DOWNEY -- With such unique facial hair, this Downey resident isn’t hard to miss in the center of the octagon.
MMA officiator Mike Beltran, 44, has deep roots within the city of Downey.
“My connection to Downey is pretty deep rooted. My family is here in Downey. I own a house in Downey here. My kids went to school in Downey,” said Beltran. “We moved from East LA to Downey many, many years ago in the 80’s... I love where I live, I love this city.”
Beltran is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but started out training in boxing at the Azteca Gym in Bell as a kid.
“I boxed for several years, and I boxed a little bit in the Marine Corps,” said Beltran. “Back since 2002 is where I actually began training in MMA.”
Beltran wasn’t initially all that interested in Jiu Jitsu. His involvement took some persuasion and motivation from a close friend who was already in the sport.
“I had a really, really good friend of mine – rest in peace – Joe “Nini” Camacho…he was the first Mexican black belt that came out of East LA and fought in MMA…he is the one that dragged my big butt out of my house and said, ‘Hey dude, you have to try this stuff. This is so cool,’” said Beltran.
“I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to grapple. I just thought if I can’t knock you out on my feet then I deserve to get my butt kicked. I was so naïve about the sport.”
With a bit of motivation, Camacho was able to get Beltran into New Breed Academy in Santa Fe Springs, where Beltran still trains to this day.
“Let’s just say I got my butt kicked by everybody,” laughed Beltran. “Back then, I was about 250 pounds, 245 pounds. I was a big kid. I was, you know, a big muscular kid.”
Beltran’s size and strength advantages weren’t any help that first training session.
“Smaller guys that were a hell of a lot smaller than me - about 135, 145, 160 – [beat me]. I got really destroyed by a wrestler,” said Beltran. “Eventually I got humbled into training with a 12-year-old kid. He was a crazy little grappler and wrestler, and the only thing that kept him down was my size and strength. After that I was completely humbled.”
Beltran said he had two choices – walk out with his tail between his legs or take on the challenge.
He started training from that day on.
His training has brought him to now being an official judge and referee. Due to his age and other commitments, Beltran says he felt he could get what he wanted out of the sport and more longevity by avoiding the fighter route and instead turning to officiating.
During his time as a referee, many of the fights he has officiated have been for local competitions between up-and-coming fighters.
On a bigger, recognizable scale, Beltran has had the privilege stepping into the UFC Octagon, including refereeing the Nate Diaz vs Josh Thomson fight.
“Josh Thomson TKO’d Nate Diaz, and I stopped the fight right as the towel went into the cage,” said Beltran. “That was a very notable fight. Just being in there with those world class athletes was amazing.”
And standing in the middle of the cage with those athletes, there is one particular thing that sets Beltran aside from other officials.
Beltran has received a lot of attention and fame through his signature mustache, which often hangs from his face in a very long braid.
“I’ve always hated shaving,” said Beltran. “It’s just me; it’s just who I am.”
Beltran admits that his facial has earned him his fair share of sideways glances, but he really doesn’t care.
“I think people are very judgmental with people by their appearance or how they look, or whatever,” said Beltran. “Some people like it [the mustache], some people don’t. I’m used to it now…I really didn’t care what people thought or what people said, because this is who I am.”