And with that came a new lease on life and his career.
“For sure. So to me, I believe it was time for me to...the way I look at it, God has plans for me,” explained Beltran, searching for the right words, knowing how pivotal that victory over Lundy was. “Instead of going backwards, I’m going to fight even better guys. So it was a sign for me that I was going to be OK in that fight.” Beltran says that if he would have lost on that summer night, he would have seriously contemplated retirement. You can only make so much money as a gatekeeper and, most notably for him, serving as a sparring partner for the likes of Manny Pacquiao. This is a hard living, even when things are going well.
Beltran’s now a contenda’ and on the verge of some big things. It’s a funny game; lose to Bundy and at 31, you’re thought of as a guy who’s faded with no future and perhaps open too much to risk. But with this win, the perception is that Beltran is a hard-nosed veteran with a lot still left in the gas tank. And moving forward, to make sure that the odometer readings stay as low as possible, he has hired strength-and-conditioning coach Rob Garcia. Coming into this fight, Beltran says, “I feel way better; my condition’s way better. My breathing’s better, so it was a big move.”
Asked what he’s implemented with Beltran, Garcia explains, “We’ve changed to a basic strength-and-conditioning regimen where he had not [had one] previously. He’d been using traditional methods and techniques from what his father had taught him and he strayed away and wanted to stay real traditional. He opened up and decided to work with me. So we’ve introduced a number of different plyometric, speed, balance, timing drills. Basic stuff that I’ve been running for the last five, six years and it’s evolved quite a bit. I think it gets better as time goes on.”
|Ray Beltran and Rob Garcia
According to Garcia - best known for his work with Oscar De la Hoya - it’s a bigger, stronger, better version of Beltran.
“Oh, absolutely. I don’t know what to measure it off of but Pepe [Reilly] and Ernie [Zavala] (Beltran’s co-trainers) have both noticed leaps and bounds in his ability in the sparring and Manny has commented on his abilities in the sparring and Manny has also commented on his strength. He’s going back less; he’s coming forward more and he can feel his punches a bit more,” said Garcia, who’s worked with Beltran for about 60 days after being hired over the summer by Freddie Roach to oversee some of his other boxers in the gym. Someone like Garcia brings a bit of modern training to a sport that is often very antiquated in its thinking. “Thing is, this is a very traditional sport, so blending the old with the new is something that really has to be concise. Sometimes strength-and-conditioning coaches outside of our sport, they try to introduce a number of things that work well with basketball, football and hockey players - but it doesn’t work well with fighters.”
Beltran is an old-school fighter in many ways but he says of himself, “I’m the kind of boxer where I’m open-minded. If there’s something new, I like to try it. I was doing my own thing because that’s all I knew. I wanted to try something new but it wasn’t the right time. I worked with some people before but we didn’t mesh together. You gotta find the right people.”
In his past defeats, Beltran would do just enough to lose. Some believe it was because he had acquired a “sparring partner’s mentality” that conditioned him to hold back subconsciously. Perhaps, he didn’t trust his own conditioning and never put his foot on the gas pedal. But Beltran disagrees with both theories, “Y’ know, I don’t feel like that. If you see my past, I really haven’t been that active. So I think the problem was that I wasn’t fighting enough and so, mentally, you’re behind rhythm. So I believe that was the problem; I was off-track mentally.”
Buoyed by his most recent performance and his new physical gains, Beltran is now a fighter whose confidence is high - or at least higher than it was before. Perhaps there’s a placebo effect in place but that can still carry a boxer to places he has never gone before.
“For sure, because all you worry about every fight is being in shape,” explained Beltran, who has a career record of 26-6 with 17 stoppages. “If you’re in shape, you know you’re going to be OK. If you’re not in shape - even if the opponent’s not that hard - it will make a hard fight for you. But if you got the skills and you’re in great shape, everything’s going to be OK. So I feel confident; I feel comfortable.” Asked if he feels he has more to give now in a fight, he states, “In my other fights, I finished the 10 rounds. I feel good. I didn’t feel tired; I was OK but I believe this time, I’m going to be stronger, have more stamina to be more active.”
Garcia has no doubts in this. A better conditioned boxer is one who is stronger and more psychologically secure. And with that, it can result in superior performance.
“Absolutely, because when he sees going over hurdles in strength-and-conditioning and he sees himself getting stronger and quicker and all of a sudden, that confidence boosts and especially if he can feel it during sparring, things he was able to do better than he was previously doing - he would have to retreat or do certain things, use a lot of swagger to get things done. Now he can get through with the strength and power when he needs it.”
Their sessions take place in the mornings on the track where they run various drills and do interval running. In the evening, they do high-intensity ballistic training using such apparatuses like the medicine ball and resistance bands and, according to Garcia, “shortening the recovery cycle with certain sports medicine techniques that I’ve used over the years. I figure if I can shorten the recovery cycle, I can get more out of the athlete at practice.”
This fight is an important contest for Beltran. No, it’s not for a major world title but it can eventually lead to one. According to his manager, Steve Feder, a victory will give Beltran a higher placement in the WBC (currently he’s ranked ninth by this organization). Top Rank has shown interest in him (being it’s their promotion) and Feder says that with a victory, they will sit down them and Jimmy Burchfield of CES (with whom they enjoy a very friendly amicable relationship coming off the promotion with Bundy) to map out a plan.
First things first, they have to get past the tough-as-leather Korean.
