Ford, down on cards, claims title on TKO in 12th

Boxing

In a thrilling finish, Ray Ford stopped Otabek Kholmatov with seven seconds remaining to capture the vacant WBA featherweight title Saturday evening in Verona, New York.

Ford trailed 106-103 on two scorecards and was up 105-104 on the other heading into the final round when he landed the punch that ultimately won him the fight.

A right hook with 30 seconds left in the ESPN main event stunned Kholmatov before a series of shots sent him reeling. Another right hand rocked Kholmatov along the ropes, and as he turned his back on unsteady legs, referee Charlie Fitch halted the contest at 2:53 of Round 12.

“I knew I had to stop him,” said Ford, a 24-year-old from Camden, New Jersey. “The rounds were too close. I just had to bring that dog out that my coaches were talking about. I always knew I had it in me. I come from a rough background. There’s nothing that can stop me. Ever.”

Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) indicated the fight would be his last at 126 pounds. He plans to move up to 130 pounds, where he mentioned a title challenge against Joe Cordina. The Welshman is also promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.

“I started off a little slow,” Ford said. “I felt I didn’t really have the energy and the legs to be the sharper boxer I know I can be. That was due to a tough weight cut.”

Kholmatov, a 25-year-old from Uzbekistan, was headed to a local hospital for observation following the TKO defeat, ESPN’s Joe Tessitore said on the broadcast.

Kholmatov (12-1, 11 KOs) won four of the first five rounds on two scorecards as he unloaded overhand lefts in a fast-paced start. He was the more active boxer between the pair of southpaws, but Ford turned the tide in Round 5 when he used pressure to back up Kholmatov.

Round 8 was Ford’s best until the finish, a frame in which the American controlled the action as he cut off the ring behind his strong jab. He landed 22 punches in the eighth, a fight high for Ford.

“We had to dig deep,” said Ford, whose previous victory was a career best, a decision win over former champion Jessie Magdaleno in April. “The whole time in the corner, I kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to stop him.’ I felt him breaking down as the rounds went on.”

Ford continued to sink shots to the body as Kholmatov bounced on his toes and uncorked powerful left hands, but the shots seemed to lose sting down the stretch. Ford swept Rounds 8, 9 and 10 on two of three scorecards. Kholmatov rallied to win the 11th on each card.

And in that penultimate round, a clash of heads opened up a nasty gash under Ford’s left eye that smeared blood across his face.

But it didn’t matter, and Ford rendered the three scorecards moot with the finishing sequence that forced the ref to halt the bout.

Lopez stops Abe to retain title

Luis Alberto Lopez, ESPN’s No. 1 featherweight, retained his IBF title with an eighth-round stoppage victory over Reiya Abe in the co-feature.

Mexico’s Lopez (30-2, 17 KOs) dominated the action from the opening bell and quickly closed Abe’s right eye with what appeared to be an errant thumb in Round 2. Abe’s eye continued to swell as the rounds were on and Lopez battered him in the one-sided title defense.

The ref finally stopped the bout 39 seconds into Round 8 to give Lopez the third successful defense of the title he won against Josh Warrington in December 2022.

“Abe was a warrior. He was able to continue with his eye shut,” Lopez, 30, said in Spanish through an interpreter. “He continued fighting with a lot of heart. We know that Japanese fighters have a lot of heart. But I also have a lot of hunger to continue being a world champion, and I had to show that.

“Like I have been saying, it would be great for me to unify. But I would also like to do a fight at 130 pounds. If they put me in against the winner of Oscar Valdez and Liam Wilson, that would be stupendous.”

The 30-year-old Abe (25-4-1, 10 KOs) entered the bout rated No. 10 by ESPN at 126 pounds.

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