The third time is the charm: Ray Beltran wins the vacant WBO lightweight title
Ray Beltran won the vacant WBO lightweight title Friday night after earning a unanimous decision win over Paulus Moses. The contest was the main event of a Top Rank card televised live on ESPN, from the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, in Reno, Nevada.
“Very emotional. I worked so hard for this. I thank God for the title. I can get my green card now.”
Just moments after winning a world title that has eluded his career, Beltran, 36, had to hold back the tears in his post-fight interview with ESPN’s Claudio Trejos. The Mexican immigrant is hoping the belt will finally land him an American citizenship but perhaps the emotions also had to do with walking through hell to get it.
Beltran, 35-7-1 (27), looked poised to substantiate the 35-1 odds in his favor in the opening round. Beltran had already timed Moses’ jab with a counter right hand over the top, within the first moments of the fight, and, in the second, he felt confident enough to let his hands down and bait his foe into another counter. In that instance, late in the second, Moses landed some clean shots to Beltran’s chin, but they weren’t fazing him one bit. Beltran, who entered the country illegally decades ago, didn’t need to prove his courage by basically letting Moses get some shots off but this moment of showing his comfort would backfire.
“He has a very good jab but once I let him start first, he started to take over,” Beltran admitted about Moses.
Fighting for the first time in the United States, Moses, 40-4 (25), couldn’t hurt Beltran in that vulnerable moment but the rally seemed to give him more confidence as he came out firing in the third. All of the sudden, the 39-year-old’s jab had more authority and, soon, Moses learned that the more he threw, the more success he had. By the end of the third, a small cut opened around Beltran’s right eye and it would bleed for the remainder of the fight. Moses went punch for punch with Beltran through the fourth but would quickly find adversity early in the fifth.
A Beltran right hand caught Moses’ chin once again to buckle him back to the ropes and, for about 30 seconds, he was shelled up, trying to recover with about two minutes remaining. Moses stuck through it and, once getting his hands busy once again, had Beltran tasting rights up the middle, once again. This time, however, they were having an effect on Beltran and Moses almost scored a flash knockdown with a looping right uppercut.
“Very tough opponent. Very tough fighter. Very experienced,” said Beltran about Moses. “He was hard to figure out because he was coming in very close with his head forward. My plan was to go in the inside but, because of his head, I had to use my jab more often. I tried to surprise him but he was very smart.”
The middle rounds were as close and competitive as one could draw up. After a slow sixth, Beltran started the seventh urgently but Moses landed the memorable punches of the round. Moses would then put Beltran in a dire situation to start the ninth, when a right hand to the head hurt him badly. It was the first time Beltran showed he could be seriously hurt by the Namibian but it would be the last time Moses would clearly win a round.
The 10th was crucial for Beltran and he swayed all momentum with his body work, within that span of three minutes. It noticeably slowed Moses down for the remainder of the fight and, even though Beltran would eventually get cut near his left eye, thus making him a bloody mess even further, the separation initially shown beforehand was starting to show.
Two scores of 117-111 and one at 116-112 got Beltran his first world title and although Moses’ effort could’ve made them closer, the Mexican has had his fair share of dubious scoring going the opposite way, in previous fights. Scores won’t matter when it comes to becoming an American citizenship, however, and while that new title for Beltran should come after this win, Moses was able to make a name for himself on the same night.
In the ESPN co-feature, “The Mean Machine” Egidijus Kavaliauskas earned a TKO victory over David Avanesyan after referee Tony Weeks was forced to stop the bout in the sixth round. The welterweight contest was scheduled for ten.
“From the first round, I was waiting for him to switch,” said Kavaliauskas in the post-fight interview. “I already had a plan for him to switch. I wasn’t thinking about how long the fight will go. I was thinking about all 10 rounds, just box, box, box. If the chance will come, it will come and today it come.”
Kavaliauskas, 19-0 (16), was speaking on the tactical decision Avanesyan made in the latter half of the fourth round, switching to southpaw after a slow start fighting right-handed, and having his first sign of success against the Lithuanian. Leading up to that moment, Kavaliauskas controlled an action-less fight with his jab and mixed in power rights to ward off Avanesyan, when he tried to get inside. Once Avanesyan made the switch, he was able to get close from different angles, and ignited good back-and-forth action, going into the fifth. Avanesyan, 23-3-1 (11), didn’t have overwhelming success but enough to show he could put his opponent through some adversity.
Kavialiauskas would abruptly change things in the sixth though, after a right hand up the middle caught Avanesyan’s chin. The Russian stumbled backward helplessly and found himself bottled up and trapped on the ropes until Weeks had to step in. Avanesyan, who had never been knocked out before, was still on his feet but not complaining about Weeks’ decision.
“In the future, I see myself with Terence Crawford, fighting for the (WBO) world (welterweight) title. Because he will beat (current titleholder) Jeff Horn. I know,” Kavaliauskas predicted afterward.
In the opening bout of the ESPN card, Shakur Stevenson out-boxed Juan Tapia to a unanimous decision victory after eight rounds of featherweight action.
Stevenson, 5-0 (2), had to deal with an energetic, bull-rushing opponent looking for the home run shot. Tapia’s head was perhaps his most effective weapon in the first two rounds as Stevenson had to deal with the physicality but, soon enough, the heralded amateur found his footing. It wasn’t until the third round when the smiling 20-year-old out of Newark, New Jersey, was comfortable enough to give the crowd a smirk. In that round, he started to implement a jab that kept Tapia from charging forward and Shakur finished off the round freely peppering him with short combinations. Fighting out of Brownsville, Texas, Tapia, 8-2 (3), noticeably slowed down, once Stevenson commanded his distance but even though he may have had inspired moments through the rest of the fight, he rarely landed a punch on the 2016 Olympic silver medalist.
The Top Rank undercard was streamed live on watch ESPN and kicking it off was Alexander Besputin, 9-0 (7), who forced a corner stoppage of Wesley Tucker, 14-2 (8), after five dominant rounds. The welterweight bout was scheduled for eight.
Former heavyweight championship challenger Bryant “By-By” Jennings, 22-2 (13), scored five knockdowns of Akhror Muramilov, 16-4 (13), warranting a stoppage from referee Jay Nady immediately after the final one in the third round. The fight was also scheduled for eight.
In his professional debut, Sagadat Rakhmankulov, 1-0 (1), battered Noel Esqueda, 8-5-2 (6), for a large majority of five rounds until Nady had seen enough, just before it seemed like the Kazakhstani was about to score his first knockdown. The junior middleweight contest was scheduled for six.
Brazilian Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao, 6-0 (4), was blatantly overmatched with Ignacio Holguin, 5-1-1 (5), scoring a quick knockdown in the first round, and cruising to a unanimous decision victory (60-52 twice, 60-54).