Ray Beltran is fighting for respect

It is no minor claim to fame being one of Manny Pacquiao's top sparring partners for the last several years, during Pacman's ascendence to being a transcendent figure in the sports world. But Ray Beltran is by no means satisfied with that station in life.

The 31 year-old Mexican lightweight, who gloves up in a special Thursday night edition of "Friday Night Fights," took two steps to breaking out of the "sparring specialist" role when he upset Hank Lundy on FNF in July, winning a majority decision.

Beltran, with a 26-2 mark, looks to continue his march out of the Pacquiao shadow when he faces off with another FNF regular, Ji-Hoon Kim (24-7).

This bout is one of those scraps which could, I suppose, be dismissed by a casual fan who takes a look at the boxer's records, sees that they have nine losses between them, and decides to watch NBA, or something, instead of boxing. That would be a mistake; these two both bang, and possess miles of heart and guts.

Beltran was on something of a slide before the Lundy bout. He was being booked as a steppingstone, against young, undefeated guns, and was 1-2 in his last three. But he stopped his negative momentum with the Lundy triumph, and smells juicier opportunities down a not-too-distant-road.

"“I don’t want to be known as Pacquiao’s sparring partner," said Beltran, who comes from a fighting family, as his dad and uncles fought as pros. "It’s good for me, but I want to fight for respect - I got talent. I’m a survivor. I’m a winner. I’m going to put my heart on the line like I always do.”

Rather than sugar plum fairies, visions of marquee bouts dance around in the head of the LA resident, ranked as high as No. 9, by the WBC. "Last night I was dreaming – I dreamed I was fighting Juan Manuel Marquez," he said. "In my mind, I've been waiting for that big opportunity. We fought and it went to a decision, and they robbed me of the decision! I'm like, 'Damn!' How am I going to be able to make it if they won't give me the decision?’ I was so depressed in the dream, then I woke up and I felt pretty good."

And what does he think of Kim, the 25 year-old South Korean who is rated No. 3 by the IBF and has won three in a row? "I've seen Kim fight a few times. I think he's a very strong fighter, tough guy. He's very aggressive. He comes to fight – he's not going to be running around. I think it's going to be a great fight, a tough fight. I've got to be careful with him."

Kim is a volume puncher, who can reel off 100 plus punches a round, so it'll be wise to be careful, and ready for a grueling scrum. A wildcard could be Kim's motivation--his dad died last month, and Kim promised him he'd be a world champion, so he may well be fighting with an extra helping of passion and commitment at the Mirage in Las Vegas Thursday night.

The show, promoted by Top Rank, kicks off at 10 PM ET.