Ryan Ford’s path to Bellator has not been an easy one.

Before he ever set foot in a cage, he found himself behind bars, sentenced to four years in jail for taking part in a violent home invasion in 2003. While serving his time, Ford made the decision to walk a different path upon his release.

“In my first year I was locked up, I had four friends get murdered on the outside,” Ford recently told Sherdog.com. “That was a real eye-opener. That made me realize that could have been me if I was out there. That’s when I realized I was going to use mixed martial arts to change my life. I am a fighter by nature. I used to always get into street fights and things like that, so I knew I could take the talent that I had and turn it into a positive. I went down to the gym as soon as I got released and had a fight within my first few weeks of training.”

Now 30 years old, Ford carries 21 bouts into his inaugural Bellator appearance. The two-time Maximum Fighting Championship title challenger will hit the ground running, squaring off with Season 5 tournament semifinalist and 12-year pro Luis Santos. The welterweights will do battle on the Bellator 67 main card, which airs Friday on MTV2 from Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario.

“Santos has a very respectable record. He has beaten 50 guys, so I know he is no joke,” Ford said. “I have been motivated to beat him ever since I signed this contract. Camp has been fantastic and I am ready to get in there and get the win. I have been given a huge opportunity on the main stage here at Bellator, so I have to make sure that I set a good example and make the most of the opportunity.”

Ford recently joined the vaunted Tristar Gym in Montreal, a decision that the fighter says has been both rewarding and emotionally taxing. Though he is receiving some of the best training in the world, the Edmonton, Alberta-based welterweight must leave his family behind while he prepares for his upcoming bout.

“I had 20 fights in my career where I wasn’t training at a top-level gym with top-level fighters. Now, all of my skills are coming together and I am better than I have ever been before,” said Ford. “It’s been really hard to be away from my wife and my children. I am used to waking up and seeing their faces, and now I have to jump on Skype to be able to talk to them and see them. The sparring sessions and the battles in the gym are hard, but being away from my family is even harder than that. I know all of the sacrifices I am making today are going to [benefit] my family in the future.”

His training now coming to a close as his fight date approaches, Ford believes he will be the stronger man when the cage door shuts on Friday night. While some might point to the Canadian’s submission defense as a weakness ripe for Santos to exploit, “The Real Deal” says he will be prepared for the jiu-jitsu black belt’s ground game.

“He might think that my jiu-jitsu is suspect because most of my losses have been due to submission, but I have really spent a lot of time focusing on that, and I have tightened up that part of my game tremendously,” Ford said. “I know he is a good standup fighter, but I feel I am a good standup fighter as well. I also have really good wrestling. I am looking to get in there and throw that heavy leather, and I am definitely looking to get that win, without a doubt.”

Though his submission game may have received a significant upgrade, Ford’s hands still serve as arguably his most dangerous weapon heading into his first performance for the Chicago-based promotion.

“This is the most important fight in my career,” said Ford. “I believe I can knock out anybody if I land the right punch. I have very fast, heavy hands, and I am very explosive. I definitely think I can knock anybody out at any given moment, and that includes Luis Santos.”

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