Heavyweight ready to take the next step at UFC 136
"When you're with the right coaches, the right team, you're willing to work hard, and you can take a baseball bat across the face without blinking an eye, you have a pretty bright future in this sport."
Joey Beltran has all those things, including a bright future.
The 29-year-old returns to the Octagon at UFC 136 to welcome newcomer Stipe Miocic to the UFC. Coming off a thrilling victory over Aaron Rosa at UFC 131 in June, the man known as "The Mexicutioner" is ready to start climbing the heavyweight ladder.
"I really do feel like that last fight was a sign of things to come," said Beltran, speaking with Heavy MMA last week. "After a couple more fights, I don't plan on being this, playing this gatekeeper role for much longer. Right now, it's cool; it's better to be the gatekeeper in the UFC than the #1 big dog at Wild Bill's Extreme Cagefighting, you know what I mean?
"I definitely always feel like I'm out there trying to prove that I'm one of the best fighters in the world, and I'm not just a bottom feeder in the UFC. I've trying to get to the top. People may laugh when I say that, but I feel like I'm on the right track, and I'm gonna break the top 10 by the end of this year, and big things are coming for me. I just have that mindset."
Building off his win over Rosa would go a long way to helping convince the doubters that a future beyond gatekeeper status awaits the San Diego native.
Facing a relative unknown without much of a frame of reference is a difficult task, and it's one that Beltran is cognizant of heading into this fight. You can only learn so much from scattered YouTube clips.
"On paper, he's got his Golden Gloves credentials, but you could just tell that from the little bit of footage we could find on him from YouTube. He had good balance, he doesn't move like a typical big guy. On paper, again, it says he's a Division I wrestler, but he doesn't show any wrestling in any of the footage we have.
"Stipe Miocic may actually be the next big thing. He may be the next Shane Carwin, a guy that comes in undefeated and just smashes everybody, but you know what? We're going to find out October 8. I'm not going to lay down for him, that's for sure. In a lot of the footage that I've seen it's guys that look like they fell off the bar stool, got hit once, and got got scared and rolled over.
"I really, really expect a tough fight, and I'm just ready to go wherever it goes. If it goes on the ground, I'm going to do my best to submit him. If it stays on the feet, I'm going to do my best to knock him out."
Getting back into the win column this summer in Vancouver definitely took some of the pressure off Beltran heading into this fight, but he's not letting a single win give him a false sense of security.
"It definitely takes a little bit of weight off my back in terms of fighting for my career, but you can still be cut at any moment. If I go out and lay a turd, especially with the acquisition of all those great heavyweights in Strikeforce, who's to say they aren't going to start cutting people after one bad performance?"
Through his previous five UFC bouts, Beltran has yet to produce a bad performance. He scored an upset victory over Rolles Gracie on short notice in his UFC debut and followed it up with a victory over Tim Hague at UFC 113. Though he lost his next two encounters — to Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry — both were action-packed affairs, with the former taking home Fight of the Night.
Both Barry and Mitrione have joked in the past about Beltran's ability to absorb punishment. Beltran has a few comical theories on the subject himself.
"I used to fall on my head a lot when I was a kid; I just grew immune to it," Beltran explains with a laugh. "I used to be pretty clumsy. I think my head, maybe I have Homer Simpson Syndrome where I have an extra thick skull.
"That's not to say that it doesn't hurt, because it definitely hurt when Mitrione hit me, it definitely hurt when Pat Barry kicked me in the head, I just keep going. I just figure I can hurt them right back too. Also, I get caught up in the moment where if they hit me and hurt me, I want to hit them back."
While his unnatural ability to take the best his fellow heavyweights have to offer and keep coming forward has endeared him to fans and earned him the nickname "The Mexican Zombie" around the HeavyMMA offices — a name he fully endorses, by the way — Beltran is ready to take the next step in his career, and believes he's found the right group of people to help him do just that.
"The unique situation for me — which is a little different for Dominick (Cruz) and Phil (Davis) for instance — is that I split my training time. Eric Del Fiero is definitely my chief second — my head cornerman — when I go to fight, and I trust him to put the game plan together, but I live an hour away from (the Alliance MMA gym). I live up in North County San Diego, so my technique and my strength and conditioning is all done within driving distance to my house.
"I have my striking coach, a gentleman by the name of Kru Ruben Rowell, and he has really not only changed my fighting style, just been a life-changer," continued Beltran. "When I first started training with him was right after my loss to Tony Lopez in King of the Cage, and I was at a real crossroad. I have steadily shown improvement every fight, and I expect better things to come.
"There's a host of other coaches that I see all around the San Diego area, so I get a piece from everybody, and I put it all together. Eric helps me put it all together I should say, and then we go out and fight."
It's an approach that doesn't work for everybody, but thus far, Beltran is happy with the results.
"I'm fortunate enough that all my coaches get along. I'm just in a real blessed situation where everybody gets along, everybody comes together that fight week, and has one common goal. Yeah, I'm the individual fighting, but it really, really is a team effort for me, especially when we're talking about my coaches."
Beltran plans on going out and executing the game plan he and his collection of coaches have put together to hand Miocic the first loss of his professional career.
"I'm gonna get in his face right from the get-go, and I'm going to finish him right around four minutes into the first round. I think I'm going to hit him with power he's never felt, and I'm going to push a pace that he's never had to keep up with.
"If he makes it to the second round, I don't see it lasting very deep into the second. Late first, early second TKO stoppage."