Raymundo Beltran likely made two dreams come true in one fight as he claimed a vacant lightweight world title in his fourth try on Friday night in the main event of the Top Rank ESPN card at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada.
In an action-packed battle, Beltran and former world titlist Paulus Moses fought a high-intensity and competitive fight that Beltran won by scores of 117-111, 117-111 and 116-112. ESPN.com also had the fight 116-112 for Beltran.
Beltran had declared the fight "do or die" for him in the days leading up to it and it was easy to understand why.
At stake for Beltran was realizing the elusive dream of winning a world title in his fourth and, at age 36, probably his last chance.
More important to Beltran, a native of Mexico living with his wife and three children in Phoenix thanks to work visa that expires in about two years, was also the chance to clear what would probably be the final hurdle to obtaining his EB-1 green card that would give him permanent resident status in the United States, a dream of his.
Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KOs) would qualify as an "extraordinary athlete" -- one of the categories under which somebody can qualify for a green card -- and his attorney had told him that by defeating Moses (40-4, 25 KOs), of Namibia, for the title, his green card would probably be secured.
When the fight was over and the belt was wrapped around his waist, Beltran, with a deep cut over his right eye, was near tears as he was surrounded by his children and team.
"I have no words. I gave everything I had," Beltran said. "It's very emotional. I worked so hard for this. I thank God for the world title. I can get my green card now."
Moses did not make it easy on him. He also came into the fight with hopes and dreams. He was attempting to win a second world title, having previously held a lightweight belt from 2009 to 2010. At age 39, Moses was also seeking to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a 135-pound world title, a record that belongs to the great Juan Manuel Marquez, who was 37 when he was crowned.
Moses, fighting in the United States for the first time, was classy in defeat, giving credit to Beltran.
"We put on a heck of a fight for the fans, but one must win and one must lose," Moses said. "All the credit to Beltran. He's an excellent fighter."
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, a staunch advocate for immigrants, was thrilled with Beltran's victory.
"I'm very happy for Ray right now," Arum said. "He really earned that world championship victory. He is a champion. His win is a win for all the Dreamers in the United States. We need to keep all the Dreamers in this country."
Although two of the scorecards were wide, the fight, for the world title vacated by England's Terry Flanagan last year so he could move up in weight, was highly competitive. According to CompuBox punch statistics, they landed within five punches of each other in nine of the 12 rounds. Overall, Beltran landed 197 of 678 punches (29 percent), many of them hard body shots, and Moses connected with 159 of 622 (26 percent).
"I had to push it. He was a very tough opponent, a very tough fighter, very experienced," Beltran said. "It was hard to figure him out because he was coming in very close, his head forward. The plan was to go on the inside, but his head was a problem, so I had to use my jab more often. He was very clever, very smart."
Beltran opened the fight by landing several short right hands to the head and body shots as he got off to a quick start in the first round. Moses landed a couple of solid right hands in the second round, but Beltran shrugged them off and continued to march right at him firing punches. Moses had a strong third round in which he opened a cut over Beltran's right eye.
There was plenty of action in the fifth round when Beltran backed Moses up with a right hand and had him on the ropes before Moses rebounded to nearly drop Beltran with a right uppercut.
Beltran dabbed at the blood dripping down the right side of his face during the sixth round of an increasingly rough fight.
After the seventh round Beltran held a slim 67-66 advantage on all three scorecards, but he pulled away by winning the final five rounds on two scorecards and four of the final five rounds on the third scorecard.
"He blocked very well. I had to figure him out," Beltran said. "He was throwing and coming forward with his head so I had to keep my distance more. But it was a great fight. He had a very good jab."
Early in the ninth round Moses, who was cut over his left eye, connected with a right hand that buckled Beltran's knees and nearly dropped him. Moments later it was a left hand that stopped a slowing Beltran in his tracks. Both fighters looked exhausted in the 10th round, but it was Beltran who landed several body shots.
Beltran continued to work the body in the 11th round against Moses, whose cut left eye was a mess and pouring blood. They concluded a very competitive fight with a fierce 12th round as they fought as though it could go either way.
The win was a culmination of a long road for Beltran, who made his bones as a sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao in his prime before emerging as a bona fide contender.
