Sparring partners aren’t supposed to get this far. At least that’s what Ray Beltran has always been known as – a sparring partner.
He gained acclaim for his work during Manny Pacquiao’s training camps. In fact, Beltran did such a great job helping Manny prepare for his mega fights that Beltran was chosen as one of Pacquiao’s chief sparring partners.
But Beltran wasn’t satisfied with his role; he wanted to soak in the spotlight himself.
After reeling off some big wins in 2012, highlighted by an upset victory over Hank Lundy on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, Beltran was no longer seen as a training buddy, but a contender.
Beltran (28-6, 17 knockouts) followed up with a win over veteran Ji-Hoon Kim before finally securing a contract with promotional giant Top Rank. After years of hard work, Beltran will look to earn a new label – champion. That dream will be realized if he can defeat WBO lightweight beltholder Ricky Burns at 3 p.m. ET Sept. 7 on AWE (formerly WealthTV) in the champion’s backyard of Glasgow, Scotland.
“Sometimes media run their mouth one way or the other, and everybody starts reading the same thing about sparring partner mentality, but I was fighting before. I became a sparring partner because fights didn’t happen,” Beltran told RingTV.com. “I wasn’t fighting, not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t get fights. But lately I’ve been getting some fights. It doesn’t really bother me, you know? By the time of the fight, everyone will see what I’m about.”
The 32-year-old Mexico native was set to fly across the pond in just a few weeks, but on this August day in the sweltering heat of the famed Wild Card Boxing Club, Beltran sparred with former top contender Vicente Escobedo.
Beltran felt like he “hit the wall,” but he looked solid in the ring. He worked on cutting off the ring during the six-round session with Escobedo (before a fresh body came in for four more rounds). Beltran exerted non-stop pressure and did a good job targeting the body and exercised deft head movement, a strategy that will serve him well versus Burns.
“Sometimes you feel tired, but you deal with it,” Beltran said. “I get tired now so by the time of the fight, I’ll be OK. … It’s been great, great sparring (with Escobedo).
“He’s quick; he’s got a great jab. He throws great combinations, great timing – everything, man,” Beltran added. “He can box, he can fight inside – he’s been a perfect sparring partner.”
Escobedo came away impressed with Beltran’s ability and chances against Burns.
“I think it’s going to be a good fight. I think with the good sparring and the good pressure, he can beat Ricky Burns,” Escobedo said. “He’s looking good, looking strong, so I hope he pulls it off.”
Beltran was little more than an afterthought as a boxing contender as recently as 2011. He already had four losses on his ledger when he met hot prospect Sharif Bogere in May of that year on ShoBox: The New Generation. Beltran pushed Bogere to the limit, but failed to earn the win on the official scorecards in a hard-to-score bout. Many pundits saw it as a draw.
Beltran got his next opportunity to upset the apple cart in another ShoBox fight, this time against Luis Ramos in Jan. 2012. Once again Beltran gave the prospect all he could handle in a fight that could have gone either way, but again he came away with a loss.
THE RING’s No. 8 135-pounder gained a lot of experience from those fights. When he got his next chance, the Lundy bout in the summer of 2012, Beltran was “surprised” when he was announced the winner, though he was confident it would be his breakthrough fight.
“With Manny Pacquiao, you learn how to be patient during the hard times, during intensity,” Beltran said, “And find your own timing so you don’t get frustrated.”
He’s confident that experience with Pacman will carry him to victory in his maiden voyage for a world championship.
“Burns is a good fighter, he’s a champion. I respect him, but he’s not unbeatable, he’s a human being,” Beltran said confidently, sweat dripping from his brow after the 10-round session. “I work so hard so I don’t get beat.
“If he tries to box, we try to cut off the ring,” Beltran continued. If he tries to fight inside, we know how to fight inside.”
The big bucks haven’t come Beltran’s way yet, but a victory Saturday against Burns would not only make him a champion, but would alter everything he knows.
“It would change my life,” Beltran said with a big smile. “It would put me into a big fight on HBO. I want to fight a big name, you know, and get some money so I can buy a house for my kids.”
That sparring partner label Beltran hates? He can kiss it goodbye and replace it with “champion” if he wins Saturday.
Photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank
Mike Coppinger is a contributor to USA Today’s boxing coverage and a regular contributor to RingTV. Follow Mike Coppinger on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger