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Joey Beltran digging in for last stand, promises fists, blood and sweat at Bellator 168
With four fights remaining on his current Bellator contract, Joey Beltran said he considers the current stage of his career to be his last chance at doing something meaningful.
Beltran’s (17-13 MMA, 3-4 BMMA) career to this point hasn’t been a throwaway by any stretch. He’s a 10-fight UFC veteran, six-time Bellator veteran and has even challenged for a Bellator title. Despite all that, Beltran claims he’s still looking to display his best work, which he expects to come out during Friday’s main event showdown with Alessio Sakara (18-11 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) at Bellator 168.
“It’s usually all just lip service or trying to pump yourself up and say the right things for the fights; people say, ‘Oh, I’m in a great place, I had a great training camp’ and all that (expletive), but literally, I am,” Beltran told MMAjunkie. “I’m clear-minded, clear-headed. I’m coming up on like 16 months sober, and I feel like I have a new lease on life, a new outlook. I’m really in tune with my body, and I think that’s come through age, experience, a lot of trial and error.
“I just want to go out here and put on an old-school, memorable Joey Beltran fight for everyone – fists flying, blood flying, sweat flying. This is one of my legacy fights. I won’t be doing it too much longer after this. I want something people are going to be talking about for years to come.”
Bellator 168 takes place at Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy. The card airs on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.
There was a point not long ago when Beltran was ready to be done with MMA, he said. He dropped a split decision to Chase Gormley at Bellator 155 in May, a performance Beltran said he takes no pride in. Beltran has lost fights in a more dominant and definitive manner, but he said his passion simply wasn’t there, from training camp to fight night.
The awareness of that drop-off in passion carried over beyond the fight, because Beltran said he avoided the gym, got extremely out of shape and, perhaps most notably, took up an alternative line of work outside of combat sports.
“I slipped away mentally,” Beltran said. “I had a ‘real job’ for a while and I just disconnected myself from MMA all together for a long time. The Bellator fight I took with Chase Gormley – and no disrespect, he beat me or whatever – but I mentally wasn’t there. You saw my pictures at weigh-ins and my appearance. I wasn’t physically there, wasn’t mentally there, wasn’t spiritually there.
“I’ve never had a fight my whole 10-year career of doing this where I tried to win on points. It’s always been, ‘(Expletive) hit the gas peddle and go.’ I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I was just over it. After that fight, I stopped teaching classes, got a new job. I was a full time, 50-hour-a-week furniture salesman, and I was pretty good at it. I was making pretty good money. I started getting fat. I got up to like 248 (pounds).”
Getting away from competition is what Beltran needed to reenergize his career, he said. There’s a saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when it came to stepping in a cage and fighting, Beltran absolutely felt that as he distanced himself from the sport.
“Slowly I started to miss competing, miss being on that daily grind of getting in good condition,” Beltran said. “After about six months, I was finally like, ‘OK, I want to do this. This is what I want to do and what makes me happy. I want to fight.’ This fight is purely for enjoyment and to prove to myself and everybody else that I’ve still got it and I have one more good run left in me. I want to make a push for that title.”
Beltran didn’t get an easy assignment for his return to Bellator. He fights Italy’s own Sakara in the Bellator 168 headliner in a situation that clearly leans in the favor of his opponent. Beltran said he isn’t flustered by the circumstances around the upcoming fight, though, because he said Sakara won’t be able to handle his pressure.
“I am without a doubt fighting the No. 1 guy in the whole damn country, and he’s no doubt going to have the crowd, so it’s going to be pretty cool,” Beltran said. “I’ve just got to go out there and get in his face and shut up the crowd along with implementing my gameplan and just overwhelm him from the beginning. I know the judges aren’t going to do me any favors; they never have my whole career. Any time I’ve gone to the judges I’ve had bad luck in close fights. So I’ve either got to finish him or dominate every single round.”