Beltran got three previous chances to fight for a lightweight world title, but he was held to a hugely controversial draw in Ricky Burns' hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, in September 2013; lost a one-sided decision challenging Terence Crawford in November 2014; and when he got another shot to fight Takahiro Ao for a vacant title in May 2015, Beltran was ineligible because he was overweight. And then, after knocking Ao out in the second round, he tested positive for a banned substance and the result was changed to a no contest.
As for what Beltran will do next, it could be a title defense against junior lightweight titlist and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, who plans to move up in weight and fight in the main event of the May 12 Top Rank ESPN card at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Beltran would have to make sure his cut is healed, and also there is the slim possibility that Lomachenko will challenge world champion Jorge Linares in a fight that has been agreed to financially but faces a dispute between Top Rank and Linares co-promoter Golden Boy over the date.
"Nothing will be decided until next week," Arum said. "We have a commitment for Loma to face Linares. We want the fight, Loma wants the fight and Linares wants the fight."
Beltran would be happy to have it as well. But on this night he was most happy to have secured a world title belt and very likely his future in America.
"He surprised me with a couple of good punches, but right away I thought about my family and everything I have been through in my career," Beltran said. "I gave it my all. I made my career the tough way, and now I'm a champion."
Kavaliauskas stops Avanesyan
In the 10-round co-feature, Oxnard, California-based welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas continued his ascent up the rankings with the most notable win of his career, a sixth-round knockout of Russia's David Avanesyan (23-3-1, 11 KOs), who had never previously been stopped.
"I'm very happy right now. All I want to do is smile," Kavaliauskas said. "I wanted to win with all my heart because I knew he was a very tough opponent. I want to face the best. Hopefully, my next fight is a world title [fight]. [Terence] Crawford is fighting [Jeff] Horn for the world title [on April 14]. I want to face the winner."
In the third round, Kavaliauskas, known as the "Mean Machine," buckled Avanesyan's knees with a left hook to the chin. Kavaliauskas (19-0, 16 KOs), 29, continued to steadily attack Avanesyan and appeared to have the edge in most rounds.
The 2008 and 2012 Olympian for Lithuania displayed a stiff jab and mixed in left hooks to the head. He rarely threw the combinations his corner asked him for until exploding an extended flurry of powerful punches, including a crushing right hand to the head to get things rolling, on Avanesyan in the sixth round until referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at 1 minute, 55 seconds.
Avanesyan, 29, was a step up for Kavaliauskas. He had 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.
Also on the card:
• In the opening televised bout, blue-chip featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (5-0, 2 KOs), a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, played target practice with Juan Tapia (8-2, 3 KOs), 24, of Brownsville, Texas, in an easy victory.
In his first scheduled eight-round fight, Stevenson, a southpaw, went the distance and won 80-72 on all three scorecards.
"I felt like I looked like I was supposed to in my first eight-round fight," Stevenson said. "I'm a perfectionist. I'm going to pick it up from here and keep getting better and better."
Stevenson dominated the entire fight. He attacked Tapia to the body and head with combinations, although the punches didn't seem to badly hurt Tapia. Stevenson is only 20 and his team hopes he will gain strength as he matures physically, but he landed 128 of 390 punches (33 percent) to Tapia's paltry 29 of 194 (15 percent).
• Former heavyweight world title challenger Bryant Jennings (22-2, 13 KOs), 33, of Philadelphia, knocked out Akhror Muralimov in the third round of a dominant performance. Jennings, who won his third fight in a row since signing with Top Rank last summer and ending a 20-month layoff, scored five knockdowns before referee Jay Nady waved off the fight at 1 minute, 12 seconds. Jennings dropped Houston-based Muralimov (16-4, 13 KOs), 30, of Uzbekistan, twice in the first round, once in the second and twice more in the third.
"With each fight, I'm getting more and more comfortable," Jennings said of coming back from the long layoff. "When you're inactive, you feel nothing and you get more stagnant. I want the big fights. We just have goals. I have a team that's very committed. We're ready to take on the best."
• Lightweight Robson Conceicao (6-0, 4 KOs), 29, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist for Brazil, scored a first-round knockdown with a left hand to the body and cruised to a shutout decision over Ignacio Holguin (5-1-1, 5 KOs), 22, of San Antonio. Conceicao won by scores of 60-52, 60-52 and 60-54.
• Russian welterweight prospect Alexander Besputin (9-0, 7 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw, defeated Wesley Tucker (14-2, 8 KOs), 30, of Toledo, Ohio, when Tucker's corner threw in the towel after the fifth round of the one-sided fight.