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SAN DIEGO – Carlsbad native Joey Beltran spent years as an MMA fighter. But when he finally took off his gloves, his career really took off.

The former Carlsbad High School wrestler recently defended his heavyweight title in bare knuckle boxing.

When most people think of the sport, they may envision a convert, smoky underground scene. But the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship started sanctioning these bouts in 2018. That’s when Beltran, known as the Mexi-cutioner, entered the sport and he won the heavyweight belt a year later.

At age 39, Beltran told FOX 5 about winning his last fight June 26 despite suffering from the aftereffects of COVID-19.

“I definitely had COVID,” Beltran said. “I had a fever of 105 degrees, horrible body aches. I was able to deal with that, but it had an effect on my lungs.”

Asked how he got into bare knuckle fighting, he said it came after an MMA career fighting in UFC and Bellator.

“I actually thought I had retired,” he said. “Randomly, one of my old coaches hit me up and asked me if I was interested. I said, ‘Sounds fun. Why not?’ It is the first time that it’s sanctioned in America. For the opportunity to be a part of something historic back in 2018 definitely had some appeal to it.

“I thought I’ll do it for fun and see how it is. Turns out I’m kinda good at it.”

Beltran said he had to learn how to punch properly, and where to punch his opponent to not injure his hands and said his goal is to defend his heavyweight belt five times (he has defended it twice so far) and then retire just before his 41st birthday in 2022.

To watch Beltran’s recent bare knuckle fight or any future fights, click here.