John J. Raspanti
Ray Beltran has been a boxing professionally for 19 years. Over the course of his pugilistic life, he’s fought in Arizona, New Jersey, Michigan, Nevada, and Scotland.
His career has spanned a succession of managerial issues, dubious decisions, and threatened deportation.
For years Beltran, 37, was best known as the sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao. That changed five years ago when he traveled to Glasgow to face WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns. As usual, Beltran was the underdog. In his head, he had to shake off the sparring partner mentality. He went to Scotland to win, and after 12 rounds of boxing, most who witnessed the bout believed he deserved the decision.
Even Burns’ hometown crowd was subdued, seeming resigned when they realized their fighter was about to lose his title. Beltran knocked Burns down in round eight, and landed the harder blows—even breaking Burns jaw in the process. The decision seemed obvious. But this is boxing.
As the scores were announced--115-112 Burns, 115-113 Beltran and 114-114 a draw--, the crowd booed. Burns had retained his title by majority draw. Beltran only shook his head.
But that’s the thing about Beltran. Disappointed as he was, the father of three wouldn’t quit. His next attempt at a title was in 2014, when he faced multi-talented Terence Crawford in Omaha. Beltran forced the fight, but Crawford tattooed him with wicked shots. Beltran absorbed the blows for 12 rounds. Crawford won by wide decision.
Many said that Beltran should retire. He refused. A no-decision against Takahiro Ao caused more frustration. When he faced hot-shot Mason Menard in 2016, the consensus was Menard was too young and quick. Beltran didn’t get the memo. He stalked Menard, and pounded on the kid, finally knocking him out with a beautiful left hook in round seven.
Beltran picked up the NABF and NABO titles, but his dream was a world championship. He won two more matches, setting up what would be undoubtably be his last chance at championship honors.
His opponent was former champion Paulus Moses, who, when not boxing, works as a Namibian police inspector. As expected, the fight was a see-saw battle, with both fighters giving as good as they got. Beltran appeared to have the edge. Still, his supporters held their breath as the decision was announced.
All three judges scored the fight for the winner, and new WBO lightweight champion, Ray Beltran.
Beltran was overwhelmed with emotion.
"I have no words,” said Beltran in the ring after the fight. “I gave everything I had. It’s very emotional. I worked so hard for this. He surprised me with a couple of good punches, but right away I thought about my family and everything I have been through in my career. I gave it my all. I made my career the tough way, and now I’m a champion."
Beltran will make the first defense of his title this Saturday against Jose Pedraza (24-1, 12 KOs) at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. For once, he’ll be the hometown hero.
"I’m living the dream," said Beltran. "It feels great to be a world champion. I am very motivated to defend my title, and it’s very special to me because I’m fighting in my adopted home."
Once upon a time, Beltran had a dream of being a world champion. He was scoffed at and ignored, but through hard work and dedication, he achieved his dream.
For me, that makes Beltran a champion in more ways than one.