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Ray Beltran fighting for missing Mexican students; looking to get to boxing’s A list

Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

The manner in which Ray Beltran (29-6-1, 17KOs) chose to begin his part of this Wednesday’s press conference for Terence Crawford (24-0 17KOs), vs. Ray Beltran, scheduled for Nov 29th at the Century Link Center in Omaha, Nebraska, set for broadcast on HBO was a direct testament to the type of person that he is irrespective of boxing or his talent, or fame:

“I dedicate this fight to the 43 students that got executed in Mexico by our Mexican government,” Beltran said . “I take advantage of this moment to represent my people. I think it’s time to make a change …people, athletes like me…have to support people that have no voice.”

As a fighter who has had to work harder than most for his well-earned standing in professional boxing, Mr. Beltran continues to extend a hand to those whom he perceives as forgotten and invisible. “When the government takes advantage…you have to make a change, ” Mr. Beltran explained, finishing his remembrance of the slain students before proceeding to discuss his own readiness for his contest this Saturday against odds on favorite and undefeated WBO Lightweight Champion, Terence Crawford. “ I’m just ready. I can’t wait. I feel so excited. I don’t even know what to say.” Beltran shared, shifting gears with a huge megawatt smile.

“Hopefully we can bring the belt back home to LA where it belongs,” Beltran’s longtime coach, Pepe Reilly, stated in closing, alluding to the widely held belief that Beltran’s loss via decision in 2013 against previous WBO World Lightweight Champion title holder Ricky Burns (37-4-1, 11KOs), was a bad decision resulting from home court privilege at it’s worst.

“Last time we did it in the UK. Glasgow, Scotland… (Ray Beltran) should have been world champion because he got robbed in that fight and everyone that saw it knew it,” Reilly said, referring to the fact that despite Burns having been down in the 8th round and later revealed to have suffered from a broken jaw courtesy of Beltran, inconceivably the fight was deemed a draw allowing Burns to retain the title. “I knew it was close, “ Burns admitted somewhat sheepishly. “I was trying to stick my jab but I think he could see that my jaw had gone,” said Burns.

“Whenever it’s close the fighter usually asks you if they got it,” stated Burns’ promoter Eddie Hearns. However, according to Hearns, immediately after the fight, “Burns was crying with pain and he had no interest in the result. He said all he wanted to do was hang on.” Hearns related as a quick recap of events that led to Burns’ retaining his title against a seemingly much more dominant Beltran. “Ray should be champion right now,” Reilly rebutted. “Crawford should be vying for the world title against Ray. Ray should be fighting at home…. it should be the opposite.” Many of professional boxing’s most esteemed observers would and do agree with Mr. Reilly.

In these murky matters, ironically Beltran and Reilly have had a very public advocate in none other than opponent Terence Crawford. “I felt Beltran did more than enough to win that fight,” said Crawford. “Unfortunately, he didn’t get that victory over there.”

Ironically, in a sort of paving the way maneuver, it could be said that Crawford who came to fight Ricky Burns in the UK immediately after Beltran – got the fair decision and the title to boot in some part due to the hue and cry after the blight of the Burns vs. Beltran decision. “I know coming into the fight (Beltran) feels like I have something that belongs to him, “ Crawford freely acknowledged.

“(Beltran) will train extra hard to get what he thinks belongs to him, and that makes for a good fight,” said Crawford, ever eager to give his hometown fans a good show and rack up another victory. Beltran, in a response worthy of a Buddhist yogi rejoined, “the past is the past. I’m not the champion and I haven’t been the champion. I’m looking forward to being the champion this time.”

Fairly or unfairly, from the beginning it would seem that no one has ever given Ray Beltran anything that he didn’t explicitly earn. Both a tragedy and a blessing in a modern world of great excess and personal favors, hard work in the face of little reward has been the rule versus the exception for Beltran since childhood.“ I stared working when I was five years old,” Mr. Beltran recounts. “ I was picking up flowers…selling bubble gum on the bus, on the construction field.”

