October 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview: Ray Beltran - "I don't want a Burns rematch"

Beltran beats the champ only to get robbed by the judges
Boxing is always true to the individual, but often unfair to the masses. On a personal level, the game never lies to a fighter. There is no deceiving Father Time, nor is there any substitute for training and the heart and dedication of a champion that cannot be faked.

On the other hand, despite the effort of the fighters, the powers that be in boxing spoil the sport on occasion with decisions of questionable repute due to money and other shady circumstances. Ray Beltran is an honest fighter, never caught up on the wrong end of the law or the bad side of boxing. Behind the scenes, he is an average man who cares for his family like any other, and has quietly arisen as a contender in the lightweight division despite numerous obstacles.

A rather unglamorous record that now stands at 28-6-1 with 17 knockouts, including several losses earlier in his career could cause some fans to write him off at first glance. But as of late, the 32 year old Beltran has found himself in the midst of a career resurgence. Victories over Hank Lundy and Ji-Hoon Kim set the stage for a September battle against Scotland’s WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns. Beltran broke Burns’ jaw and knocked the champion down in the eighth round, but still only received a draw, a robbery that transcends the likes of controversial but close decisions such as Julio Chavez Jr vs Brian Vera and even the scoring dispute in Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Canelo Alvarez. Make no mistake—these were bouts in which the scoring was well off, but the right man won “The One” and Vera hardly blew Chavez out of the building despite being the busier man. In the dubious case of Beltran vs Burns, the better man did not win, and nor did the fans win in a decision that holds no merit. "I beat him and I dominated him," said Beltran. 

Phoenix, Arizona's Ray Beltran knows the rise in boxing has not always been the easiest journey. He moved from Mexico to America when he was a child, turned pro at the young age of 18, and has been on the wrong end of decisions because he is not the most well-known and well-backed combatant. But don’t let the defeats and challenges fool you—like any good fighter, when hit hard by blows in and out of the ring, Ray Beltran comes back stronger.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: Your most recent fight was arguably your biggest, taking on Ricky Burns overseas. Burns entered the fight as the WBO champion, the favorite, and had the advantage of fighting at home in Scotland. In your training and preparation for the fight, did you account for the possibility that it might take a bit extra to wrestle a win away on the scorecards?

Aint gonna be no rematch because he don't want one
RB: That’s the way it is all the time when you are dealing with the being the visitor. I think I did enough to win the fight the way it happened. I beat him and I dominated him. He can keep the belt. They have called me about a rematch and this and that, but I think that to go all the way over there, I wouldn’t do it again. I felt frustrated. But at the same time, I knew that could happen.

KOD: It appeared you won at least 6 rounds in the fight and Burns was knocked down in the 8th round. When it was over, how confident were you that you had pulled off the victory?

RB: I was confident. I was putting pressure on and landed my best shots on him. He was holding a lot and trying to get away too much. That’s the reason I thought I won the fight. Here’s the way I think about it: I fought for a belt. They say champions are made, but they don’t always bring the champ the belt because some guys know the right people. After this fight, there was nothing I could do about it. He knew the right people and I don’t think that’s right. I’m not interested in the belt, I’m interested in making my name known. If I fight a guy for a title, I don’t want actually to fight the guy for a title, I want to fight him because he is a champion. 

KOD: Controversial decisions have long plagued the sport of boxing. The draw against Ricky Burns, the close Chavez Jr-Vera fight, and a slew of others very recently have highlighted perceived issues with scoring in fights. Is there anything that could remedy this problem, or are bad decisions in boxing beyond fixing?

RB: The people make the champion and make him powerful. As long as people keep paying for fights, like Chavez Jr-Vera, the same thing will continue. It is all about the money. I don’t know if there’s anything they can do in boxing, except allowing the government to get more involved. In football and other sports, there is a lot of government involvement. They don’t put up with bullshit. With the federal government involved, the sport would be more straight up and clean. They could organize a real world champion—no made up champions. 

Beltran takes it to the champion
KOD: Burns actually broke his jaw early in the fight. Did you realize in the moment how badly you had hurt him?

RB: Well, I knew he was running a lot, but I didn’t know why. Maybe that’s the reason he did that and was holding so much also. I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn’t know that it was his jaw.

KOD: How likely is a rematch between the two of you?

