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Ray Beltran fighting for money, world titles and a permanent home

Ray Beltran looks to secure another knockout against Bryan Vasquez on Saturday on ESPN. Frank Franklin II/AP

Most boxers fight for money and world titles, and while they are certainly on the agenda of lightweight contender Ray Beltran there is so much more to why he fights.

Born into poverty in Los Mochis, Mexico, Beltran and his family slipped across the Mexican border when he was 16 in order to make a better life for themselves in the United States. They settled in Phoenix.

Beltran has been in the United States since, but is now here legally thanks to a P1 work visa, which allows him to pursue his boxing career because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deems him to be an athlete who is "internationally recognized with a high level of achievement, evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country."

However, that work visa will expire in about two and a half years, at which point Beltran would have to return to Mexico. That would not only have a negative impact on his career, but also potentially tear apart his family as he is married with three young children, two boys and a girl, who were born in the United States.

Beltran's goal, besides money and world titles, is to earn his permanent resident status as an "extraordinary athlete," which is one of the categories under which somebody can qualify for an EB-1 green card that is typically available to certain sports figures, entertainers and masters of the arts and sciences. If Beltran gets his green card, he can remain in the U.S. permanently even after his work visa expires.

In order to make sure he qualifies for the coveted green card, Beltran, 36, and his team, including promoter Top Rank, manager Steve Feder and noted immigration attorney Frank Ronzio, believe it is imperative for him to continue his winning ways so they have ample evidence to present to immigration authorities when they file his green card application.

He likely has already done more than enough to earn the green card based on the high quality of his career, but Beltran and his team don't want to leave anything to chance.

He first gained recognition as one of Manny Pacquiao's top sparring partners, serving in that capacity for many years, but he has also been a top lightweight contender for several years. Twice in his 18-year pro career Beltran has fought for world titles, first the victim of a hugely controversial draw against Ricky Burns in 2013 in Burns' home country of Scotland that nearly everyone thought Beltran won, and a lopsided decision loss to Terence Crawford in 2014, the year Crawford -- an elite pound-for-pound fighter -- won fighter of the year honors.

"We believe Ray is definitely there and will meet the burden that he qualifies as an extraordinary boxer, who is one of a very small percentage of fighters on the top whom possess these extraordinary and unique skills and abilities," Ronzio said. "Ray has unique virtues and is a wonderful role model portraying a positive image in his community and his blue-collar image will show those how one fights to stay in this country and make it his and his family's dream."

The way Beltran sees things is that every time he steps into the ring he is not only risking his chances to fight for a lightweight world title again but also his chances of obtaining a green card.

That next risk will come against former interim junior lightweight titleholder Bryan Vasquez (35-2, 19 KOs), 29, of Costa Rica, who Beltran (33-7-1, 21 KOs) will face in a 10-round bout on Saturday at the Microsoft Theater at LA Live in Los Angeles.

The card is headlined by pound-for-pound star Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs), the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, defending his junior lightweight world title against Colombian puncher Miguel Marriaga (25-2, 21 KOs), a former two-time featherweight title challenger moving up in weight. Both fights will air live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, and stream live on the ESPN app, beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

Beltran is already highly ranked across the board in the various sanctioning organizations and close to a mandatory title shot. A title win would almost surely assure him of the green card but there remains a risk against Vasquez. Beltran knows it but he tries not to let the pressure get to him.

"Let me tell you how I look at it -- when you have doubt, you are not going to make it," Beltran said. "I have no doubt and I have motivation. I believe it is going to go good. I really believe in myself and I believe in my team. I just can't wait to be in the ring and I am so excited to get in the ring and put on a good show for the fans. It is my time and my moment and I can't wait."

After Beltran scored a sensational second-round knockout of Jonathan Maicelo on May 20 in a title eliminator at New York's Madison Square Garden on the Crawford-Felix Diaz card, Feder said they considered filing the green card application but decided to hold off until he could fight in front of a large audience on ESPN on Saturday to further enhance his chances.

"We decided to hold off the application until after this fight. So in two weeks, after this fight is over, we are going to file," Feder said, admitting that the coverage Beltran's case has gotten in the media likely will help their cause. "We have been collecting all of the letters of support. Then we will file and that is the first part of the process and they will look at it then and tell you what the application looks like before the final submission, and if it needs tweaking they will let us know. We pay a little extra for that. And from that point on it is about a four- to six-month process. As it is now, once Ray stops fighting, he cannot get a work visa and he cannot stay. He would be here illegally and we need to get this accomplished before it gets to that."

Because Beltran is so highly ranked in the various organizations, a victory over Vasquez could position him for a mandatory shot, be it against titleholders Jorge Linares, Mikey Garcia or Terry Flanagan. As important as the green card is to Beltran, he also wants the world title that has so far eluded him.

"The plan is to knock out Vasquez," Beltran said. "That is the goal I want to achieve to be able to get the big fight. I want to give the fans another impressive victory and make it clear that I am a world-class fighter."

Feder believes he is just one win away from the title shot and, more importantly, assuring himself of the green card.

"This is a crucial fight that we are up against right now," Feder said. "Once this fight is over with, we have to file. At that point, obviously he has no intentions of losing, so we don't even put that in our mind. Ray would have proven enough that he is at that elite status and at that point we would feel OK."

Calm and cool through all of this, Beltran remains focused on the fight in the ring and the more important one to remain in the United States.

"I feel very motivated. To get my green card is as important or more important than winning a world title," Beltran said. "This is not just about myself. This is also about the future of my family."