Article Share: Professional Boxer Fights For Green Card
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LOS ANGELES – Ray Beltran has been through the same struggle endured by countless others seeking to gain a United States green card, the same grueling battle through red tape and paperwork and the same nervous waiting game.
Yet Beltran’s experience is different to the millions who have entered the U.S. illegally in that his long journey may end with an actual fight.
“This fight is the key,” Beltran, a wiry lightweight, says, as sweat beads trickle down a tattoo honoring his family name stretched along his back. “It is the key to everything.”
The fight he is referring to is Saturday against Jonathan Maicelo in an IBF world title eliminator at Madison Square Garden in New York. Win, and the 35-year-old will not only be entitled to a crack at the belt, but also, according to his immigration attorneys, be essentially guaranteed permanent resident status.
“(In boxing), the green card process is unique,” says Beltran’s manager, Steve Feder. “You have to prove yourself unique to anyone else, not just in the world but within the sport itself, you have to be a great fighter among great fighters. It is twice as hard. It is not about how long you have been here, if you pay your taxes, it is nothing to do with that.”
Getting an EB-1 green card requires proof of “exceptional ability” in a particular field, be it sports, music, or arts and sciences. Beltran’s long career, 41 bouts over nearly 18 years, supports his case a little, as do letters from major boxing network and sanctioning officials. However, nothing will boost his chances like a victory and a chance at the title.
“This is by far the biggest fight of Ray’s life,” Feder adds. “A lot of people say they are fighting for a green card but Ray is literally fighting for his green card.”
As he sits down after a grueling sparring session at Freddie Roach’s Wildcard Gym in Hollywood and slowly unwraps his hands, Beltran is greeted warmly by all, including four-division world champion Miguel Cotto, who arrives for a training session.
With the Maicelo bout looming, a co-main event to Terence Crawford’s HBO-broadcast junior welterweight title defense against Felix Diaz, Beltran allows his thoughts to shift to what a green card might mean.
“It is like a championship belt,” he says. “It is like winning the lottery ticket, because I know that being (permanent) here I will have a lot more opportunities. (If) I can be deported at any time, who will provide for my family and take care of them? I want to grow and do something and contribute to this country.”
Beltran grew up in Los Mochis, located on the coast of the Gulf of California. His father’s side of the family were ranch workers and his mother’s were musicians. The family was poor, living in a house made of sheet metal and cartons, and sometimes struggling for food.
Beltran crossed into the U.S. with his mother and siblings at 15, bouncing from Arizona to Michigan before winding up in Los Angeles and spending a decade as Manny Pacquiao’s preferred sparring partner. He is married with three children, with his family living in Phoenix while he trains in L.A
“Ray was probably my best sparring partner,” Pacquiao told USA TODAY Sports, via email. “He brought everything he had into the ring. He would stop at nothing. I love Ray like a brother. He has always been known as a family man and I admire that about him. I will never forget how much he has helped me all these years.”
Ray Beltran, right, sends Takahiro Ao to the mat in their May 2015 fight. Beltran knocked out Ao in the second round but tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol and the result was changed to no contest. (Photo: Isaac Brekken, AP)
Boxing hasn’t made Beltran wealthy. He will make a $100,000 purse for clashing with Maicelo, but a large chunk of that will be swallowed up with taxes and training costs.
Yet the prize he craves most, now tantalizingly within reach, has nothing to do with money.
“(A green card) is a big accomplishment, it is like a dream come true,” he says, having retreated to a changing area while the thud of Roach’s speed ball being pummeled by another hopeful reverberates through the thin walls. “It is to prove the people that just by hard work, a lot of blood tears and sacrifice, I have been able to reach my goal.”
Boxing has its favored sons, those fighters with either great amateur pedigree, the right kind of hype or some other factor enough to get them picked up by a major promoter and nursed to a padded record.
Others drift into the position of being the “B-side,” the underdog. In 2012, sitting on six defeats and with three losses in the preceding six-fight stretch, Beltran was very much in that position. Then, contemplating retirement, he was picked as an opponent by the promoter of Hank Lundy, then an up-and-coming prospect seeking a tune-up before a bout with Adrien Broner.
Beltran stunned Lundy with a majority decision win, gained some momentum and began to climb the rankings. Soon other problems emerged.
He was seen as too dangerous but not famous enough for the top dogs in the division to take a chance against him. And in May 2015, he knocked out Takahiro Ao in the second round but tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol, and the result was change to no contest.
But Beltran (32-7-1 with 20 knockouts) has kept winning enough to get on the cusp of mandatory position, at which point the titleholder must fight you or relinquish their belt. Saturday’s fight can put him in that spot.
“It has been one hurdle after another but he keeps going through, he is the guy who gives every fighter in every gym in this country hope,” Feder says. “You have losses and you believe at some point you are an opponent. Ray is the great Cinderella story of boxing.”
Beltran starts to head out of the gym with the final stages of camp, including a nasty weight cut, ahead of him. But he wants a few things to be known first. He believes it is possible to be a proud Mexican and a proud American at the same time, to have love for your country of birth while seeking opportunity in another land.
He wants the formalities to be taken care of, to get the green card and later the passport, not to take opportunities from others but to prove the immigration officials right in giving him a new life.
He takes pride in how far he has come and how he stuck with boxing when it would have been easier to quit. He doesn’t get frustrated by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the topic of immigration. “It just makes me sad,” he says.
And while he knows that thorny issue divides opinion and that not everyone will support his right to be here, he insists he has been a worthy citizen, if not an official one.
“My only crime,” he says, “was to cross the border.”
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