RB: I don’t want a rematch. I am not interested in it.

KOD: Backtracking a bit, one of your key victories that set up the title fight with Burns was an NABF title tilt against Hank Lundy. Lundy was favored and talked a lot of smack, but you emerged with the majority decision. Did the cut in the third round effect you, and did you need to adapt to pull off the win? 

RB: Not really. I’m the kind of fighter that if I get hurt, I get stronger. The more I get hurt, the more I get up and the harder I fight. I kept going to make sure I would win. Lundy is a good fighter. He didn’t bother me. The only thing he could do by talking is fire me up even more to fight harder and beat him. That’s just the way it is with him.

Beltran hammers Hank Lundy
KOD: Following the Lundy fight was a battle against aggressive Korean slugger Ji-Hoon Kim. Both of you were floored in the opening round. Was combating his up-tempo style a more difficult task than you originally anticipated?

RB: No, not really, but he could punch. He was one of the hardest fights I had. I think he was just very aggressive and in your face. 

KOD: Where does his power rank among others you've faced?

RB: I think Kim was one of the most powerful. He really hit hard.

KOD: You have sparred with welterweight kingpin Manny Pacquiao on numerous occasions. 
How has stepping into the ring with an all-time great helped you improve as a fighter?

RB: I was learning in the gym. It’s a lot of work, but working with him has taught me a lot. It helped me with my patience. This game is very unpredictable. Manny was very fast and powerful.
It helped me to keep my concentration and stay calm.

Beltran gained experience and exposure in sparring with Pacquiao
KOD: This opportunity came about through Freddy Roach, who has trained both you and Manny. Roach has a lot of fighters under his wing. Have you ever felt overshadowed, particularly around big fights for Roach’s stars like Pacquiao and Khan?

RB: Not really. I think being around those guys has helped me. When I sparred with Manny, it helped get my name out there. People got to know me more, then I fought and earned my own respect.

KOD: What do you think Manny Pacquiao has left after losing to Juan Manuel Marquez? Does he still have what it takes to be a top ten pound for pound fighter in the sport?

RB: People talk about his two losses, but against Bradley, he had the fight won. Against Marquez, he was doing great until he got hit with that shot. I think it is a myth. He has enough left. I think the Rios fight is a tough fight for Manny, but because of his power, I think that he is going to win, but you never know. Rios is a strong guy too and anything can happen, but he should be able to win the fight.

KOD: Who do you want to fight next, and who do you consider to be the best fighter in your division?

Beltran feels he beat Gamboa with counterpunching
RB: There are a couple guys. But I would love to fight Yuriorkis Gamboa. He has a lot of power and a big name. He is the kind of guy that is very powerful, but I can go out there and make it difficult for him. He is very aggressive, so I can counter punch him and I can beat him. When he gets too aggressive, he throws combinations and leaves himself open. It is not going to be easy, but I think counterpunching is a key to beating him.

KOD: In boxing, many fighters desire a pristine record, and in the age of big TV contracts, an undefeated record means more than it ever has before. Do you feel as though your 6 losses and lone draw are something that have hindered you in earning respect and publicity at times?

RB: If you are losing and making no noise, people will look at your record. But if you have been doing good and beating up good people, the fans won’t even think about the number. They will be only looking at you and the way you have been doing.

KOD: Early in your career prior to 2005, you suffered three losses and lot in steps up against Ameth Diaz, Sharif Bogere, and Luis Ramos Jr. Since the Ramos fight, you have rattled off impressive victories against Hank Lundy and Ji-Hoon Kim, along with looking strong against the aforementioned Burns. At age 32, do you feel as though you are in the midst of a career revitalization?

RB: Professionally, yes. I look the strongest I have ever been. I have been on TV, I have a higher concentration level than ever before and that helped me make adjustments on myself. I lost a few fights but came back stronger.

Fallen Phoenix USA Boxer Alexis Urbina
KOD: You have a fundraiser upcoming in memory of Alexis Urbina, a 17 year old boxer who was recently murdered. Tell us a bit about the event, and you relationship with the young star.

RB: I know his family. They are my friends. I saw them whenever I'd go to the gym. We would talk. We were a part of the Phoenix boxing community. It's hard to find out about the kid. It’s all about people. You never know who might be next, so you have to help people and I try to put myself in the other person’s place. 

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio.
Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.  

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli