Some people believe Caleb Plant is the real deal.
Others not so much.
But it doesn’t much matter to the Tennessee-born super middleweight either way.
He’s got enough belief for all y’all.
“I’ll be here for a long time,” he told Boxing Scene. “I’m not chasing nobody. I’m the champion. I’m the world champion. I’m the big dog at 168 pounds.
“So I’m not going to see anybody, they’ve got to come see me.”
Now 28 years old and two defenses into his reign as the IBF’s standard-bearer, Plant returns to the ring Saturday night in Los Angeles after fighting just once in the dumpster fire that was 2020.
Upon arrival he’ll see Caleb Truax, the rugged Minnesotan who held the same belt for four months during a two-fight series with James DeGale. He beat DeGale by majority decision in England in December 2017, then lost to him on a narrow unanimous nod in Las Vegas in April 2018.
The Plant-Truax fight will top a three-bout card to be broadcast by Fox at 8 p.m. ET.
DeGale relinquished the belt without a defense and the IBF awarded it to Jose Uzcategui, whom Plant beat by unanimous decision to earn championship status in January 2019. Stoppages of Mike Lee (TKO 3) and Vincent Feigenbutz (TKO 10) followed within 13 months, before the sports world went dark.
Still, while other fighters have had routines disrupted beyond recognition, Plant has thrived.
“I can honestly say this is one of my best camps,” he said on a Thursday conference call.
“I’ve had great sparring. I haven’t had any restrictions as far as COVID-19 goes when it comes to sparring partners or strength and conditioning or being in the gym. So I’ve been really focused on what I need to do and I’m just ready to go in there and handle business.”
Lest anyone forget, Plant’s pre-title back story was particularly harrowing.
He grew up in rural poverty, endured homelessness as an adult and suffered the ultimate nightmare when his 19-month-old daughter succumbed to a rare illness.
He dedicated the championship-winning bout to the late toddler, slept with an image of the IBF belt on the ceiling above his bed and promised he’d bring the real thing back to her grave site as champion.
That inhuman drive to endure, he told Boxing Scene, stemmed from the mettle forged by tragedy.
“I buried her one Thursday and I was back in the gym the next Thursday,” Plant said.
“Even throughout my workouts it was hard to keep my emotions in. I was tearing up and crying. But I’m a man and it’s my job, no matter what’s tossed at me through life, to continue on. I still have a job to do and I still have responsibilities. It’s my job as a man to take care of those responsibilities. On top of that I knew that that’s what she would want me to do. So I don’t fold, break, or bend for nobody.
“It’s definitely made me a tougher man. I’ve been through things that people don’t even have nightmares about and I came out the other side. I’m stronger for it. I’m better for it. It happened in my life for a reason and I carry Alia with me everywhere I go and I always will. I’m just happy to keep my promise that I made to her. I knew I would, but I’m just happy that I finally brought it to fruition.”
A memorable “Sweethands” nickname, coupled with a TV-friendly ring style and a comfortable charisma – not to mention two successful title defenses – have elevated Plant’s brand to the point where, assuming he gets past Truax, he’ll be on a short list of desirable foes for the division’s golden goose.
Pay-per-view stalwart Canelo Alvarez holds both the WBA and WBC titles after a one-sided defeat of Callum Smith last month and he’s ranked No. 1 or close to it on most pound-for-pound lists. He’s expected to steamroll Avni Yildirim in a mandatory defense next month in Miami and, should a trilogy fight with Gennady Golovkin not materialize, Plant’s chances to share the marquee will increase.
The camps were discussing a bout before Alvarez went after Smith, and Bleacher Report’s Kelsey McCarson gave Plant top billing among the 168-pounders in terms of who Canelo should fight next.
Alvarez is also the Ring Magazine champ at super middle, with Plant ranked second among contenders.
So, while Plant didn’t say his name, it’s no secret he’ll be on the Tennessean’s mind come Sunday.
“I’m still far from where I want to be,” Plant said.
“I’m still far from everything I want to accomplish and to keep that hunger, that motivation, you have to be honest with yourself about who you are and where you’re at.
“I know where I’m at in my career and how much farther I want to go so it’s no time for me to let my foot off the gas. I need to keep my foot on their necks and I need to keep pushing because, as I’ve said, I’m looking to become the first undisputed world super middleweight champion of all time and you can’t do that with just one world title.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF super middleweight title – Los Angeles, Calif.
Caleb Plant (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Caleb Truax (No. 3 IBF/No. 15 IWBR)
Plant (20-0, 12 KO): Third title defense; TKOs in two title defenses after five straight decision wins
Truax (31-4-2, 19 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2); Held IBF title at 168 pounds (2017-18, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: I’ll rely on historians for confirmation, but I’ve got to think this is the first title fight matching guys named Caleb. I’m a big fan of the one surnamed Plant. He’ll win big. Plant in 9 (95/5)
This week’s trash title-fight schedule:
WBA heavyweight title – Hollywood, Fla.
Manuel Charr (champion/No. 41 IWBR) vs. Trevor Bryan (No. 1 WBA/No. 55 IWBR)
Why it’s trash: Well, there’s the usual WBA nonsense. Charr has a championship belt with zero worthwhile wins. Bryan is somehow a No. 1 contender with an equally balky resume. But the fact that they’re held up as elite in a division with so many other better fighters is even more ridiculous.
WBA cruiserweight title – Hollywood, Fla.
Beibut Shumenov (champion/Unranked IWBR) vs. Raphael Murphy (No. 8 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Why it’s trash: Yep, it’s the WBA again. Perhaps they’re having a convention this weekend on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Anyway, we have Shumenov carrying the second of four tiers of belts in this division, though he’s not done anything of note since losing to a 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins in 2014. Yuck.
Last week’s picks: 1-0 (WIN: Fulton)
2021 picks record: 1-0 (100 percent)
Final 2020 picks record: 39-10 (79.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,157-375 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.