Will The Fourth Time be a Charm for Tenacious Ray Beltran?

In ice hockey when a player scores three goals in a game, it’s called a hat trick.

For Ray Beltran, he’s tallied his version of a hat trick, but in a negative way after challenging for the World Boxing Organization’s lightweight championship three times, only to fall short on each occasion.

Still Beltran, a 36-year-old who launched his professional career in 1999 with a unanimous decision win over Victor Manuel Mendoza, isn’t easily deterred.

On February 16, Beltran will make a fourth attempt at the 135-pound title vacated by Terry Flanagan, who moved up to 140 pounds, when he enters the ring against Paulus Moses, who held the World Boxing Association lightweight crown from 2009 to 2010. The likely venue is the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. The bout will be televised by ESPN.

Beltran is promoted by Top Rank. The deal that Top Rank president Bob Arum carved out with ESPN gives Beltran exposure that he wouldn’t otherwise have. It is believed that Arum would like the winner of the Beltran-Moses fight to take on Vasyl Lomachenko, who wants to move up in weight and recently disposed of Guillermo Rigondeaux.

To be sure, Moses is a top-shelf boxer who has pieced together an impressive 40-3 professional mark with 25 knockouts.

“I’m just anxious and waiting to get back into the ring,” said Beltran from his home in Phoenix, Arizona, before beginning training camp. “I’ll be training in L.A. for eight or nine weeks at the Wild Card,” said Beltran who came to the United States at age 16 from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico.

Beltran, who has a P1 work visa that allows him to pursue his chosen trade, said that he hopes to erase those three setbacks, including a loss to Terence Crawford via a 12-round unanimous decision in November 2014.

Beltran’s last fight was a majority decision win over Bryan Vasquez in August 2017 at the Microsoft Theatre at L.A. Live with the North American Boxing Federation and North American Boxing Organization lightweight titles on the line.

In part because of a fan-friendly fighting style, Beltran, whose “green card,” status is still pending and won’t be known until after his clash with Moses, has built up a supportive following.

“I’m more like a brawler-fighter,” said Beltran, who has racked up a record of 34-7-1 with one no decision and 21 knockouts. “I can box, too. I used to box more. You have to be aggressive. I’m more aggressive now. They [the fans] like that style better. But I’m a smart brawler.”

Pepe Reilly, a member of the 1992 United States Olympic boxing team that included 10-time world champion in six different weight classes Oscar De La Hoya, is Beltran’s trainer.

Reilly said Beltran, who owns a five-fight winning streak that dates back to May 2016 when he grabbed a technical knockout victory over Ivan Najera in the second round, work well together.

“Ray and I have been together as fighter and trainer for many years now, probably over 20 years,” he said. “Training Ray isn’t difficult because we authentically listen to each other.”

Reilly fought professionally from 1993 through 2000 and compiled a record of 15-4 with 11 knockouts.

“I try to be attentive to what I feel Ray’s body and movements are telling me on any given day in the boxing gym,” he said. “Outside of the gym we are friends. I listen to what he has to say, but never let myself get too close to his personal life because I want that to be his own.”

Reilly added: “Also I think that getting too involved as everyday friends might not be good for our relationship in the gym during camp time with fights coming up,” he said. “Ray listens. He is good about wanting to figure things out. We understand that boxing is a game of circumstances. We want to as a team understand as much as possible to get the job done.”

Reilly said he has confidence in Beltran’s ability and also admires his dedication.

“I like that he works harder than any boxer out there,” he said. “His workouts with conditioning coach Bryan McComb are top of the line. I never worry about him getting tired. It doesn’t happen. Also I like his smart ability. He has a stylish style based on thinking.”

There are two Hall of Fame boxers that Beltran, who earned a majority decision win over Henry Lundy and the NABF lightweight title in July 2012, hopes to emulate when he stares down Moses.

“I like to fight and I like to put on a good show,” said Beltran, who was one of Manny Pacquiao’s top sparring partners. “I think we could mix it up. Ray Leonard used to be a good boxer. A beautiful boxer, but he was a brawler. I also like Salvador Sanchez. He was a great boxer, but he could also brawl.”

