On one of the rare weekends without a UFC event on television, MMA fans must turn to World Series of Fighting this Saturday for their usual fix of regulated violence.
With an opportunity to maximize viewership on Saturday night, the organization has placed their latest high profile signee, Jake Shields, in a main event slot against local favourite Ryan Ford. At first glance, the matchup appears to be nothing more than a contest between an elite welterweight and a regional name looking for his breakout win-one that would cement his spot as a legitimate 170-pound competitor.
However, if one were to take deeper look at the Canadian athlete and his history, one would likely begin to question WSOF and NBC's decision to place Ford in such a prominent spot on their fight card.
In terms of his professional career, Ford could well be one of the current top welterweight competitors without a place in the UFC. He is 10-1 in his last eleven fights, all of which ended in either a knockout or submission, and he holds wins over the likes of Karo Parisyan, Pete Spratt (twice) and Luis Santos.
However, in 2003, Ford and two associates were arrested for a home invasion in British Columbia in which they broke into the victim's house and attempted to cut off two of his fingers as punishment for a debt that was owed. They also assaulted his wife when she tried to dial 911 for help. All of this was carried out while the victim's two children were present in the house.
Here is an excerpt from the official case (R. v. Monteiro and Ford 2005 BCSC 1201, para. 4-5):
On January 6, 2003, Mr. L. and his wife, Ms. W., and their two children, who were 10 and six years old, were the sole occupants of a house located in Abbotsford, British Columbia. On that date at approximately 10:30 p.m., Mr. L. returned home, having gone to the grocery store. His wife and children were in the home. As he parked his car, Mr. L. noticed a van parked in front of the house. He entered the house and walked up the stairs. Before he reached the top landing he heard the doorbell ring. His wife and children were upstairs at that point. Mr. L. went down the stairs, opened the door, and was confronted by Mr. Ford, Mr. Monteiro, and the co-accused Mr. Masoumi. Mr. Ford and Mr. Monteiro had their faces masked. One of the men, whom the Crown alleges and Mr. Ford and Mr. Monteiro agree was Mr. Masoumi, pointed a gun at Mr. L.
The three men proceeded into the house. While the man with the gun forced Mr. L. to kneel facing a wall and held the gun to his head, Mr. Ford obtained a 12-long cook's knife from the kitchen and cut Mr. L.'s index and middle fingers on his left hand to the bone. At some point during this assault, Mr. Masoumi told Mr. L. that he owed somebody some money.
Although Ford served a four-year sentence for his crime, he has since been unable to get a visa into the United States, which is why his fights have been limited to Canadian soil. His bout with Shields will likely be the biggest fight in his professional career, and it is an opportunity that is not likely to come again anytime soon.
However, while the match would be a marked step-up in his fighting career, the WSOF and NBC's joint decision to place him in such a significant welterweight contest - in a headlining act nonetheless - during a period where athletes with violent pasts are increasingly receiving harsh scrutiny from the public is a highly questionable business decision.
While some may deny the telling trend emerging in the MMA universe, the recent slew of violent acts perpetrated by MMA practitioners have served to deeply underline the sport's problematic attractiveness to individuals who are prone to violence both inside and outside of the octagon. In just the last few months, we have witnessed disturbing acts from the likes of War Machine, Josh Grispi, and Thiago Silva, as well as recent allegations against Anthony Johnson, who was en route to a coveted title shot in the UFC's light-heavyweight division.
Another fighter with a questionable past is Jimi Manuwa. According to the Croydon Advertiser, it appears he led a "troubled existence" where he had been "imprisoned for his role in a burglary ring." Like Ford, Manuwa also insists he is a changed man, yet that has not helped him get fights outside of the UK. However, since his conviction was for a crime far less violent than Ford's, the UFC has been able to promote him at their international Fight Pass events.
The major concern in MMA now is that, while the incidence of violent crime appears to have risen over the years, so has organizational tolerance for such heinous acts. The suggestion that all humans deserve a second chance is one that could very well be fair, yet is contentious when placing these reformed felons into cage-fighting contests with four-ounce gloves.
While Ford's crime may have occurred over 11 years ago and he has apparently repented for his "mistakes", it is an unassailable concern to have such a controversial fighter in a headlining role on network television. Sooner or later, WSOF will have to weigh the costs and benefits of this PR dilemma.