Joey Beltran Talks Being Given A Second Wind By UFC, How He Felt After Being Cut
“It was pretty horrible. I definitely slipped into a couple solid weeks of depression. I didn’t want to leave my house.”
By Tom Taylor
In a sport as competitive as MMA, making it to the big leagues does not guarantee that you’ll actually stay there. It’s an unforgiving sport, and in the UFC, fighters who lose several times in succession are often handed their walking papers.
Such was the case for Joey Beltran. Beltran was released from the promotion after suffering consecutive losses to Stipe Miocic and Lavar Johnson. Not all was lost for the man they call “The Mexicutioner,” however. Following a chaotic chain of events that worked out in his favour, Beltran has been handed a second chance. He will return to the UFC as a light heavyweight on July 11, to take on James Te Huna at UFC on Fuel 4.
Less than two weeks out from fight night, Beltran took time out of his day off at the beach to speak with Full Contact Fighter about his journey back to The Octagon.
At UFC on Fox 2, Beltran entered the UFC’s storied octagon for the seventh time, and was set to welcome hard-hitting Strikeforce import Lavar Johnson to the UFC. That night, it was Beltran who came up short, falling by knockout to the hulking Johnson. It was Beltran’s second loss in a row, and fourth since joining the UFC, and so he was released. Naturally, Beltran said, the loss of his job was not easy to cope with.
“At the end of the day, you have to win, and I wasn’t doing that anymore at heavyweight. When the release papers came, there were no hard feelings. I knew the opportunity was there to work my way back,” Beltran said. “It was pretty horrible. I definitely slipped into a couple solid weeks of depression. I didn’t want to leave my house.”
Where others might have given up on fighting, however, Beltran elected to get back on the horse.
“I battled through it with my wife and my coaches, and I got back in the gym and got back to work.” The move to 205 lbs. is something Beltran had been considering for some time, as he was often undersized as a heavyweight. While many MMA fans had believed for some time that Beltran might be better suited for light heavyweight, the man himself initially wasn’t convinced.
“It was really my own stupidity [that stopped me from making the cut earlier]. Well, no—I don’t want to say ‘stupidity,’ but lack of confidence. It just didn’t feel right,” Beltran said. After his release from the UFC, though, with his career reinvention underway, he decided it was time to make the drop.
“I had thought about it back and forth. I was going to retire and say ‘That was a solid run I had, being in the UFC, competing there for two years.’ Or I could say ‘No, I’m going to drop a weight class and give it a go.’ And so I made a commitment, and March first I did my first test cut to 205, and that went off with no problems. So we started training to get ready for a fight,” Beltran said. “I felt that now was the right time to do it.”
“The Mexicutioner” was successful in his light heavyweight debut, beating Anton Talamantes by unanimous decision at C3 Fights, on April 28. This fight marked Beltran’s first outside the bright lights of the UFC in over two years, and while he says the experience was positive, it just wasn’t the same.
“It was great as far as how [C3] treated me, but of course the money was nowhere near as good as it is in the UFC—that was a big difference.”
Following his win over Talamantes at C3, Beltran planned to fight four more times before August and string together some wins on the local circuit to better his chances of returning to the UFC. He says he has always had a good relationship with the UFC, so a return to the organization seemed possible.
“The UFC has always made it clear that they liked me. They like me as a person. I’m easy to work with, and as far as my performances in the cage, I definitely put on exciting fights.”
Now, some six months after his exit from the promotion, Beltran has earned a return trip to the UFC. Often, one win on the local circuit might not be enough to earn a comeback, but a chaotic string of injuries and card reshuffling led to his quick return.
Initially, Beltran’s training partner, Brandon Vera, was supposed to fight James Te Huna on the UFC on Fuel 4 Card. Then, when Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was left without an opponent for a UFC 149 bout, Shogun and Vera agreed to fight and migrated to the UFC on Fox 4 main event. This left Te Huna without an opponent. Enter Beltran.
“It was actually quick work. There were quick phone calls by my head coach\, Eric Del Fierro, Brandon Vera, and Brandon Vera’s manager. It was quick thinking by Eric after Brandon called him and let him know what had happened. A light bulb went off in Eric’s head, and he thought ‘Oh, Te Huna needs an opponent; we can get Joey in there.
“Then we made some calls, and the UFC liked the idea. I mean, if you think about it, James Te Huna versus Joey Beltran—that’s going to be a great fight.”
With his return to the sport’s biggest stage official, Beltran’s elation took some time to set in.
“It was very surreal. For the first couple of days I didn’t really know what to think, and I didn’t really know what to feel. Obviously now that it’s set in, I feel very happy, and I feel very proud of myself; proud that I didn’t throw my career and my life away.
“There was a little fork in the road there; I’m not going to lie. Things could have gotten really bad, but instead I decided to say no, and get my life back on track and make a run at it. So I’m proud of myself. Not a lot of people get a second shot. I’m one of the special ones and one of the lucky ones that got back in after being cut.”
Given that he was already training for a fight-filled summer, Beltran’s preparation for Te Huna has gone well.
“I was training for a busy summer. I’ve been training non-stop since about two weeks after my loss to Lavar Johnson back in January. While it’s Te Huna’s dangerous striking that’s making him famous, Beltran said there’s much more to his Australian opponent than that.
“James Te Huna brings a lot more to the table than just his striking. I know people get excited over his knockouts, but I see way more to him besides his striking. But I’m more than prepared; I’ve taken all the necessary measures in the gym with all my training partners, so I’m ready. Wherever the fight ends up, I’m ready to go.”
Beltran fights out of the famous Alliance MMA in California, which is also home to Brandon Vera. Given that Vera was initially scheduled to be Te Huna’s opponent, Beltran has been able to jump into Vera’s spot with ease, as the gym was already preparing to send one of its fighters into the cage against Te Huna. The whole situation has Beltran feeling as though the fight is a matchup made in heaven.
“It’s funny, I was actually playing the role of James Te Huna in our sparring before, and now I’m fighting him. I really feel like this fight is meant to be. The stars were aligned and now it’s my chance to go out there and shine,” he said.
When fight night rolls around, Beltran is confident in his chances against Te Huna.
“James Te Huna is a tough guy. I’m going to go out there and show him that he’s going to need to bring something a little bit more than being a tough guy, because I’m just as tough, and I’m going to get in his face,” Beltran said. “It’s going to be fun. I think the fans are going to be happy in San Jose. Dana White, Mr. (Lorenzo) Fertitta and Joe Silva—I feel I owe them a debt of gratitude for allowing me back in, to earn money and support my family, so I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do and go out and fucking fight.”