Belts Matter: Ray Beltran Fights to Keep his World Title
By Hector Franco | Senior Writer and Editor
Published: August 24, 2018
In an era where world championships are arguably oversaturated, fans and pundits will often take for granted when a fighter wins a world title. Boxing is one of the sports where fighters of the past and their various records are celebrated and much more respected than the fighters of today.
The sport of boxing has a legitimate reason as to why the past generations are more respected. Fighters used to fight more frequently rather than two or three times a year which is the norm in this era. World championship boxing bouts were once 15 rounds with fewer champions per division. The days of when being a contender had an immense significance in the sport has been devalued and in many instances does not matter.
Title organizations such as the World Boxing Association (WBA) have added to some of the frustration that boxing fans have with the title belt system by adding “Super” and “Regular” titles to each division. The devaluing of the belts by adding so many to each division has led fans and many pundits to believe that title belts in this era do not matter. To the fighters themselves, this could not be further from the truth.
Boxing is no different from any other sport in that it can mirror real life. There are some fighters whether it is from the promoter they have or a fan base they were able to generate as an amateur or in their hometown sometimes have the road paved to a world title. Although boxing titles are oversaturated in this era, the journey to get to that world title can still be long and arduous for many pugilists.
Some fighters are fortunate enough to be guided and brought up through the boxing rankings one step at a time until they are ready to face a world champion. Other fighters are thrown to the proverbial wolves and to win or get a shot at a world title they have to face fighters that are sometimes ranked as some of the best in the world pound-for-pound. Fighters who do not have a large fan base, a well-known promoter behind them or some connection to a television network such as HBO or Showtime are sometimes brought in as opponents to lose to more established fighters. For some, the road towards a world title has a few more bumps and potholes than others.
This upcoming weekend, Ray Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KOs) will make the first defense of his newly acquired WBO lightweight (135) championship against former 130-pound titleholder, Jose Pedraza (24-1, 12 KOs). The match will be the next chapter in one of boxing’s most celebrated rivalries between Mexico and Puerto Rico. Pedraza will not be an easy opponent for Beltran as stylistically the Puerto Rican if focused can outbox him. Beltran is also the older fighter at 37 years of age with Pedraza being only 29 years old.
It has become a widely a known saying in boxing that it is “harder to defend your title than win your title.” For those pugilists who had their excursion to a world title filled with gold and roses, defending your world title against top opponents can be jarring. Examining Beltran’s expedition towards a world title he may already be prepared for what is to come.
Beltran made his professional debut in 1999, and it took him until 2018 to finally win his first world title. That level of persistence and determination should not be overlooked. Beltran’s first world title opportunity came in 2013 against Scotland’s Ricky Burns (42-7-1, 15 KOs). Despite knocking down Burns in the eighth round and breaking his jaw, Beltran fell victim to the hometown decision and the bout was declared a draw. Most fans and pundits believed that Beltran had done enough to get the decision.
Beltran’s next title shot came against one of the best fighters in the world in Terence “Bud” Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs). At the time Crawford was coming off of a star-making performance against Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa in the summer of 2014. The fight with Gamboa showed that not only could Crawford be in an exciting match, but he could also fill an arena as a local draw in his native Omaha, Nebraska. While Crawford was not considered a top three pound-for-pound fighter at the time, he was still the heavy favorite against Beltran who would be traveling to Nebraska to face him.
Although Beltran was widely known as one of the chief sparring partners to future Hall-of-Famer Manny Pacquiao, he had never stepped in the ring with someone of Crawford’s caliber. Beltran gave a valiant effort against Crawford but ultimately lost a one-sided wide unanimous decision.
In May 2015, Beltran challenged Japan’s Takahiro Ao (28-3-1, 12 KOs) for the vacant WBO lightweight title. Beltran would dispose of Ao in the second round; however, he did not make the 135-pound division limit, so the title was not on the line. To add insult to injury Beltran also tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol turning the bout into a no contest.
Beltran would be out of the ring for over a year after his bout with Ao. The Mexican fighter would work his way back up the lightweight rankings scoring impressive knockouts over the likes of Mason Menard and Jonathan Maicelo. Eventually, Beltran would receive another title opportunity against Namibia’s Paulus Moses (40-4, 25 KOs) for the vacant WBO lightweight title.
Following the same script of the majority of Beltran’s career, the bout with Moses was anything but easy. The match took place in February 2018 in Reno, Nevada. The Namibian fighter was 39 years of age at the time of the fight and gave Beltran all he could handle. It was a back and forth bout that featured both men having their fair share of moments. In the end, Beltran was awarded the unanimous decision victory over Moses and his first world title.
This weekend Beltran will look to make his first successful title defense. The stage could not be set any better as he will defend his title near his adopted hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. The world title for Beltran is more than just a title. Win or lose Beltran will not give up his title without a fight. On the night of August 25th in Arizona fans will see a battle between two men with much to prove. One seeks redemption, the other looks to keep what took so long and was so difficult to earn.
(Featured Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank)