These are crazy and troubling times. With COVID-19, racism, protests, riots and whatever else this year decides to chuck at us, you could forgive someone for feeling a little deficient of hope. In such times we must endeavour to value every positive story we can find. Last Friday, on 12th June, I logged onto Instagram and found something truly uplifting.
Former WBO lightweight champion, Raymundo Beltran (36-9-1-1) posted an emotional announcement; he had finally received his EB-1 green card, which allows permanent residency in the USA. Gaining a green card is a lengthy evidence-based process in which a sportsperson must demonstrate they are an ‘extraordinary athlete’. It is no use just being talented in your sport; it is a requirement to be the very best. In boxing, you must be a world champion to stand any hope of being approved for your green card, and that is what Ray Beltran had to aim for.
Beltran hails from Los Mochis in Mexico. In 1996 at age 16, Ray illegally crossed the border in pursuit of a better life with his family. When in the US he settled into Phoenix, Arizona. With the threat of deportation hovering over his head, Beltran knew his best hope at constructing a life in the land of the free was boxing.
Yet, this journey would prove anything but simple.
Beltran struggled to get a look-in with the more renowned gyms, managers and trainers; all were too preoccupied with their own earmarked prospects. They wrote Ray off as someone who would not achieve anything remotely remarkable in boxing; destined to be a journeyman. Nevertheless, the Mexican simply would not settle for that; it would not grant him his residency.
Beltran obtained a temporary P1 Visa, which permitstemporary residency to an ‘Athlete or Entertainer’. Beltran's visa allowed him to fight validly across the states as a professional, but there was to be no silver spoon or fast-track for Beltran onto the more significant bills. Instead, he made his way up on the small hall shows, often playing the role as the opponent, taking any opportunity he could against any adversary available.
After building his record in contests across the US, Mexico and Panama, Beltran began mixing it at a higher level. Hepicked up some American regional titles at super-featherweight and lightweight, such as the NABF belt. Beltran found himself with a record of 28-6 and was granted his tilt at world glory when he travelled to Glasgow to take on hometown hero Ricky Burns in September 2013.
Burns, then a two-weight world champion, was a firm favourite. He was on an excellent run of form, with notablewins over the likes of Roman Martinez, Nicky Cook, Michael Katsidis, Paulus Moses and Kevin Mitchell to name a few. Not many were picking the Mexican to avail at the SEC.
However, Beltran knew it was his big chance. Fourteen years as a professional, everything he worked for came down to this moment. Ray fought as a man possessed. He piled the pressure on Burns, and in the second broke the Bellshill man’s jaw, and in the eighth Burns was dropped. To his credit, the Scotsman survived to see out the remainder of the fight. Beltran had done enough to win; no debate, that was the view of almost everyone. Everyone but two of the scoring judges, who scored it for Burns and a draw, to make it an SD draw and cancel out the judge who rightly sided with the Mexican. Another boloney decision for the home fighter.
Even Eddie Hearn admitted he felt Beltran nicked it, which should tell everyone what they need to know. The judges robbed Beltran, and at the age of 32, his chance for a world championship, and to earn his green card might never come again. He was rightly despondent in his post-fight interview. He said "I think I did everything I had to do to get the win. It's politics. Always the same... It's just so frustrating because it's so much hard work and sacrifice. I put my life on the line. Time away from my family. They don't care."
Beltran and his team called for an immediate rematch at a neutral venue, though Burns had to have reconstructive surgery on his broken jaw. It was not to be, however, and the WBO installed Terence Crawford as Burns’ mandatory. Crawford won that contest and denied Beltran the chance to exact revenge against the Scot.
Beltran instead fought and beat Afghan fighter Arash Usmanee, putting himself in line for his second attempt at a world title. He was granted the shot and became Crawford’s next opponent. They tussled in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska in November 2014 for the WBO and Ring Magazine lightweight titles.
Crawford, then a superstar in the making, comfortably outpointed Beltran. It looked as though his green card could be even further away. However, Crawford vacated his titles for a bout with Thomas Dulorme for the WBO light-welterweight title, paving the way for Beltran to have his third shot at glory.
A contract was signed to set up a bout with Japanese pugilist Takahiro Ao for the vacant WBO lightweight championship. They met in May 2015 in Las Vegas, nevertheless, once more it wasn't to be for Raymundo.
Beltran weighed in 0.4lbs over the 135lb limit for his contest against Ao, meaning he could not win the title. Beltranquickly despatched Ao in the second round, and it looked like that 0.4lb had cost the Mexican his world title and his green card. However, there was to be yet more drama.
Beltran's post-fight urine test popped for a banned substance, and his victory was overturned as an NC. Beltran and his manager Cameron Dunkin were shocked, and Beltran said all he had taken was a supplement given to him by a trusted member of his team that he thought was legal. A ban followed for Beltran, and he was out of the running for the world title he so badly needed.
