Raymundo Beltran, the longtime hardscrabble lightweight contender, has been down this road before of getting ready to fight for a world title.
He's had three previous chances and all have gone wrong for different reasons. But the fighter who spent years making his bones as Manny Pacquiao's sparring partner before emerging as a bona fide contender is confident enough that he'll win his upcoming title shot that he has already said what he wants next: a chance to fight pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, a junior lightweight world champion poised to move up to lightweight this spring.
But first there is the not-so-easy task of Beltran defeating former lightweight world titlist Paulus Moses for a vacant 135-pound title on Friday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 9 p.m. ET) at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada.
"To me this fight is do-or-die," Beltran told ESPN. "This is it for me. This is the most important fight of my career. I have to win this fight. It would mean the whole world to me. It would be a dream come true. It would have double meaning because I would have a world title that I have worked so hard for, and because it would secure my legal status the U.S. and help me get my green card.
"So I have a lot of motivation. I'm fighting to reach my goals. This fight is for two dreams at once: to become a champion and become a permanent resident of the U.S."
Beltran, who is from Mexico, has lived legally for years in Phoenix with his wife and three children. He has a P1 work visa, which allows him to box in the United States. However, the visa will expire in about two years, at which point Beltran would have to return to Mexico unless he can secure an EB-1 green card that would give him permanent resident status as an "extraordinary athlete" -- one of the categories under which somebody can qualify for a green card. Beltran has probably already done enough to earn the green card but a world-title victory is expected to secure it.
"We've submitted all the documentation and we're in a good spot now, but we're not done yet," Beltran said. "A win will secure it. That's what my attorney told me. You stay positive, think positive."
Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KOs), 36, has the visa situation on his mind, the fight with Moses as well as his hope to land a Lomachenko fight.
"First, I have to win on Friday but definitely, sooner or later, I will fight Lomachenko," Beltran said. "That's gonna happen once I win this title. I'm not the type of fighter who chooses my opponents and I never ducked nobody. I would love to fight the best. I'm not one of those fighters who acts like a diva. I'm not afraid to fight anybody."
It's been a long road for Beltran to get to the point where he can fight for another belt and even think about fighting Lomachenko.
Beltran first boxed for a world title in September 2013. He traveled to Glasgow, Scotland and was the hard-luck recipient of an extremely controversial draw against hometown titleholder Ricky Burns in a fight virtually everyone thought Beltran clearly won. He broke Burns' jaw, knocked him down and even Burns' fans booed the decision.
"So much frustration," Beltran said. "I knew I did everything to deserve the victory. Being in that position and they take everything away from me, from my life, from my kids from my future? It was like they took a toy from a little kid. You just can't do nothing abut it. The worst part is that everybody saw it and couldn't do anything. No laws to stop it or sanction to who was behind it. It was frustrating."
Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes Beltran and Lomachenko, also believes Beltran was robbed.
"It was a joke," Arum said. "They stole the f---ing fight from the kid, no question about it."
Despite the frustration, Beltran believed his performance was good enough that he'd get another opportunity.
"My performance was good. I didn't fail. They screwed me, so it's not that I failed," Beltran said. "It could be a different situation if I didn't look good or I lost. I won the fight. They said it was a draw but I knew it would open more doors for me."
It did, because two fights later, in November 2014, Beltran got a mandatory shot against then-lightweight champion Terence Crawford, who had dethroned Burns. Although Beltran gave him a tough fight, he lost a near-shutout decision to one of boxing's pound-for-pound best.
"Crawford is a great fighter. No excuses for that night," Beltran said. "I lost to the best guy. It was a great experience for me and honor to share the ring with him. I have nothing but great comments for Crawford. I didn't lose to just anybody. I lost to a great fighter.
"Even losing to Crawford I didn't lose that bad compared to his other opponents. I didn't get knocked down. He beat me good, he beat me clear, but not like the rest of his opponents. I gave him a good fight."
Said Arum: "He gave Terence a helluva fight. He has extraordinary respect for Ray. Ray fought him tooth and nail. Terence is the superior talent but, mano a mano, Ray stood in there and traded with him."
