Ray Beltran immigrated to Phoenix from Sinaloa, Mexico, in 1996. He was only 15 years old then, but he’d already fought in more than a dozen amateur boxing matches in his home country. He thought he’d find better opportunities up north than what the streets of Los Mochis promised.
“I used to imagine what living in Phoenix would be like when I was back in Mexico,” Beltran says. “But it was weird because it was exactly how I imagined it would be. The first gym I went to was Max Walker’s to train. They were really nice people … good people who helped me out a lot.”
Walker is the father of Arizona Boxing Hall of Famer Scott “The Pink Cat” Walker. At their gym in Mesa, the Walkers helped Beltran establish his boxing career stateside. Ultimately, Beltran — who’s now 40 — would go on to become the lightweight champion of the World Boxing Organization in 2018.
Beltran returns to the Valley this week. He’ll be headlining the main card at “Brawl in the Barrio,” a Del Sol Boxing Promotions event being held at the Glendale Civic Center on Friday, October 1.
Beltran (36-9-1, 22 KOs) will face Mexico’s Edgar Ramirez (18-18-1, 14 KOs), a super lightweight boxer who’s a full decade younger than the former champ.
While Ramirez has lost as many professional fights as he has won, Beltran says he isn’t taking any chances by underestimating the contender. More often than not, Ramirez goes the distance against his opponents but ultimately loses the contest by decision. Forged by the fires of the ring, Beltran knows the judge’s scorecards aren’t always correct and should be taken with a grain of salt.
“I feel like I gotta be careful with him [Ramirez] because a lot of those fights might have been robberies. I’m not surprised if they [judges] took some decisions away from him,” Beltran says. “But I’ve been training since February…I’ve stayed in the gym and I’m ready. I always train like every fight is a war.”
What doesn’t concern Beltran is the age difference between his opponent and himself. Despite the 30-year-old Ramirez being in his physical prime for the sport, the elder boxer said he feels ready for this challenge and has learned how to listen to his body while training over the past two decades. Beltran recalls numerous times he overtrained as a young fighter, which ultimately took a toll and limited his abilities in the ring, he said.
“I wish I knew then what I know now, but experience comes with age,” he says. “At this stage in my career, I’m feeling really good but we’ve had to make some adjustments. I pay attention to my body and try to train hard, but smart and get more rest. You can be 40 years old or 20 years old, but if you don’t train smart you’re not going to get the most out of yourself.”
The last time Beltran fought under Phoenix lights was during his first WBO world lightweight title defense against Jose Pedraza in 2018, a fight Beltran lost by unanimous decision. He received another title shot the following year — this time for the IBF world lightweight title against Richard Commey — but was stopped in the eighth round after catching one of Commey’s devastating left hooks.
The pandemic put the breaks on Beltran’s comeback. He parted ways with his previous promoter, Top Rank, after the Commey fight in 2019 and is now a free agent. While he said he would love to get another title shot someday, he knows Father Time is close by and retirement is inevitable.
“To be honest, I’m feeling good right now and I’m not thinking about a time limit. But I’ve got to be realistic and I don’t think I’ll be doing this too long,” Beltran says. “Right now, the timing is crucial. I have to make sure I’m using it effectively because I’m running out of time. It might be one year or two years, maybe even three or more. You never know, right?”
Beltran’s not the only local boxer on the Brawl in the Barrio card. Phoenix’s own Danny Barrios (6-0, 2 KOs) will also be fighting in Glendale, though his opponent has not been named as of press time. The 23-year-old fighter said it doesn’t matter who steps into the ring on fight night because he trains for every bout as if he’s preparing for a championship match.
“My mentality is to always be training like I’m fighting for a world title,” Barrios says. “I’m always going to have a plan and if I have to adjust, I’ll adjust in the ring.”
Barrios was born in Des Moines, but his family moved to the Glendale area when he was a young boy after his father was incarcerated. His sadness and anger over the situation led the young boxer to a life of fighting, he said.
“Growing up, I had a lot of stuff on my mind because my dad wasn’t here, you know? I would always use that and take it out on other people. I was really bad and got into a lot of fights as a kid,” Barrios says. “My brother was telling me I should get into boxing, so I gave it a try and fell in love with the sport.”
Barrios recently started working with trainer Hector Castro at No Flinching Boxing Gym to help build power behind his punches after noticing the bulk of his fights ended in a decision. After working with Castro over the past few months, the young fighter won his last match against Edward Ceballos (9-4-1, 4 KOs) by knockout in July — the first KO of Barrios’ professional career.
“Hector is taking me to a whole different level. He’s more about power and punching more often,” Barrios said. “My last trainer would have me train for like an hour and that wasn’t really helping me. Now I’m getting a lot of hours in the gym and it’s starting to pay off.”
The undefeated boxer sayshis primary focus moving forward is to become a top boxer. Holding on to his perfect record comes second.
“Every fighter’s dream is to be undefeated and that’s my dream too, but I’m not scared to lose my record or scared to lose a fight,” Barrios says. “It’s just going to make me more motivated than I am right now.”
Brawl in the Barrio. Friday, October 1. Glendale Civic Center, 5750 West Glenn Drive, Glendale. 5:30 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. first bell. Tickets start at $40. Visit delsolpromotions.com.