By Thomas Gerbasi
Lightweight contender Ray Beltran was told at an early age that he needed to be content with where he was in life. But the Los Mochis, Mexico native didn’t buy in to the notion that where you are is where you will end up.
“I said, ‘I’ll have whatever I want in life, but I’ll have to go and get it. I have to go hard, I have to make the sacrifice.’”
Beltran hasn’t stopped pushing for what he wants, whether it’s a world championship belt or a green card, both of which he hopes to secure with a win over Jonathan Macielo this Saturday in Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t take ‘No’ for an answer,” he said. “The words, ‘I can’t’ don’t exist in my head. I can’t accept them. So when I hear somebody say, ‘I can’t,’ I just hate it. You put the limits in your head. There’s no limit for me in my life and I really believe it.”
It’s what gets the 35-year-old veteran out of bed every morning to get ready for a fight, make weight, and then throw hands with younger fighters who may have youth on their side, but not the skill, experience and desire Beltran does. It’s why after three cracks at a world championship, he’s still in the hunt. And after his current three-fight winning streak was capped off by a knockout of highly-touted Mason Menard last December, he’s on the doorstep of another title fight.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this,” Beltran said. “My life isn’t supposed to be the way it is right now. I didn’t have hope, I didn’t have nothing and life put so many obstacles around me. But I didn’t worry about whatever life put in my way. I chose what I want and fought for what I want and, little by little, we accomplished our goals. I’ve been through so much struggle and have worked so hard to get a world title, and I want to be able to prove to the boxing world what I’m capable of and get past the adversity. I just don’t stop and I won’t stop.”
Approaching the 18th anniversary of his pro debut in July 1999, Arizona’s Beltran wasn’t handed any favors on the way up the ranks, and he would have his share of big wins and crushing losses. Yet nothing crushed as much as a draw in his first world title fight against Ricky Burns.
Fighting in Burns’ backyard in Scotland, Beltran broke the champion’s jaw and dropped him in the eighth round, yet after 12 rounds of a fight most observers believed he won, the draw verdict was rendered.
Two fights later, there was no controversy when he was decisioned by Terence Crawford, and in his third title opportunity, the belt ended up not being on the line as he missed weight for what ultimately was a second-round stoppage of Takahiro Ao in May 2015. To add insult to injury, the win was changed to a no contest after Beltran failed a post-fight drug test for the anabolic steroid stanozolol.
That could have spelled the end of his run as a top-flight contender, but Beltran rose again.
“You don’t know how strong you are until you take a loss and put your strength to the test and show how hard you try to get back in the game,” he said. “You’re fighting back to get on top, and my whole career and whole life has been as the B-side, and I’m turning things around.”
Being the B-side in the boxing business is bad enough; to feel that you’ve been the B-side in life has got to be even worse, but Beltran isn’t complaining. He just wants to be better, and when he’s at his best, he wins fights, and win by win, he’s changing his life and setting an example for his three kids. And he knows that with a world championship belt, nothing can send a stronger message to them about what is possible.
“They look at me as a hero,” Beltran said. “So it would mean the world to them for me to become a world champion. I want to bring that glory to my family, for my kids, so we can enjoy it together and I can tell my kids and a lot of people to look at my story and get inspired to never quit and never give up on their dreams.”
Ray Beltran isn’t giving up. Not now. Not ever.