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Joey Beltran: Bellator brought me in to entertain, and 'I'm going to deliver'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Back in mid-October, newly unemployed and still steamed about the UFC Fight Night 29 loss that cost him his job, Joey Beltran went out to lunch with an old friend.

In his younger days, Beltran used to DJ all around San Diego for a company called Xtreme Fun. Birthdays, fundraisers, Bar Mitzvahs; you name it, Xtreme Fun handled it. And on this particular autumn afternoon, with his former Xtreme Fun boss sitting across from him, Beltran decided that he wanted back in the DJ game.

"I was pissed off and depressed about the fight, about the (Fabio) Maldonado decision. I was just like, ‘I don't even want to do this anymore. This is bulls--t,'" Beltran admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.

"[My old boss was] like, ‘I think you should give it some time, Joey. I don't think you want to do that.' So shout out to that guy for talking me out of it."

That Beltran laughed as the words left his mouth, even less than a month after his UFC career came crashing down, explains just how drastic of a turnaround the fighter has undergone in a remarkably short time span.

Beltran was unemployed scarcely a few weeks before Bellator came calling, inked him to compete in February's light heavyweight tournament, then bumped up that debut with an opportunity he couldn't refuse. Now the 31-year-old is preparing for November 15, where he'll fill in for an injured Tito Ortiz against one of Bellator's most prized signings, former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

In Beltran's eyes, not only is it a chance to redeem himself with a win over a name opponent, it's also an opportunity to bring back the old Mexicutioner style which first endeared him to fans.

"Here's the thing. Honestly, so much pressure is put on you -- for me, at least. While fighting in the UFC, I just always kind of felt like, geez man, every fight I'm fighting for my career. Every fight, if I lose I'm going to get cut, so for the last couple fights, it's been more on the side of, okay, let's figure out a way that I can win these fights," Beltran said.

"(But) this fight, I know what I'm being brought in there for. I don't have that pressure. If anything, if there's every been a fight where I've had zero pressure, it's funny that it happens to be the most important fight of my life.

"I'm brought in purely for my entertainment value," Beltran continued. "They haven't said that, but I know that. And so I'm going to go out there and I'm going to deliver. I've already told my wife, she's not coming to this fight. I told my family, listen, it could get pretty ugly because I'm going out there to do a job, and my job is to entertain."

Beltran's self-awareness is refreshing, as his assessment of the situation is probably more accurate than not. Bellator has marketed Jackson lavishly since the former champ inked a deal with Viacom, one which included reality television outlets and potential film ventures.

Nonetheless, Beltran wouldn't quite go so far as to say he was brought in by Bellator officials to lose.

"The thing is, I have enough notoriety and enough fans, a little cult following if you will, that like what I do in the cage," Beltran said.

"If I'm looking at it from a promoter's standpoint. Yeah, Rampage already has an established name. But there's a lot of people that are already kind of negative on him, saying he's washed up or he's Hollywood, stuff like that. So I come in, everybody loves an underdog story, and so if I were to win, they could totally market the s--t out of me."

As Beltran readies for his Bellator debut, he does so with high hopes, and understandably so. The pair are expected to headline Bellator 108, even above a heavyweight title tilt between Alexander Volkov vs. Vitaly Minakov.

Bellator's decision to promote Jackson's non-title debut over a championship bout raised some eyebrows, but not more so than the revelation that the fight will be contested at a 210-pound catchweight.

"I was ready to go at 205. You can interpret that however you want," Beltran said flatly. "They presented it to me like, since this is a short notice fight for Joey, we'll do it at 215. And I said, ‘F--k no. Dude, I'll make 205 just fine.' So then we went back and forth and settled at 210.

"215 would've been a big deal, because I know if somebody only had to make 215, they're probably gonna come in at fight time, 250. So I was pushing for that 205."

It's not a distant leap to assume the negotiation over weight meant that either Jackson, or someone within Jackson's camp, feared a botched weight cut. Beltran, who's already seen Jackson once at a media opportunity, says Jackson appeared "pretty big" in person, but added that he "didn't look fat or anything."

Ultimately, though, Beltran isn't concerned by whatever issues may be in play. He's a man who fought at heavyweight for seven years, and after facing the likes of Lavar Johnson and Matt Mitrione, size tends to lose it's significance. The real question on Beltran's mind is the same one weighing on the minds of many fans: does Jackson, a once ferocious competitor, still have anything left in the tank?

"Here's the thing, I don't really know," Beltran finished. "I'm banking on the guy that powerbombed Ricardo Arona through the cage. The guy that knocked out Chuck Liddell twice. I'm banking on that guy showing up to fight. I'm not banking on some washed up 35-year-old has been, or anything like that by any means. I'm banking on a crazy, howling at the moon Rampage coming for my head."

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