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Raymundo Beltran fighting for lightweight title, green card against Paulus Moses

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Beltran fighting for opportunity at a better life (5:55)

Ray "Sugar" Beltran, who for years made his living as the sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao, shares why he never gave up hope. Beltran faces Paulus Moses for the vacant WBO lightweight title Friday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. (5:55)

Lightweight contender Raymundo Beltran has had two cracks at a world title but has come up short. He's hoping the third time is a charm.

Paulus Moses once had a world title and hopes to claim another one.

That's what is at stake when Beltran and Moses meet for a vacant lightweight world title in a fight that has been made official. The bout will headline a Top Rank on ESPN card on Feb. 16 (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 9 p.m. ET) at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada.

Beltran and Moses will fight for the 135-pound world title that England's Terry Flanagan vacated in October in order to move up in weight to fight for a junior welterweight belt.

Mexico's Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KOs), 36, who lives with his family in Phoenix, is in the process of trying to obtain a green card so he can remain in the United States. A world title victory would go a long way toward helping him achieve that.

"I believe God has plans for everybody. I believe this is it for me and my team, to become a world champion at this point, not just for me but for all the hard-working people, especially immigrants, who come to this great nation to make their dreams come true, working hard and never giving up," Beltran said. "I hope my story and my struggle can inspire others to achieve their dreams and to motivate them to never give up.

"I respect my opponents always, but this is my destiny, and no man will get in the way of that. I'm ready to prove to everyone that I am the most dangerous lightweight in the world."

Beltran first fought for a world title in September 2013, when he traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, and was the hard-luck recipient of a highly controversial draw against hometown titleholder Ricky Burns in a fight virtually everyone thought Burns clearly won. Beltran broke Burns' jaw and knocked him down, and even Burns' fans booed the decision.

It's a decision Beltran still thinks about.

"I'm coming Feb. 16 to take what was mine in Scotland, and when I leave Reno, I am leaving as the WBO champion," said Beltran, who spent years as the main sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao.

Two fights after the draw with Burns, in November 2014, Beltran got a mandatory shot against then-champion Terence Crawford, who had dethroned Burns, but Beltran lost a near-shutout decision to one of boxing's pound-for-pound best. Beltran hasn't lost in his six fights since, including a devastating second-round knockout of Jonathan Maicelo in May and a hard-fought decision against Bryan Vasquez in August.

"I'm excited about this fight for many reasons," Beltran said. "I'm fighting for myself -- for 18 years I have worked to become a world champion. I am fighting for my family, my wife and for my children to be proud of me.

"When you're a champion, you are a champion forever. I am fighting for my team, the people who have been with me from the start. It's easy when you are on your way up to have fans, but my true fans have been with me at my lowest and stayed through my highs in life. This fight means everything to me. A victory will also seal my green card. For me to be world champion, and a citizen of this country, this is my dream. "

Moses (40-3, 25 KOs), of Namibia, won a unanimous decision against Yusuke Kobori in January 2009 to win a lightweight world title. He made one successful defense and then lost the belt by sixth-round knockout to Miguel Acosta in May 2010. Moses had one opportunity since to fight for a world title but lost a unanimous decision to Burns in Glasgow in 2012. He is happy to have another chance, probably his last one, considering he is 39 and has been a pro since 2002.

"I would like to thank God for this amazing opportunity. I have had a blessed boxing career, and all thanks to everybody who supported me over the years," Moses said. "I am honored to have recently been inducted as a MTC Sports Legend, the highest sports honor in Namibia, and now an amazing opportunity to fight Beltran, who I highly regard and, of course, an opportunity for me to become world champion again. I look forward to this fight and doing my country proud once again."

Top Rank's Bob Arum promotes Beltran and said that beyond his business interests, he is rooting hard for Beltran to achieve his dream.

"I just hope he comes through," Arum said. "The other guy, Moses, is a good fighter, and sometimes Ray has great performances, and sometimes he has mediocre performances. But if he could win a world title and I could be there to see it, I would have a lot of pride in the achievement.

"But this is the kind of fight we want to do on our ESPN shows, because it's a fight where you don't know who's going to win. These guys are both good, contending fighters in an even match, and that's what people want to see. It's a very tough fight that I think can go either way."

In the scheduled 10-round co-feature, Oxnard, California-based welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas (18-0, 15 KOs), 29, who was a 2008 and 2012 Olympian for Lithuania, will take a big step up in competition level against Russia's David Avanesyan (23-2-1, 11 KOs), 29, who retained an interim world title by decision over Shane Mosley before losing it to Lamont Peterson by competitive decision last February.

The card will also feature top prospects Shakur Stevenson (4-0, 2 KOs), a 20-year-old featherweight and 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey; junior lightweight Robson Conceicao (5-0, 4 KOs), 29, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist from Brazil; and 26-year-old Russian welterweight Alexander Besputin (8-0, 6 KOs). Stevenson will face Juan Tapia (8-1, 3 KOs), 24, of Brownsville, Texas; Conceicao will meet Jayro Duran (11-4, 10 KOs), 26, of Honduras; and Besputin's opponent has not been determined. Also, Philadelphia heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings (21-2, 12 KOs), 33, a former world title challenger, is slated to fight Houston-based Akhror Muralimov (16-3, 13 KOs), 30, of Uzbekistan, in an eight-round fight. Jennings is seeking his third win in a row since signing with Top Rank last summer and ending a 20-month layoff.