF super-featherweight belt-holder Luis Alberto Lopez, 29-2 (16), making his third defence against Japan’s Reiya Abe, 25-3-1 (10). Lopez, ranked number two, could face Kholmatov if both Top Rank fighters come through successfully on Saturday night.

Abe beat up the now retired Kiko Martinez 11 months ago to become mandatory challenger to the Mexican. Both Lopez and Abe have the styles to trouble one another. Unconventional and unpredictable meets slick and aggressive but Lopez, who carries more punch power, will likely be the more effective on the night and win on points.

Also on the bill is 25-0 (19) welterweight starlet Brian Norman Jnr of Conyers, Georgia. The 23-year-old should be heavily favoured to beat Detroit’s plucky Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, 17-2-1 (11).

The Verdict – An excellent scrap for a vacant belt at the top of the bill.

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