No longer will Raymundo Beltran be known as Manny Pacquiao’s favorite sparring partner. He’s finally carved his own niche amongst the elite lightweights in professional boxing.
Fresh off his upset win over former top-ranked contender Hank Lundy in July, Beltran (27-6, 17 KOs) pieced together another brilliant performance Thursday night in Las Vegas, defending his North American Boxing Federation (NABF) lightweight title with a 98-92, 98-92, 97-94 unanimous decision win over Ji-Hoon Kim (24-8) at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in the main event of a special Thursday night edition of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
“I pray I get a shot at a world title. That’s what I want, and I believe that’s what I deserve,” Beltran said. “This is no time to stop or take easy fights. I have never shied away from a tough fight. I just needed the right fights under the right conditions, and Lundy and Kim were made to order for me.”
Kim entered the fight ranked No. 3 in the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and No. 7 in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and appeared to be in control of Thursday’s fight when he sent Beltran to the canvas courtesy of a hard, left hook midway through the opening round, but Beltran fought back, answering with a left hook of his own that dropped Kim at the bell.
Over the next nine rounds, Beltran out-worked and out-muscled Kim to win decisively on all three scorecards in what was his second consecutive victory and first since dethroning Lundy on ESPN in July.
“This was a great fight for Ray. He trained hard and fought harder,” said Beltran’s head trainer Freddie Roach. “We had Kim hurt a number of times, but Ray hurt his hand early, so we just stayed on Kim’s body. When Ray went down in the first round, I looked at him, and that’s when I knew he wasn’t going to go down again. Kim is a tough kid, but it was Ray’s fight. We want a title shot next.”
A former sparring partner for Pacquiao, who is also fighting this weekend in Las Vegas, Beltran toiled in anonymity before beating Lundy in what many considered the upset of the year. Under the guidance of his longtime manager, Steve Feder, Roach and promoter Jimmy Burchfield Sr. of Classic Entertainment & Sports, Beltran has finally escaped Pacquiao’s shadow and is now on the cusp of a shot at a world title in the 135-pound division.
“This has been long overdue for Ray,” Feder said. “He’s really put his work in. The biggest difference is his mindset. Being Manny’s sparring partner has been a blessing and a curse. It gave him tremendous experience, but in some ways it took him out of the picture because he’d have a hard time understanding he’s not just someone’s sparring partner.
“These last two camps, although we worked with Manny, we also brought in a lot of other sparring partners as well. We worked with Brandon Rios, who was really helpful, and we brought in strength and conditioning coach Rob Garcia, who really helped Ray step his game up. He had a really good camp. It was all about clearing his head, and having that belt gave him something to prepare for and defend.”
With Pacquiao simultaneously preparing for Saturday’s Pay Per View showdown against Juan Manuel Marquez – the fourth installment of their longstanding rivalry – he and Beltran worked together at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles.
“Manny has been such a great supporter for him,” Feder said. “Manny kept insisting that Ray understand what his role was and that he was not only there to support Manny, but to prepare for his own fight. Manny never put him in the position of just being a sparring partner. They were really helping each other.
“Being in this relationship with Manny has been phenomenal for Ray, but, as a fighter, he also needs to have his own identity,” Feder added. “He’s not walking into the ring with Manny; he’s walking in there on his own. At this stage in his career, the key for him is being able to identify himself as his own fighter.”
After beating Kim in front of a worldwide audience, the sky’s the limit for Beltran – originally from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico – who entered Thursday’s fight ranked No. 9 in the World Boxing Council (WBC). He’s keeping a watchful eye on the rest of the field, starting Saturday night on the undercard of the Pacquiao-Marquez fight when IBF world lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez defends his title against unbeaten challenger Mercito Gesta.
“I will be watching,” Beltran said. “I want my shot. Tough fighters bring out the best in me and now I want to continue to fight the best.”
Added Burchfield: “We’ll challenge anyone in the 135-pound division, whether it’s Vazquez, Gesta, Richard Abril or Adrien Broner. We’ve seen first-hand what Ray is capable of inside the ring. No one’s worked harder, and, right now, there’s not a more dangerous fighter in this weight class.”