Surely these are not the childhood memories many would wish for, but Mr. Beltran’s reaction to these types of hardships would seem to be the key to understanding everything that is the unique spirit that defines him and his ability to surprise and persevere today.

“ There are things that happen to you as a kid (that) make you who you are,” Mr. Beltran ruminated briefly in the middle of a grueling day of training at his Los Angeles training camp. “It doesn’t even matter how many years pass, it still hurts…you get to a point where you are tired of that. Then you become who you are…. it’s never easy…. to me I see the light up there. I’ve still got to go and get that light. I’m not there yet. I like to feel like that. That keeps me hungry.”

Indeed, this light would not only seem to be what sustains Mr. Beltran but what defines him and sets him apart. “He’s the kind of person that … if he receives the no, ok I’m going to go for the yes, “ recounted Mr. Beltran’s wife Lupe is a rare visit to training camp. “That’s the thing that I like about him. That he keeps going.”

Who Mr. Beltran is of late due explicitly to his refusal to quit is nothing to sneeze at. His relatively new training camp headquarters are representative of this up shift. For his last couple of fights, including Crawford vs. Beltran, Mr. Beltran’s training headquarters have been none other than the almost swank and reclusively exclusive Wild Card West Boxing Club in Santa Monica, California.

The facility, owned by Mr. Beltran’s very Hollywood backer and supporter, film actor and director Peter Berg, is a brick and mortar proof of just how far Mr. Beltran’s considerable work ethic has gotten him since those days as just another child selling flowers by the road. Set to battle for the title a second time due to the graces of his own sweat and hard work, finally some of the big shots, along the lines of the aforementioned Berg and promoter Bob Arum have noticed and reciprocated with some backing and bigger fights in keeping with continued victories.

Fortunately since Burns, both sides have held to their respective ends of the bargain and subsequently Mr. Beltran has been happily ensconced in his own training camp fashioned for him alone. Coming from a background not so long ago where Mr. Beltran was always a visitor to other high profile training camps – most famously as one of Manny Pacquiao’s (57-5-2, 38KOs) most regular and integral sparring partners, everyone including Mr. Beltran’s trainer Pepe Reilly and his strength and conditioning coach Rob Garcia are very happy that Ray has finally turned a corner with regard to receiving the sort of private treatment and facilities that a champion of Beltran’s worth deserves. As for those who still don’t want to take notice, Beltran had this to say:

“…. I’ve never been the favorite in many things and I’ve proved people wrong. It’s a good motivation for me …I win some fights that I wasn’t the favorite (and) that’s a win. So people don’t believe in me, that’s okay… I’ll make them believe. Cause I believe in myself… my team believes in me so that’s what I need the most…. The rest is easy.”

This time around, it might prove harder to prove people wrong. After an impressive title defense via ninth round KO against the hard hitting and formerly undefeated Yuriorkis Gamboa (24-1, 17KOs) in June of this year, Crawford comes into this Nov 29th battle with home court advantage and proven ring prowess as the WBO World Lightweight Champion fighting Beltran as the number one contender.

“(Terence)’s got three or four different looks. And we got to be able to adjust to all three of them,” Reilly concedes. “He’s not just a boxer he’s a puncher. He’s not just a puncher, he turns southpaw. He’s not just turning southpaw, he finishes strong. He starts smart. All of these things are something that we have to think about as we approach this fight. There’s more than one thing to get ready for.”

Nevertheless, despite the musical chairs shakedown of the Beltran, Burns, Crawford WBO Bermuda triangle, with Crawford dropping down as the more difficult and dangerous champion to beat in comparison to Burns, Reilly in keeping with the Zen of his fighter is unwilling to go back in time: “Going against Crawford is kind of a good thing…if we can beat Crawford…. we’re on the A team… the A plus guys. Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather… Andre Ward… all the top fighters in those divisions…it’s not just fighting for the world title it’s fighting for positioning on a higher scale. Which is the important part.” With this, Beltran would seem to enthusiastically agree.