At this point, Beltran had been on the wrong end of a robbery, a shot against a pound-for-pound star in the form of Terence Crawford and a missed-weight doping double-headed scandal. It looked like it just wasn't to be for Ray Beltran. Any normalman would likely have given up, but Raymundo simplycouldn’t. He had to win the title or face deportation, but that simply wasn’t an option. He had to earn his green card.
After his ban was up, Ray returned in 2016 and built a run of five successive wins to climb his way back to the top of the WBO lightweight rankings. Beltran was commissioned is fourth world title contest, when he travelled to Nevada against former WBA lightweight champ Moses Paulus. This was it for Beltran. Surely, he would get no further attempts at a world championship.
He didn’t need any.
On Friday 18th February 2018, Ray Beltran became the champion of the world by taking a UD over Paulus in what transpired to be a gruelling, brutal occasion. After the final bell, Beltran was emotional: "During the fight, I thought about my family and everything I have been throughout my career. I gave it my all. I made my career the tough way, and now I'm a champion”.
Indeed he was. As a world champion, he finally had the status required to build a compelling case for his green card approval. He achieved his goal, and at the fourth time of asking, and many speed bumps and heartache, Ray did it, and this time nobody could take it away from him.
He achieved his dream, and like many other fighters, he set his sights on what was next.
Pound-for-pound super stars Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares had agreed to fight for Linares’s WBA, Ring Magazine and WBC Diamond lightweight titles at Madison Square Garden on the 12th May 2018. A unification against the victor would have proved to be a massive payday for Beltran, and despite being called for by their promoter Bob Arum, it was not to be. Despite being knocked down in the sixth, Loma won the fight with one of the most vicious body shots we have seen in recent times. In the process, the Ukrainian picked up a torn labrum in his right shoulder and faced a considerable period on the sidelines.
Beltran was without a dance partner, and so a deal was made for a defence against former IBF super-featherweight champion José Pedraza, with the promise of a unification battle against Loma for the victor. However, it was Puerto Rican Pedraza who prevailed, taking a UD victory over Beltran in August 2018 in Arizona.
Pedraza got the fight with sensation Lomachenko and performed very well on the night, dropping a UD to Loma, while Beltran had to regroup. Many wondered if he would fight on, or if he would have the drive to carry on fighting after reaching his Everest.
He did. Beltran returned with a win at light-welterweight over the then-unbeaten Hiroki Okada from Japan on the undercard of Jose Carlos Ramirez’s 140lbs WBC title defence against Jose Zepeda in February 2019. After a close fight, Beltran’s come forward Mexican style paid dividends when he dropped the tired Okada with a huge right hook. Okada got up, but Beltran would not let him off the peg, and the man from Japan was pummelled into submission.
Beltran looked good at 140lbs; however, a fifth opportunity at world glory presented itself in the form of IBF champion Richard Commey in June 2019. There was a further scandalfor Beltran on the scales when he missed weight, after weighing in at 136.8lbs, meaning the title was only on the line for the man from Accra, Richard Commey.
Beltran looked terrible for the weight cut. He was dropped twice in the first round and a further two times in the fifth and eighth before the referee mercifully waved off the contest in the eighth, Beltran’s first stoppage loss for over ten years.Beltran did not look himself, and was utterly dismantled by Commey, leading coach Freddie Roach to comment he was “worried about Ray”, and even discussed the possibility of Beltran retiring.
Almost a year after his last fight, the 38-year old has yet to state whether or not he will carry on fighting. Whatever decision the Mexican takes, his career has been quite the journey, to say the least. The stuff of legend. Wins against the odds, robberies, all-out wars, doping allegations, missed weights and eventual world title glory—the pinnacle achievement of boxing.
Every boxer wants to be a world champion, and a chosen few achieve that status. For most fighters, it should provideopportunities to make good money and set their lives up for the future. For Beltran, it was so much more. It has enabledhim to live forevermore in the country he grew to love and call home with his family.
This is what boxing can do.
Time after time, we see the shitty parts of boxing. Bad decisions, fighters screwed over, effort not rewarded, long-term life-changing injuries and death. It's easy to think it’s all doom and gloom, but boxing can be truly special in terms of what it can do for those who participate. The USA department for immigration granting Beltran his green card is testament to such.
It can give bullied and nervous children a place to find their confidence and escape from their lives at school and home. It can provide addicts something positive to channel their obsessive personality into. It allows people to be fit and healthy. It brings people of all creeds, nationalities and religions together. It can even allow a young Mexican immigrant to create the life they want and prove to someone like me the world isn’t such a bad place after all.
In times like this, we should all appreciate the perseverance of the likes of Raymundo Beltran.
By Aaron Ludford of SimBoxx
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