Raymond Ford had no idea what the scorecards said, that two judges had him behind, that he was seconds away from losing to Otabek Kholmatov.

But Ford knew the fight had been close for the previous 11 rounds. He knew he had Kholmatov hurt. And he did exactly what he needed to do, scoring a dramatic 12th-round technical knockout with just seven seconds left Saturday at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.

Afterward, Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) dropped to the canvas in celebration, overcome with emotion. This fight was not only for the vacant WBA featherweight world title, but also for the opportunities the victory are expected to bring.

Those stakes brought the best out of both men.

The first four rounds largely belonged to Kholmatov (12-1, 11 KOs), who came forward while Ford worked as a boxer-puncher. 

Round 2 brought a moment in which Kholmatov seemed to drive Ford to the ropes; in reality, their legs had tangled up and Ford was off-balance. That may have been a mirage, but the volume of punches from Kholmatov was real. He would lead the action, take a brief break and then throw again before Ford let his hands go.

In Round 3, for example, there was a four-punch combo, then two more punches, then some body shots from Kholmatov. Ford soon responded with three punches, only for the southpaw Kholmatov to score with a big left hand, which temporarily stiffened Ford in the final minute, followed by a series of hooks and uppercuts seeking openings around Ford’s guard.

Ford adjusted in Round 4 by pushing forward himself, yet he wasn’t letting his hands go enough. Kholmatov acclimated to the change, throwing combinations and moving. As the round came to a close, though, Ford found a home for a right to the body, a left upstairs and then a right hook from his own southpaw stance. This sequence turned into an entertaining two-way exchange in the final moments of the round.

Through those first four rounds, one judge had Kholmatov ahead 40-36 while the other two had him in the lead, 39-37.

Ford continued his forward movement in the beginning of Round 5, while Kholmatov remained the fighter landing the harder blows. Kholmatov directed three shots to the body. Ford interrupted with a right hand. Kholmatov retaliated with three to the head. Ford missed a handful and shoved his forearm firmly against Kholmatov’s head. Kholmatov kept his composure, landing two more upstairs and three downstairs. Ford scored with a left around the guard and then let loose with longer volleys as the round neared its conclusion. Kholmatov sent out a one-two and then another left hand, an exclamation point that may have convinced two of the judges to award the fifth round to the 25-year-old from Uzbekistan, if they hadn’t already been persuaded enough.

Ford’s trainer recognized as much, cautioning his fighter not to let Kholmatov steal rounds.

Ford’s combos were crisp and effective in Round 6: a four-punch outburst included an uppercut in the opening minute. Kholmatov scored with a few combinations of his own, and so Ford came back with three shots to the head near the halfway point. Kholmatov was still out-throwing Ford, but Ford’s punches appeared to have more oomph. The question was whether they were also having more of an impact on the judges.

Apparently so, as all three ringside officials gave Ford the sixth. But then everyone tallied the seventh for Kholmatov.

Round 8 was emphatically a Ford round. In the opening minute, a stiff right jab from Ford sent Kholmatov in retreat – perhaps not badly hurt but clearly reeling. Ford wisely directed right hooks to the body, seeking to lessen Kholmatov’s resistance, output and ability to move. Kholmatov’s punches were more numerous but looked arm-weary, while Ford’s output was less voluminous but more vicious. Suddenly we had a phone-booth battle, both men standing forehead to forehead in the final minute. Kholmatov wasn’t wilting. When Ford laced in a nice left uppercut, Kholmatov took it fine.

After eight, a pair of judges had Kholmatov in the lead, 78-74 and 77-75, while the third judge had it even, 76-76.

The ninth round was comparatively slower, each man conserving energy to prepare for the final sprint. Round 10 was a back-and-forth, both having their moments, Ford’s perhaps more memorable - including a big right hook with about 10 seconds to go.

“We need every minute, every second of the last two rounds,” Ford’s trainer told him before Round 11 began.

Despite that pep talk, the round belonged to Kholmatov. Ford suffered a cut underneath his left eye after a clash of heads. The blood, no matter its origin, encouraged Kholmatov, who was now coming forward with more regularity. Ford did land amid some exchanges, though control of the fight seemed to be back with Kholmatov with just three minutes left to go.

Ford wasn’t going to let that happen.

“My coach told me to bring that dog out,” he said in a postfight interview. “We had to dig deep.”

Ford, 24, from Camden, New Jersey, came forward in the 12th with hard, compact shots. He landed a good left hand about a minute in and succeeded more later, scoring both to the head and body. Kholmatov now was moving but not throwing as often.

With less than a minute to go, Ford hurt Kholmatov and then temporarily hurt his own chances, tossing Kholmatov to the canvas and taking away valuable time from himself as the referee helped Kholmatov off and wiped his gloves.

Kholmatov’s legs were unsteady, however, and Ford let loose with his closing onslaught, sending Kholmatov stumbling forward into a corner, his back turned to the action. Ford pursued and landed two hard shots. Kholmatov’s arms were down, his body out of position, and referee Charlie Fitch jumped in.

The scorecards at the time: Two judges had Kholmatov up 106-103, seven rounds to four. The other judge saw Ford slightly ahead, 105-104.

A knockdown alone wouldn’t have made up enough of the margin to give Ford the win, or even a draw. This dramatic come-from-behind TKO was the only path Ford could’ve taken to victory.

Ford now holds the WBA belt that previously belonged to Leigh Wood, until Wood announced a move to junior lightweight. Ford may soon head to 130 as well.

“I started off a little slow,” Ford said. “I felt I didn’t really have the energy and the legs in me to be the sharp boxer I can be due to a tough weight cut. This may be my last fight at 126.”

Ford mentioned junior lightweight titleholders Joe Cordina, O’Shaquie Foster and Lamont Roach Jr. as possible opponents.

“I can go up there and compete with anybody,” Ford said.

Kholmatov was taken to the hospital after the fight. ESPN's commentators said Kholmatov may have torn his anterior cruciate ligament early in the bout. He deserves to remain in title contention once he recovers and returns.