By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Ray Beltran has participated in three lightweight world title fights, including a loss to Terence Crawford.
In many ways, though, the Mexican contender’s fight against Jonathan Maicelo on Saturday night will be the most important of his 19-year pro career. If Beltran beats Peru’s Maicelo, it could help him earn the green card he’ll need to remain in the United States with his wife and three children.
Beltran, 35, has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, but can ensure permanent residence in the country by fighting for a world title. The Phoenix resident’s 12-round fight against Maicelo (25-2, 12 KOs, 1 NC), which will be broadcast by HBO from Madison Square Garden, is an IBF elimination match that’ll eventually earn the winner a shot at the IBF’s 135-pound championship.
Fighting for a world title would help Beltran provide proof of “exceptional ability” in a field that is required to obtain an EB-1 green card. If Beltran doesn’t obtain a green card, he could be deported back to Mexico at any time, a more realistic possibility for undocumented immigrants since Donald Trump was elected president.
“This fight is very important to me because it’s another chance for the title,” Beltran said during a press conference Thursday. “Not only that, but winning this fight I think will put me in a position to get my green card. So when I get my green card, I’m gonna go to Trump Tower and walk with it in my hand.”
As a playful Beltran waved his hand with an imaginary green card, he was reminded by someone in the crowd that Trump won’t be at his Manhattan residence over the weekend.
“But still, I’m gonna be in front of his house, to show him my green card,” Beltran joked. “So I’m very motivated, very excited.”
Beltran (32-7-1, 20 KOs, 1 NC) lost a unanimous decision to Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) in their 12-round fight for the WBO lightweight title in November 2014. He stopped Japan’s Takahiro Ao (27-3-1, 12 KOs, 1 NC) in the second round of his next fight to win the championship Crawford relinquished, but Beltran was stripped of the title once he tested positive for an anabolic steroid.
He has spent much of the past decade serving as Manny Pacquiao’s preferred sparring partner at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California. Beltran hopes, however, to get another shot at a lightweight title now that there’s more at stake than ever.
“Five or six years ago, I was struggling so bad to get an opportunity in boxing, to look for someone to believe in me,” Beltran said. “I would fight anybody, anywhere. A lot of fights were canceled. I would train for two months. At the end of the day, they would say, ‘We canceled the fight and you know what? And that’s it.’
“I’d get so mad because I knew I believed in myself because you go in the gym, there’s a lot of great fighters there and [I] sparred with the best and did a great performance. And after that, I fought three times for the world title and became No. 1 in The Ring magazine, and fought the pound-for-pound guy right here, Terence Crawford. Always fighting the best, making my own way, and here we are, you know? So I’m just living the dream. I’m living the dream and winning the green card, for a lot of people, it’s almost like winning the lottery ticket. I’ll secure my family. I mean, I love my country, Mexico, but I can live better here. I can give my family a better future here. So I’m looking forward to really working so hard and fighting so hard, and pleasing the fans Saturday night.”
The Beltran-Maicelo match will open HBO’s two-fight telecast Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Crawford will defend his WBC/WBO super lightweight championships against the Dominican Republic’s Felix Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs) in the main event.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.