Liverpool, England’s Nick Ball became a featherweight world champion at the second time of asking, defeating Raymond Ford of Camden, New Jersey, via split decision in an excellent, action-packed contest in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday night. 

Ball (20-0-1, 11 KOs) was forced to settle for a draw in his previous tilt, despite dropping Rey Vargas in a battle for the WBC belt in March. Ford (15-1-1, 8 KOs) was making the first defense of the title he won by stopping Otabek Kholmatov in the same month.

The squat, aggressive Ball came out strongly in the opening rounds, but Ford was unfazed, looking to maintain distance and land counter shots to the body and head as Ball muscled his way in. The first three rounds were close and tough to score, with neither man clearly separating himself, but as the third round ended, Ford had a cut beneath the right eye and Ball’s pressure appeared to be telling.

While neither man was exactly elusive, both showed tight guards and blocked many of the incoming punches, although Ford was looking to touch Ball’s body and Ball was reaching behind Ford’s guard with his looping shots. 

Rounds 4-6 saw Ball appearing to seize the initiative. Ford’s counters were too few and far between, and he seemed unable to keep Ball off him. Ball scored with multiple combinations as his gloves appeared to be gravitationally attracted to Ford’s face and the American began to appear a little lost.

Round 7 saw Ford throw some more emphatic combinations, only to be met with more aggression from Ball. Suddenly, a pair of fierce left hands from the southpaw Ball caused blood to begin gushing from Ball’s nose, which appeared to give Ford greater confidence and temporarily derail the challenger.

A left uppercut from Ford stopped Ball in his tracks in the eighth, but the Liverpudlian continued to throw combination after combination. 

The final third of the contest saw both men land with greater frequency as their high guards dropped from fatigue and punishment. Ball continued to throw more punches, but Ford met fire with more selective fire of his own. In Rounds 10 and 11, Ball began to appear fatigued and a little unsure as Ford staked a claim to the center of the ring and showed greater interest in taking the initiative with his punches, rather than waiting for Ball to commit before countering.

Entering the final round, the momentum appeared to be with the American, but the scorecards were anybody’s guess, and both combatants fought the final three minutes as if everything was on the line. A big uppercut and right hand from Ford hurt Ball, but the Englishman refused to yield and landed his own uppercut as his nose once more gushed blood. The two men unleashed everything they had remaining in their tanks over the final seconds, and the scores reflected the closeness of the contest. 

Judge Byung Moo Kim scored the fight 115-113 for Ford but was overruled by Pawel Kardyni and Jean-Robert Laine, who saw it by the same score for Ball. Afterward, Ball declared his intention to unify the belts at 126 pounds, while Ford, who had previously stated he was struggling to make the featherweight limit, announced he would be moving up to 130 pounds.