WBO lightweight champion Ray Beltrán talks about working hard to achieve his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen on Sat. Aug 4th, 2018 in Glendale, Ariz.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Republic |

Ray Beltran’s face was swollen. So were his hands. His daughter, Eden, helped him unlace and take off his shoes.

No one spoke.

The champ had lost his belt in his adopted hometown, and really there was nothing to say.

Still, Beltran tried.

“You know what, umm …”

The long, uncomfortable silence returned to the dressing room backstage at Gila River Arena where Beltran had taken refuge.

Moments earlier, his mentor Michael Carbajal had embraced him. Told him, “You’re still champion. You’re still my brother. No matter what.”

It was the same thing fans said as Beltran left the ring, and it was true. Once a fighter becomes a world champion, he’s a champion for life. But that doesn’t mean he gets to keep his ranking or his position in line for stardom or big-money fights.

Beltran maintained his dignity. He earned newfound respect. But he lost his chance to call out an opponent who could bring a million-dollar payday.

His sons, Edwin and Edgar, sat with him as the blood and sweat dried, as the bruises turned dark. They had watched their dad fight. They had heard the cheers. They knew their father was a warrior.

Beltran spoke quietly. “It’s a great feeling …” He paused and tried to continue, “To have the support.”

More silence.

“I’m sorry.”

He had no reason for shame, but what else can a fighter feel after a loss? Frustration, anger and disappointment only cover so much.

His opponent, Jose Pedraza, was younger. Busier. Faster. And he lived up to that nickname, “The Sniper.”

Pedraza used his jab to open a cut over Beltran’s left eye early. By the second round, the champ was wiping blood as he tried to walk through Pedraza’s long-range attacks.

Beltran needed to make it a fight. He had to take two to give one. He had to get inside and bang Pedraza’s ribs and guts. Slow Pedraza down. Get him to drop those hands. Then Beltran could come over the top with thudding hooks and right hands that would do more than score points. Beltran needed to break Pedraza’s will.

“Tried to be patient,” he said. “Tried to come with good shots. I think I was getting the best out of it. He moves very well.”

Pedraza was content to box. Snipe. Pivot. Backpedal. Snipe. Duck. Escape. Score. Rack up rounds. Steal the fight one razor-sharp jab at a time.

Still, Beltran came forward.

In the middle rounds, it looked like he had a chance. But he just couldn’t catch Pedraza long enough to hurt him.

And at this stage of Ray Beltran’s career, it doesn’t take much to bust open the scar tissue built up on his nose and brow.

“It was a very difficult night for all of us,” said Steve Feder, Beltran’s manager. “Ray showed, as he always does, such amazing courage. But sometimes courage doesn’t always trump age, you know?”

Beltran hurt his left hand going into the eighth round, Feder said. He also had a huge gash on the ball of his right foot that bled through his sock and had to have limited his mobility.

A champion, Beltran wouldn’t mention any of it.

“Everything’s OK,” he said. “Everything’s OK.”

He stuck to the plan. He was making it work. And then came that uppercut.

“Didn’t see the punch coming, you know?” he said in the quiet dressing room, where his wife, Guadalupe, watched him kiss and comfort their children.

It had been a good strategy, but the lightweight champ got caught coming in during Round 11. There was nothing he could do.

“I think the knockdown messed up my game,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the knockdown, I think I would have gotten the decision.”

Beltran wasn’t the same after, and the fight ended with him taking punishment in his opponent’s corner. Three short clacks signaled 10 seconds left. Beltran tried to move his head. Tried to fire back. But he was in danger of getting knocked out. Only heart and instinct held him up.

Mercifully, the bell sounded.

Beltran has fought to stay in the United States, and after years of bureaucracy and red tape, it looks like he finally is in position for permanent-resident status. But he still needs to work. Sparring Michael Carbajal and Manny Paquiao, getting robbed against Ricky Burns and spending decades as an undercard fighter doesn’t bring life-changing money.

Beating Pedraza would have.

That opportunity is gone, and Ray Beltran has to decide what’s next.

That decision won’t come soon. At least, it shouldn’t.

“I want him to rest,” Feder said. “I told him I’m proud of him. The whole team is proud of him.

“He never quit. I don’t want to see him go out this way. If Ray wants to fight again, under the right circumstances … But Ray has nothing to feel bad about. He can walk away from boxing knowing that he served the sport well. But it’s up to him. I want him to make the decision for himself and his family. But that takes time.”


Reach Moore at [email protected] or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @WritingMoore.