After Crawford relinquished the title to move up in weight, Beltran got yet another opportunity to fight for that vacant belt in his next fight. In May 2015, in Las Vegas on the eve of the Floyd Mayweather-Pacquiao mega fight, Beltran faced Japan's Takahiro Ao, a former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist. However, Beltran failed to make weight and could not win the title despite knocking Ao out in the second round. Even if Beltran had been on weight, he would have been stripped because he tested positive for a banned substance. The result was changed to a no contest, Beltran paid a fine and was sidelined with a one-year suspension.
Beltran swears he did nothing wrong intentionally. He said a trusted member of his team gave him a substance that caused the positive test.
"I was trying to lose weight. I didn't know what it was and that's how I got in trouble," he said. "I was so disappointed. I trained so hard for that fight. I won the fight but it really hurt because I couldn't have the title. I was like, 'Man, I should be a world champion right now.'"
Beltran said he is no longer friends with the former member of his team he declined to name, but the incident taught him he is responsible for what goes in his body.
"I did my research after it happened and I was like, man, it was so stupid to do that, so dumb and stupid to do that. I trusted him," he said. "But that was my responsibility to check on everything you do. You learn in life. People treated me like I was a cheater. It kind of gets to you."
Whereas Beltran remained positive about his future after the previous title fights he didn't have the same feeling after the Ao fight.
"I didn't know what was going to happen anymore. That might be it," he said. "I was really depressed. I was so disappointed. Everything I fought for went away. But I stayed in the gym. It was so important to come back strong and prove that the night I knocked out Ao it wasn't because of a substance and that I have what it takes to be a world champion. But I was so scared I wouldn't make it back to fight for a title again after all that. Am I going to get another shot? I was very worried."
Since the Ao debacle, Beltran has won five fights in a row (four by knockout) against quality competition to earn his way into the fight with Moses for the belt Terry Flanagan vacated.
Moses (40-3, 25 KOs), 39, of Namibia, held a lightweight title from 2009 to 2010 and made one successful defense. He also challenged Burns in Glasgow in 2012 and lost a decision.
"I don't know much about him other than he's a former world champion and he's got experience," Beltran said. "I saw a few videos and I take him very seriously. He likes to keep his distance. He doesn't come forward but he don't run either. We ready for it.
"I'm bringing 18 years of experience into the ring with me, and my blood and sweat of 42 fights that I fought to get me to this place. No man will deny me of my dreams. This Friday, Moses himself couldn't save Moses."
And if Beltran wins, he said bring on Lomachenko.
"We got to this point the hard way. I've never been spoiled," he said. "I want to be remembered as a champ who would fight anybody. I'm not scared of nobody."
Lomachenko is scheduled to headline a May 12 ESPN card at Madison Square Garden in New York. Arum is trying to make a deal for him to challenge lightweight world champion Jorge Linares. If that fight is made and Beltran wins Friday, Arum said Beltran could make his first defense against Felix Verdejo on the undercard and if Lomachenko and Beltran both win they would fight in August.
If Linares-Lomachenko isn't made and Beltran wins, Arum said Beltran would likely make his first defense against Lomachenko on May 12, assuming he comes out of the Moses fight healthy.
"Ray's always been a gutty guy who's confident in his ability and gives anyone he fights a tough fight. He's a tough warrior," Arum said. "He's the essence of what a boxer used to be, guys who would fight only the toughest and best guys. Reminds me of (Iran) Barley, James Toney, (Mike) McCallum. Now guys are finicky, except Lomachenko and Crawford and Ray. They'll fight anybody. There are a lot of fighters who won't. Ray is certainly not one of them. He's a throwback. He has this chance again. I hope he makes the most of it."
Also on the card
In the 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 step up in competition to face Russia's David Avanesyan (23-2-1, 11 KOs), 29, who retained an interim world title by decision over Shane Mosley in May 2016 before losing it via decision to Lamont Peterson by competitive decision last February.
In the opening televised bout, blue chip featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (4-0, 2 KOs), a 20-year-old 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, will fight Juan Tapia (8-1, 3 KOs), 24, of Brownsville, Texas, in an eight-rounder.
The remainder of the card will stream live on the ESPN App beginning at 7 p.m. ET and includes bouts involving Philadelphia heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings (21-2, 12 KOs), lightweight Robson Conceicao (5-0, 4 KOs), a 2016 Olympic gold medalist for Brazil, and Russian welterweight prospect Alexander Besputin (8-0, 6 KOs).