Glynn Evans chronicles the inspirational life of the WBO World Lightweight Champion who makes a maiden defence of his belt live on BoxNation this weekend.
1) Raymundo Beltran was born into extreme poverty in Los Mochis, Mexico in July 1981. The eldest of three children, his family home had a corrugated metal roof and was devoid of running water or electricity. It has been reported that, as a child, Beltran scavenged trash cans for food and sometimes survived on the onions and potatoes discarded by harvesting machines. Son of an ex-pro, the ravished youth had his first amateur fight at eight and lost just three of 30 unpaid contests in his birthland.
2) At the age of 16, Ray was smuggled into the USA without the necessary documentation. However, he was kept hidden in a trailer for a week whilst his father raised the additional $200 to appease his smugglers. The Beltran Family settled in Phoenix, Arizona where the Champion continues to live today with his wife and three children (aged eight to 15). While spouse and kin have US citizenship, Ray remains on an ‘athlete’s visa’ which is due to expire in 2020. Despite residing in the US for his entire adult life, deportation remained a constant and very real fear for the 37-year-old.
3) A pro for 19 years already, hardcase Beltran has remarkably spent more than half of his life as a prizefighter. Just 17 when he joined the paid ranks, he was briefly mentored by Detroit’s deceased Hall-of-Famer Manny Steward but suffered defeat in two of his initial seven starts and fell into the role of a dangerous and much avoided journeyman.
To continue earning, Beltran enrolled for the dubious duty of spar hand to Manny Pacquiao at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California. The eight-weight World Champion acknowledges that he sparred more rounds with Ray than anyone else during his 23-year career. In his capacity as a Filipino senator, Pacman has petitioned the US Department of Homeland Security in support of Beltran’s pursuit of permanent residency.
4) Though Steward bestowed him with the ring handle of ‘Sugar’, raging Ray’s ring manner is anything but sweet. Revered within the trade as a fighter’s fighter, he is a frighteningly determined competitor, blessed with an insane capacity to absorb punishment and a mindset to confront anyone, anywhere.
However, by January 2012 battler Beltran’s CV showed six setbacks, including two by stoppage. Nudged out – many say ‘short-changed’ - in crucial crossroads 10-rounders with 19-0 Sherif Bogare and 20-0 Luis Ramos Jr, a career at elite level seemed likely to allude him. But Beltran holds a black belt in perseverance. An upset 10-round victory over Philly’s highly ranked Hank Lundy (just one loss in 24) rocketed Ray up the ratings and follow up scalpings of Korea’s Ji-Hoon Kim – when both were decked in the opening frame – and Alejandro Rodriguez brought an unexpected World Title gig.
5) Here, briefly, the fairy-tale fizzles out. In September 2013, he fractured defending WBO Champ Ricky Burns’ jaw in the second session, then dropped the Scot in round eight only for three blind mice to reprieve the home hero with a ‘draw’. Even the Glaswegian fans booed. Beltran’s stellar showing earned the ‘reward’ of a second tilt at the WBO crown 16 months after, but dethroning future P4P contender Terence Crawford in his Omaha, Nebraska homestead was always going to be unlikely and painful. Ray lasted the course but lost a landslide and, temporarily, his looks!
Nevertheless, belated coronation appeared inevitable when, six months on, he landed a third shot at the vacated WBO belt (and home court) against Tokyo’s Takahiro Ao in Vegas. But he carelessly flunked the weight and, despite stretching Ao with a monster hook in round two, his post-fight test revealed traces of stanozolol (a banned steroid) and, well into his 34th year, he was left grazing on the naughty step for a year.
6) Still Bertran won’t let it lie. Five wins, four early - including a KO of the Year candidate two round demolition of Peruvian Jonathan Maicelo – catapulted the adopted Arizonan back to contention and the ever-clement WBO again installed him to contest the vacant belt when Terry Flanagan abdicated last February.
39-year-old Namibian Paulus Moses, once boss with the WBA, was never likely to prove an insurmountable object in Reno. A comprehensive 12-round decision was battering ram Beltran enter the annuls as the sport’s oldest Lightweight World Champion and, his immigration attorneys argue, provided uncontrivable evidence for his right to remain permanently in the US as an ‘extraordinary athlete’.
7) Coached by 1992 US Olympian Pepe Reilly, managed by LA screenwriter Steve Fedor and now promoted by Top Rank, Beltran is primely placed to capitalise commercially. A comprehensive victory over Puerto Rico’s very credible Jose Pedraza - a one-time IBF Super-Feather king who has won 24 of 25 and comes to war - at The Gile River Arena in Arizona this weekend could launch the likeable Latino into a belated seven figure unifier with incomparably gifted but physically smaller WBA counterpart Vasyl Lomachenko before this year is through.