By Keith Idec
Paulus Moses is 39 and was a huge underdog Friday night.
Those unfavorable numbers didn’t stop the former champion from overcoming Ray Beltran’s early attack to make their lightweight championship match more difficult than expected for the favored fighter. A determined Beltran fought through a cut for nine-plus rounds, though, and boxed well in the championship rounds to win a unanimous decision and the vacant WBO lightweight title.
All three judges – Erik Cheek (116-112), Burt Clements (117-111) and Don Trella (117-111) – scored Beltran a winner by comfortable margins in the main event of an ESPN tripleheader televised from Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada. Cheek credited Beltran with winning each of the last three rounds, and Clements and Trella scored each of the final five rounds for the newly crowned champion.
According to unofficial CompuBox statistics, Beltran landed 38 more punches overall than Moses (197-of-678 to 159-of-622). CompuBox counted more power punches for Beltran (141-of-358 to 109-of-332) and jabs (56-of-320 to 50-of-290).
The wide scores aside, Phoenix’s Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KOs) credited Namibia’s Moses (40-4, 25 KOs, 1 NC) for truly testing him during their competitive encounter.
Early in the bout, it looked like Beltran’s power would be too much for Moses, who made his debut in the United States. The crafty veteran managed to overcome some troublesome moments, however, particularly during the fourth and fifth rounds, and continually belted Beltran with his overhand right.
Moses snapped his accurate jab throughout the bout and displayed tremendous resolve by taking Beltran’s most powerful punches.
A right hand by Moses buckled Beltran’s legs early in the ninth round. A resilient Beltran came back later in the ninth to land several power punches of his own.
Beltran rallied in the 10th round by drilling Moses with several vicious body blows. That appeared to be the first time Beltran affected Moses with his power since the fifth round.
The newly crowned champ buckled Moses’ legs with an overhand right to the side of his head early in the fifth round, which backed him into the ropes.
Moses came back strong later in the fifth and connected with a right uppercut. Beltran backed up Moses in the fourth round, when he landed a left hook/overhand right combination.
Beltran suffered a cut around his left eye in the third round, when he accidentally banged heads with Moses.
Ultimately, Beltran, 36, won the WBO 135-pound championship England’s Terry Flanagan gave up last year, when Flanagan (33-0, 13 KOs) decided to move up to 140 pounds.
The fourth time was the charm for the Mexican immigrant, whose ongoing fight for a green card has been well-documented.
Beltran’s first shot at the WBO lightweight title resulted in a dubious draw with Ricky Burns in September 2013. That 12-round fight took place in Burns’ native Scotland.
Beltran got another crack at that same championship 14 months later. Terence Crawford soundly beat Beltran by unanimous decision in that 12-rounder in Omaha, Nebraska, Crawford’s hometown.
Beltran’s third shot at the WBO light crown came apart before he even set foot in the ring. He was supposed to box Japan’s Takahiro Ao for that title in May 2015 in Las Vegas, but failed to make the lightweight limit of 135 pounds at their weigh-in.
Beltran stopped Ao in the second round of a fight in which only Ao could’ve won the WBO title. That result was changed to a no-contest, however, once Beltran tested positive for an anabolic steroid.
Moses is ranked No. 4 among the WBO’s lightweight contenders. He is nearly 40, though, and before battling Beltran had lost his previous two world title fights.
Burns beat him by unanimous decision in their 12-rounder in Glasgow in March 2012. In Moses’ prior title bout, Miguel Acosta scored a sixth-round knockout of Moses to take the WBA lightweight championship from him.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.