For heavyweight junkies, Deontay Wilder-Zhilei Zhang and Filip Hrgovic-Daniel Dubois will be the can’t-miss collisions on this weekend’s Saudi Arabia bill. For those who prefer to cast their eyes over up-and-coming talent with a view to identifying superstars of the future, the sumptuous middleweight clash between Hamzah Sheeraz and Austin “Ammo” Williams will certainly get the juices flowing. Yet for the out-and-out purist, those who like their contests to be high on both quality and energy, the battle that sees Nick Ball challenge newly minted WBA featherweight kingpin Raymond Ford might just be the most enticing of the lot.

Camden’s Ford, 15-0-1 (8 KOs), was the orchestrator of one of the year’s most dramatic coronations when he hacked at the lead crafted by Uzbekistan’s Otabek Kholmatov to close the show with just seven seconds of the 12th and final round remaining. 

That March 2 stunner was very nearly followed, just six days later, by a turnaround every bit as impressive when Ball, 19-0-1 (11), clawed back an early deficit against WBC boss Rey Vargas only for the judges to fail to split them. Considering the effort Ball put forth and the fact that only champions get to take the belt home after a draw, that felt like a loss for the Liverpool contender.

Even so, his showing against the gnarled Vargas certainly highlighted the threat he’ll present to Ford’s fairy-tale on Saturday night (June 1). 

Ford’s against the odds journey to the top has been well-documented and, unless in the Kholmatov business, it would have been difficult for anyone not to be moved by his victory. Only in boxing can score lines be rendered so redundant at any moment or, indeed, so late in the play. 

Some might argue that Ford had earned the right for a Camden homecoming against an opponent somewhat less fearsome than Ball. That, it seemed, was the plan for all of five minutes before this showdown was hastily arranged for the much-hyped ‘5 vs 5’ event. Don’t feel too bad for Ford, however. It’s almost certain he’ll be presented with serious financial reward for his trouble.

That purse, which has unsurprisingly been reported as the highest either boxer has earned, might go some way to explaining Ford sticking around in the featherweight class, too. Because just days after his momentous victory he indicated that a move up in weight was a necessity given his struggle to make the 126lbs limit.

When asked in March by Nigel Collins (for Boxing News) if he wanted to unify the belts, Ford’s response was revealing. “A lot of people want me to do that, but I’ve got to listen to my body,” he said. “I’ve been fighting at this weight since I was an amateur so I can’t fight at this weight much longer. I wasn’t at my best against Kholmatov because making weight drained me.”

That this fight has come so soon after winning his title – barely 12 weeks – might have made the process of shifting mass a little less arduous than it would have been with a longer break between fights. However, the last thing a weight-drained featherweight needs is Ball in the opposite corner.

The Englishman’s recovery in the second half of the Vargas test was quite the sight. The Mexican had built an early lead, his educated smarts and impossibly long arms seemingly too much for his challenger. Yet Ball forced his way back into the contest – his furious work up close and at mid-range was particularly effective – to leave Vargas clinging on, bending over and barely upright at the bout’s conclusion.

The biggest question here is likely the old favourite: Who wants it the most?

One can make a case for both. Yet one wonders if 25-year-old Ford – after making his family proud, after putting Camden back on the boxing map, after resigning himself to moving up in weight only to get an offer he couldn’t refuse, after essentially achieving his lifelong ambition of ruling the world – can stir similar desire to retain his title to that he manifested to win it in the first place.

The feeling here is that he can.

Ford’s motivation, though he’s a long way from it, comes from home. His young daughter and her future are now his reasons for being and logic dictates that if he could make weight less than three months ago, and finish like the proverbial steam train, he’ll be able to find the strength to get through some tough spots here. 

His punches have carried greater snap, particularly to the body, in recent bouts. Further, as the first world class southpaw Ball has faced, Ford is much closer to his peak than was Vargas or Isaac Dogboe, who the Briton defeated to earn his chance. Those educated raids to the body coupled with his quality ring generalship might turn out to be the keys to victory.

It would be foolish to completely write off Ball, who could well overwhelm Ford if he’s not completely match fit, but the American can win a truly engrossing, back-and-forth encounter on the cards.

Other ‘5 x 5’ Previews

Craig Richards vs. Willy Hutchinson 

Hamzah Sheeraz vs. Austin Williams

Filip Hrgovic vs. Daniel Dubois