By Francisco Salazar
Nothing has come easy for Ray Beltran in his over 19 years as a prizefighter and in his personal life. In fact, what he does in and out of the ring very much mirrors one another.
Beltran has faced the top fighters at 135 pounds over the last several years, most often in their hometowns or as an opponent. Meanwhile, Beltran and his management team have been working with immigration lawyers, filling out paperwork and documents to finalize becoming a U.S. citizen.
Beltran can attest that the journey to win a world title belt and securing citizenship are equally difficult, but he is still as hungry, if not more, to retain his title.
He will be in a tough battle Saturday night when he defends his WBO title against Jose Pedraza at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
The 12 round bout, along with the 12 round WBO junior featherweight title bout between titleholder Isaac Dogboe and challenger Hidenori Otake, will air live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (10:30 p.m. ET/ 7:30 p.m. PT).
At Friday's weigh-in, Beltran tipped the scale at 134.6 pounds, while Pedraza weighed in at 134.4 pounds. Dogboe weighed in at 121 pounds, while Otake weighed in at 121.4 pounds.
After traveling to Glasgow, Scotland or Omaha, Nebraska to be the opponent against Ricky Burns and Terence Crawford, Beltran will be fighting in front of family and friends. Beltran resides in the Phoenix area, not from the venue that is the home to the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.
After the fight with mandatory challenger Roman Andreev fell through, Pedraza took the fight with Beltran. Pedraza is coming off a close 10 round unanimous decision over Antonio Moran on June 9.
Beltran knows the type of challenge Pedraza presents on Saturday night.
"I know he's a tough fighter," Beltran told BoxingScene.com Wednesday afternoon. "He's busy and skillful and he has good leg movement. I know he's going to bring everything. It's a tough fight, but we trained hard. We have to find a way to adapt, if it's necessary."
The 37-year-old Beltran earned his first attempt at a world title belt in September of 2013 against Ricky Burns. Beltran outboxed Burns over 12 rounds, but walked out of the ring dejected when the fight was announced as a draw.
After losing to then-WBO titleholder Terence Crawford in November of 2014, Beltran fought for the vacant WBO title against Takahiro Ao in May of 2015. Not only did Beltran fail to make weight, but he the knockout win over Ao was overturned due to a failed post-fight drug test.
After winning his next five bouts, Beltran defeated Paulus Moses by unanimous decision in his last bout on Feb. 16, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Beltran understands the psyche of it becoming difficult to defend a world title at least once, but he is just as motivated to fight to his potential.
"Every fight is at a different stage," said Beltran, who is managed by Steven Feder. "I know I'm defending my title, but the motivation is still there. "I love challenges. It motivates me to prove I'm still a world champion."
Perseverance worked for Beltran in the ring and he hopes it works outside of it. Beltran hopes his journey of securing a green card to become a citizen will come sooner than later.
With the recent spike of hate crimes and prejudice against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, especially those who are undocumented, Beltran hopes his recent performances in the ring allow even President Trump to see him as an upstanding person.
"I look at the green card as a lottery ticket. I know Donald Trump is a boxing fan and I'm sure he's seen my story. It's all over social media. I actually would like to meet him and show him I represent all Mexicans well. I want to tell him Mexicans are good, hard-working people. We don't take advantage of the laws of this great nation."
Beltran is in a tough fight tonight, but wants to win and continue towards a path of defending his title, which will be against Vasiliy Lomachenko on Dec. 1 should he defeat Pedraza.
As much as he has been asked about Lomachenko, Beltran is focuses on Pedraza.
"I'm very motivated for Pedraza. There are experts who have predicted that I'm not supposed to be where I'm at or what I've done, including winning a world title. I'm still writing my story."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing