By Keith Idec
Above all else, winning the WBO lightweight title likely would earn Ray Beltran his green card.
The Mexican immigrant, who has resided in the United States for 20 years, wants nothing more than to continue living in the Phoenix area with his wife and three children. The next step in Beltran’s well-documented quest to become a U.S. citizen is scheduled for February 16, when Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KOs, 1 NC) will meet Namibia’s Paulus Moses (40-3, 25 KOs, 1 NC) for the vacant WBO 135-pound championship at Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno, Nevada.
“Winning a world title would be a dream come true,” Beltran, who remains in the U.S. on a P1 visa, told BoxingScene.com. “But it’s also another great accomplishment to secure my legal status here in the United States. So it’s double motivation. According to the immigration laws, winning the world title can kind of secure your opportunity to get a green card because it proves that you have extraordinary abilities. That proves it.”
From the standpoint of boxing business, beating Moses in a main event ESPN will televise will keep Beltran in position to land another big fight. Promoter Bob Arum indicated recently that a showdown with WBO super featherweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko could be Beltran’s next fight.
Ukraine’s Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) is typically touted as one of the best boxers in the world, yet his handlers have had trouble making meaningful fights for the two-time Olympic gold medalist within the 130-pound division. That’s why Lomachenko likely will move up five pounds to lightweight for his next bout.
A Lomachenko-Jorge Linares clash has been discussed by those at Arum’s Top Rank Inc. and Linares’ representatives at Golden Boy Promotions. Money and network complications – Linares’ recent fights have been broadcast by HBO, whereas Lomachenko’s matches have aired on ESPN – could prevent that fight for Linares’ WBA lightweight championship from happening, however.
Beltran, like Lomachenko, is promoted by Top Rank, thus their fight should be pretty easy to make. If Beltran beats Moses, who’s 39 and hasn’t defeated a legitimate lightweight contender in recent years, he would welcome a shot at the highly skilled southpaw whom Arum has called the most talented fighter he has promoted since the late Muhammad Ali.
“I have to win this fight first, but even if it was Lomachenko next Friday, I’m down to fight anybody,” Beltran said. “I don’t duck nobody. So, you know, hopefully things go well, I’ll become a champion and I’ll be there [to fight Lomachenko]. I don’t go nowhere.”
The athletic, smart Lomachenko has overcome a debatable split-decision defeat to Mexico’s Orlando Salido in his second pro fight to win world titles in two weight classes by just his seventh professional appearance. He has been so dominant since November 2016 that each of his past four opponents – Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Guillermo Rigondeaux – have declined to continue at various points in their fights.
The 36-year-old Beltran is impressed with what he has seen from Lomachenko, yet not the least bit intimidated.
“He’s not God,” Beltran said. “He’s another human being. He’s very talented, but so what? I mean, once you put that in your mind, you fight scared, you fight limited. If you believe you can do something, you can fight better. You never know. He’s a very talented fighter. He’s a great fighter. I’ve got nothing but respect for him. But at the end of the day, he’s another human being, just like me. He feels the punches, he bleeds and he sweats, and he can get hurt, too. Nothing is impossible.”
He didn’t use the word overrated, but Beltran believes Lomachenko is being billed as an unstoppable superstar, when that just isn’t the case.
“When a great champion is in his prime, everybody, even on social media, treats him as if he was God,” Beltran said. “But once the champion lost, everyone starts talking about his flaws and mistakes and his weaknesses. People are easy to program. So to me, everybody falls and anybody could die tomorrow. So Lomachenko’s a great fighter, but like I say, he’s not God to me. So I’m not worried about him.”
If they do fight, Beltran would consider his size and strength to be significant advantages over Lomachenko.
The 5-feet-8 Beltran stands two inches taller than Lomachenko and has fought exclusively at lightweight for nine years. Lomachenko likely could move back down from 130 pounds to the featherweight limit of 126 for the right opportunity.
“It definitely would be an advantage,” Beltran said. “I believe I’m a way better fighter than I look. I believe I can adapt to styles. Once you fight somebody that’s stronger than you, and you can feel the punches, you have to fight different to win. He would have to have a different plan with me.”
The last time Beltran battled an elite-level opponent, Terence Crawford defeated him by unanimous decision in their 12-round fight for Crawford’s WBO lightweight title in November 2014.
In his following fight, Beltran beat Japan’s Takahiro Ao by second-round technical knockout in what was supposed to be his third shot at the WBO 135-pound title, which Crawford vacated to move up to 140 pounds.
That title wasn’t at stake for Beltran because he didn’t make weight. His victory was overturned, too, when Beltran tested positive for an anabolic steroid.
He is 4-0 since suffering that setback in May 2015. As Beltran prepares for another shot at the WBO lightweight title, he is eager to extend that streak by overcoming Moses and earning a chance to knock off Lomachenko.
“Like I said, I respect him, just like I respect all my opponents, no matter who they are,” Beltran said. “But I don’t care. He’s just another human being. I mean, if I would’ve listened to what everybody says, the doubts they have about me, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Many people in the past told me I wasn’t even in the top 10. They said I was like top 20. They told me to retire, told me this, told me that, and look where I am right now. You know what I mean? I believe in myself and that’s all it takes.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.