“I think he’s a guy who’s going to come to war,” Beltran says of Kim. “It’s not going to be an easy fight. I think it’s going to be a difficult fight. When you fight Lundy, he’s skillful but they’re not hard fights but with this guy, it’s going to be a hard fight. He’s going to come to knock me out. We’re ready for that.”
After De la Hoya’s career-ending loss to Pacquiao in December of 2008, Garcia also dropped out of the boxing scene for the most part. It’s only been recently since he’s returned to the sport on a full-time basis.
“I needed a break,” said Garcia of his hiatus. “I burned myself out between Francisco Bojado, Diego Sanchez and De la Hoya. I was constantly in camp and I took a step back, spent time with my kids and started working with X Games athletes. I just really took time to gather myself and reevaluate the systems that I was using with pro boxing. Freddie opened the door and gave me a great opportunity. I decided to take advantage of it and I’m here at the Wild Card and I’ve never been happier. I got my hands on some of the young, top talent in the world and I look forward to helping him develop them into top fighters.”
To many, Garcia is the guy who had De la Hoya too light in preparation for that camp and unable to perform effectively as a welterweight. Many blamed Garcia for that loss.
“It’s funny that you say that because it was about the diet that they were concerned about and I believe that if anything’s maverick, it’s three or four years ahead of its time,” he says. “That, to me, in this day and age is the most precise diet I’ve ever wrote for any fighter. His weight was down due to energy expenditure, running all the miles he was doing. That kept his weight low. The food program was precise; we couldn’t get any better than that, as far as what he was eating to stay strong. The kinds of foods he was eating to keep his energy levels up. All of that was precise as it gets but there was a lot of factors: there was new coaching [Nacho Beristain]; there was a lot of things going on.
“I’m willing to take the blame; as a coach, you have to be willing to shoulder responsibility. So that just comes with the turf. I let it roll off my back. But yeah, after eight years of dedicated service, I had a little sour taste in my mouth for a little while.”
HBO’s “24/7” was there to capture it all. And Oscar swore he was in the greatest shape of his life.
“Everyone has their slant on a story and they decided to tell that story a certain way, not necessarily the best perspective,” Garcia says of the HBO crew that was up there in Big Bear with them. “It was probably the best perspective they thought was interesting to the audience that views ‘24/7’.”
But why was Oscar on weight a full month before the bout?
Garcia explained, “Keeping up with how the camps had gone and Nacho didn’t realize that Oscar had kept me around in Puerto Rico. So when we got to camp, we already had two months of conditioning. He was ready to spar the first day of camp. We got halfway through camp and he was on weight. So he would basically eat whatever he wanted. There were certain food choices for him but as far as quantities, he was eating as much as he wanted. Any fighter will tell you if they’re on weight a month before the fight, they’re going to be able to eat; they’re not going to starve. So when other people said that, ‘Oh, Garcia had starved him,’ anyone that knows boxing knows that if you look at the program and you see him on weight 30 days before the fight, you know you can eat whatever you want.
“Outside of that...y’ know, there’s a lot of factors. But playing against him was his inability to handle southpaws throughout his career and that was a bad choice. I told him personally when the fight was initially presented, ‘If you take him on, he’s much smaller than you. You beat him, you’re not going to get any credit because he’s like a 140-pound fighter or 135. If he gives you a tough time, they’re going to say that you slipped, that you’re no longer a premiere fighter. And if he beats you, he’ll probably retire you. And that’s basically what happened.”
So why did Oscar decide to move down to welterweight for the first time since 2001? Was it his obsession with putting Bob Arum and his company out of business? Did he want payback for Pacquiao’s flip-flop on signing with his company, when he enticed him with a suitcase full of money? Garcia states, “I think for that moment, he was looking for the biggest prizefight out there and even though he may have known subconsciously that southpaws were not to his flavor, he was trying to find the biggest fight he could fight - and that was the biggest fight for him at that moment. I was under the interpretation that a [Miguel] Cotto or [Antonio] Margarito probably would’ve been better coming off a win versus [Ricardo] Mayorga and things of that nature to keep the momentum rolling. I knew it was a very dangerous fight for him to take and then taking it with a brand-new coach that he had never studied under before. For a mega-fight, you want to have a team that has the chemistry there and that probably would’ve been a great fight to bring [Floyd] Mayweather Sr. back.”
It’s interesting but the signs of slippage were there in De la Hoya’s previous fight versus Steve Forbes, when he was marked up against a very light-hitting foe. And those in camp will tell you Oscar was getting banged around pretty good by the late Edwin Valero. No amount of slick editing from HBO was going to help Oscar come fight time.
But on that evening, while one superstar was retired, another was launched.
OK, why deer meat, which was immortalized in “24/7” as Garcia served it to De la Hoya?
“Because now people are concerned about how the animals that we are eating are being fed and since deers are out in the wild, they eat what they’ve always eaten: berries and leaves and things of that nature. So their musculature is still pristine,” he explained. “We use kangaroo meat also. Those are the kinds of animals that are not kept and fed in barns and given grains and things of that nature. The muscle in their body is phenomenal. You have to make stews and things of that nature out of the food. But I’ve used it for other fighters and they’ve had amazing, amazing results.
“They say you are what you eat - there’s some truth to that. You are what the enzymes in your body absorb is what you are. That’s what you become. He did very well with the deer meat.”
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