If Reilly has his way, Beltran will be a pure boxer when he meets the 39-year-old Moses, who hails from Namibia.

“I want Ray to be a boxer first,” Reilly said. “I think every boxer at one time or another needs to learn how to fight. Ray Beltran has always found a way to win fights. In the last few years we have found his power. We do that in the gym.

“We do that with adjustments to his distance and stance. We do that with practice and understanding. In the end, Ray is a smart boxer who gets the job done. We always want to box first and be a slugger if we need to.”

Beltran said his most instructive fights have been against Crawford and Scotland’s Ricky Burns who retained his WBO crown by virtue of his match with Beltran ending in a draw.

“My biggest fight definitely was Crawford. He was my most difficult fight, but the fight that really made me was when I fought Ricky Burns,” he noted. “I think I won that fight. I’m a world-class fighter and I showed that I have what it takes to be a world champion.”

Facing the undefeated Crawford was something that helped Beltran get better. “He wasn’t my toughest fight, but it was the most difficult,” he said. “It was like a chess game.”

Beltran fought Burns on Burns’ home turf in Glasgow. A no-contest was rendered when Beltran took on Takahiro Ao in May 2015 in Las Vegas, also for the WBO strap. Beltran blew away Ao, stopping him in the second round, but the “W” became a “ND” when Ray tested positive for an anabolic steroid.

Reilly said the training camp will begin this month and will last nine to 10 weeks.

“In training camp I want Ray to find his ultimate rhythm,” he said. “I want him to find his confidence in his ability to adapt which is crucial. The guy we are fighting is tall and rangy as well as being absolutely durable. We know that his opponent is as much a veteran of boxing as they come. So we have to understand his experience and what to expect from it.”

Steve Feder is Beltran’s manager and believes that his time is now. “Ray has an amazing work ethic,” he pointed out. “When he comes to camp, he comes with the idea that he wants to perform better than his previous camp. Regardless of how great a camp is, he wants to improve. Ray has no quit in him and he never says the word can’t. I’ve worked with many fighters over the past decade and Ray is in a class of his own.”

Beltran said his chosen profession basically chose him and he’s glad that it did.

“My father was a boxer. I come from a family of boxers,” he said. “The way I grew up there was not much hope. The only hope was boxing. We didn’t have much of an opportunity. I grew up in boxing. I love the sport. I wanted to be a boxer like my dad.”

Besides getting hit and possibly injured in the ring, Feder explained why boxing can be a tough business.

“You can only take a fighter so far without a great promoter,” he said. “Top Rank is the absolute best there is in the business. They have the best matchmakers in Brad Goodman and Bruce Trampler. Second to none. The marketing machine is top notch. Ray was considered a journeyman fighter for years, but they saw the talent. They saw how he could fit being a dominant Mexican fighter.”

Feder went on: “They saw he was marketable, but never was given the chance to really shine. They took Ray from journeyman to where he belongs as a world-class fighter. From barely ranked to ranked number one in the world. You can’t achieve that without a great promoter. Bob Arum is a genius, pure genius.”

All of this may be true, but it took Beltran’s hard work and sweat inside the gym and a team behind him that includes Reilly and Feder in order to succeed.

“Pepe has a lot of experience,” Beltran said of his coach. “He was an Olympian. We work together and he’s pretty smart. We have a good chemistry. He gives me a lot of confidence.”

Pacquiao and Freddie Roach, the Boxing Writers Association of America seven-time Trainer of the Year, have also been instrumental in Beltran’s rise to the top.

“Working with Manny, it definitely helped me a lot,” he said. “It helped me to learn how to relax. When you’re in trouble, you have to learn to relax.”

Once in the ring, Beltran said his thoughts are solely on the man in front of him.

“When I’m in there, I love it. I feel excited,” he said. “I’m thinking I have to take care of him. I have to take care of my family. Every second counts. I can’t let him get comfortable. I can’t let him breathe. Keep the intensity up. I gotta win. I gotta win.”

No doubt this will be Beltran’s mantra when he hopes to finally claim that elusive WBO title.

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