Bellator 168 touches down in Florence, Italy, on Saturday night so FO caught up with headliner Joey Beltran ahead of his main event showdown with Alessio Sakara.
FO: How cool is it be headlining Bellator out in Italy this weekend?
Joey Beltran: I am extremely grateful to Rich Chou and Scott Coker for this opportunity and I will repay them with my performance.
You are fighting a guy from Rome in Italy, so what kind of welcome are you expecting?
I expect the crowd to be hostile at first but after they watch the type of fight that I am bringing with me from Carlsbad, California they will be fans by the end of the night.
How did training camp go in the lead-up to this scrap?
It was great. I put in time with my brothers at Alliance MMA as well as time with my striking coach Jhanex Alviz. I also worked a lot with a group of up and coming pro boxers that are coached by (former) world champion, Chris Byrd. I got in some mat time with the Freak Bros at 10th Planet San Diego and Oceanside. I also had my nephew run my strength & conditioning program for this camp. Overall, I am very prepared and I know I am going to go put on a show like always but secure the victory with a finish.
This will be your 31st pro fight, but which performance is your favorite?
My fight with James TeHuna, that was a battle of wills. I remember him hitting me with one of those uppercuts and I fell, the lights were out. But I hit my head and it woke me back up and got back up and fought my way back. I lost a decision but it was a hell of a fight. We won ‘Fight of the Night’ honors. That would be a really good example of the type of fighter I am, the mindset I carry into the cage and what I’m willing to take in there.
Of my wins I’d probably go with the fight against Vladimir Matyushenko, as I think that was an awesome performance against a top notch, world class opponent. To be able to land a takedown and go right to a submission, that was pretty awesome considering I haven’t really showed much of a ground game up to that point.
You train at Alliance with a number of high level fighters but it wasn’t always that way. How did yu get started in MMA?
I have been with Alliance for nearly seven years now. But I remember when I first started training I walked into this gym off the street called Martial Arts International. The owner was Jeff Clark, he ended up becoming my manager. I told him I wanted to fight. He told me to start taking classes. So I took the public classes for some time. The normal jiu-jitsu, kickboxing classes.
Then they invited me to train with the team. Jason Lambert pretty much ran the show. We had Eddie Sanchez, UFC and Bellator veteran. A bunch of really tough guys. Jason is a great friend of mine to this day but I remember the first six months training I was convinced Jason Lambert hated me. His demeanor, he never said a word, to me. He would smash me and just get up and walk away. I was thinking, ‘OK, I guess this guy just doesn’t like me.’ Fast forward seven years and he is one of my best friends.
Being known for your heavy hands, who has the heaviest hands of anybody you have fought or trained with?
Quinton Jackson knocked me out but I can’t say he hit hard because I don’t remember how it felt. I was put to bed (laughs)!
You started boxing aged 10. What was your first experience in combat sports like at that age?
A. I just wanted to hang out with all the cool older kids in my apartment complex. They would always get on their bikes and leave and all I heard about was this guy, Frank, who was training the kids in the neighborhood for free. I wanted to go to Frank’s. You would hear about it at school and everything. I begged my mom for the whole school years to let me go. I really, really enjoyed it. It sucked but in the end that’s probably why I have a good chin today. I was always big for my size for my class. I always had to box the older kids. When I was 10 years old I was boxing 14 year olds. When I was a teenager I was boxing grown men. I got used to taking big shots at an early age. I wasn’t worried about it. It was a part of the game. Then I started wrestling in high school. I was always drawn to the individual sports. I wanted all the glory for myself!
I hear that you got in your fair share of street fights back in the day. Is there a story you can share that won’t land you in jail?
A. I grew up in a place that, people would get murdered once in a while, but I don’t want to paint a picture like bullets where flying by our heads all day long. There were bad parts, but I grew up in a time and place that you had to scrap if somebody stepped up. It was no big deal. You had to fight so you fought. You might see them walking into the Boy’s and Girl’s Club (laughs). It wasn’t a big deal back then, but now it seems like every kid is afraid to take an ass whooping.
Speaking of taking punishment. In the fight with Pat Barry you absorbed an insane amount of damage to your legs. Do you attribute that type of tenacity and toughness to those battles growing up?
Once I’m in there I have a one track mind. I have a job to do. My job is to fight until I can’t fight anymore. Until I’m knocked out or something is broken or until the ref stops it. People are like, ‘Wow, you took so much punishment!’ It’s like, ‘What the f**k am I supposed to do? That’s why they paid me thousands of dollars, to come here and fight.’ That’s how I look at it. Especially back in the day I was like I’m just going to swing until I can’t swing anymore.
There are many nicknames in MMA, some are good, some are lame, some are self-imposed but ‘The Mexicutioner’ might be the best one out there. How did you get it?
It was after my third fight. We were at the gym after a practice and Eddie Sanchez, whose first nickname was Dirty Sanchez, which I really like, once he got into the UFC he had to change it. He ended up with ‘The Manic Hispanic’, which is really good too. It was really simple, it came to him and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, ‘You are the Mexicutioner.’ I thought that was pretty nice and it just stuck. I owed it to Eddie.