Jose Pedraza didn’t need the big finish against Ray Beltran. He had done enough through 10 rounds to win the WBO lightweight title at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and earn the prize that comes with it: A December title unification bout with WBA champion Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Fighting in Beltran’s hometown, Pedraza didn’t take any chances, though. He put an exclamation point on the unanimous decision victory by dropping Beltran with a perfectly placed left uppercut in the 11th round and then nearly stopping the champion in his corner as the clock ticked down to end the fight.
In some ways, he drew the short straw, because he’ll be forced to fight against Lomachenko, one of the world’s elite fighters in his next outing and will be a massive underdog. But he couldn’t pull an upset of Lomachenko without first getting past Beltran, who toiled in obscurity for years as Manny Pacquiao’s sparring partner before finally winning a title in February.
He wasn’t able to do much, though, in his first defense, as Pedraza used his jab expertly and fired the left hand behind it often enough to open a cut around Beltran’s left eye and generally control the fight. Judges had it 117-110 twice and 115-112 for Pedraza. Yahoo Sports scored it 116-111 for Pedraza, who now has a title in a second weight class. He lost his IBF super featherweight title to Gervonta Davis last year.
He’s had a habit of tiring in fights and letting his opponent come on in the second half. That played into Beltran’s hands, who is a second-half fighter. But Pedraza was brilliantly conditioned and never deviated. He kept the jab in Beltran’s face and didn’t allow Beltran to turn it into a close quarters battle.
“We followed the game plan,” Pedraza, now 25-1, said. “I knew how tough Ray Beltran would be and that was no surprise. The key was to be able to follow the game plan and we didn’t deviate from that. That was the key.”
Pedraza threw and landed more according to CompuBox, connecting on 160 of 556 punches to Beltran’s 137 of 515.
Lomachenko is at an entirely different level than Beltran. He’s many multiples quicker, punches harder and is one of the more difficult men in the game to hit cleanly.
In the afterglow of the huge victory, though, Pedraza was seeing stars.
“I’m all about unifying the belts,” he said. “I accomplished my mission and now I want the big names, be it Lomachenko or Mikey [Garcia].”
He’ll get Lomachenko, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, in December and it will take the fight of his life and then some to pull off the upset.
He wasn’t thinking of that on this night, though. He never got ahead of himself and fought patiently and smartly.
“I was able to maintain my focus and that was a key to the victory,” he said. “I just wanted to win round after round and that was key.”