By Lyle Fitzsimmons
As back stories go, few hang with Caleb Plant’s.
So as the confident 26-year-old neared his professional dream – winning the IBF super middleweight title from Jose Uzcategui – he knew the moment of achievement would be pretty powerful.
As it turned out, he really had no idea.
“It was a surreal moment. It was one I’d waited for for a long time and one that I had went through a lot to get. It felt good,” he said. “Like I said, weeks leading up to the fight, I felt like it would be overwhelming and it was. I knew it would be hard to contain my emotions after everything that had happened to get there. When they said ‘And the new,’ it was hard to keep it under control.
“I knew it was coming. You can play it in your head a million times, but it’s never the same as them announcing and it coming to fruition.”
For those unaware, the Tennessee native 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’d dedicated the championship 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, Plant said, stemmed from the mettle forged by tragedy.
“I buried her one Thursday and I was back in the gym the next Thursday,” he 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.”
Boxing Scene sat down with Plant in the aftermath of the title win, discussing the fight itself, when he knew it was going his way and his intention to stamp his name on the entire 168-pound division.
Boxing Scene: It’s been a few days, with lots of people calling you champ. Are you tired of it yet, or is still pretty cool?
Caleb Plant: No, I ain’t tired of it. It’s everything I asked for. It comes with the territory. People will be calling me champ for a long time to come.
Boxing Scene: He’s a tough guy, but you were in control for most of the 12 rounds. At what point did you realize it was going how it was supposed to and that he couldn’t beat you?
Plant: After the first round. I made him miss a big punch and I looked out to the audience. Kinda signifying, ‘Hey man, who you throwing punches at? I’m way over here.’ It was after that moment, and I was staring him down as the bell rang and he was walking back to his corner. I knew then, ‘All right, this is it.’
Boxing Scene: Did the fight go exactly the way you expected it would?
Plant: I knew he was going to be tough. I knew what was in front of me. I knew what was ahead of me. But I don’t think he knew. I don’t think he knew what was in front of him. I had said in my interviews leading up to the fight that I know what’s in front of me, I know what animal I’ve got to tame, but I don’t think he knows what he’s got to tame.
Boxing Scene: What was the night like after the fight. When did you come back down to reality?
Plant: I’m still up there somewhere. I ain’t came down yet and I ain’t coming down for a long time. It’s still surreal. I’m on Cloud 9 and I’m gonna keep riding it.
Boxing Scene: Will you visit her cemetery plot with the belt? What do you think that moment will be like? What message do you want to convey to her?
Plant: It’ll take a couple weeks, but when I go back to Tennessee I’m going to bring it to her. I honestly don’t even know (how the moment will feel). It’s hard to say exactly all the emotions that I’ll feel and what I’ll be feeling during that moment. But it’ll be nice, it’ll be good.
Boxing Scene: There’s a lot going on at 168? What do you foresee in the next six months for you?
Plant: We’re looking to bring up something in June, July or August. I’m not exactly sure who. Hopefully the mandatory or a world champion. I only want to fight the best. I’m pretty sure I proved I’m not scared to fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. We’re going to be bringing y’all some good fights.
Boxing Scene: Is 168 your home for the long term? And if so, is Canelo a target? Is he the guy everyone wants?
Plant: Yeah. I’ll be here for a long time and that’s a fight that we’d definitely like to make. But at the end of the day 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.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO featherweight title – Brooklyn, New York
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (No. 5 IBO/No. 9 IWBR) vs. Claudio Marrero (No. 15 IBO/No. 19 IWBR)
Nyambayar (10-0, 9 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled beyond 10 rounds
Marrero (23-2, 17 KO): Second title fight (1-0); Held IBO title at 126 in 2017 (zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Nyambayar hasn’t gone the full distance or fought particularly stellar opposition, but he’s trending upward and has something of a spent shell in front of him. Nyambayar in 9 (85/15)
WBA welterweight title – Brooklyn, New York
Keith Thurman (Champion/Unranked IWBR) vs. Josesito Lopez (No. 7 WBA/No. 44 IWBR)
Thurman (28-0, 22 KO): Third title defense; First fight in 693 days due to injuries
Lopez (36-7, 19 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost three of four scheduled 12-rounders
Fitzbitz says: Thurman hasn’t fought in a while, but a winning return shouldn’t be a major issue. Lopez has gotten a ton of mileage out of little more than Victor Ortiz’s broken jaw. Thurman in 7 (99/1)
WBO junior middleweight title – Houston, Texas
Jaime Munguia (Champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Takeshi Inoue (No. 3 WBO/No. 30 IWBR)
Munguia (31-0, 26 KO): Third title defense; Three TKO wins in four fights in the United States
Inoue (13-0-1, 7 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside of Japan (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Just when you think Munguia might be a touch overvalued, the WBO hands him a remarkably underqualified No. 3 challenger on a silver platter. Fuel that hype. Munguia in 3 (99/1)
This week’s garbage title-fight schedule:
WBA featherweight title – Houston, Texas
Jesus M. Rojas (“champion”/No. 14 IWBR) vs. Can Xu (No. 2 WBA/No. 10 IWBR)
Why it’s garbage: When it comes to rationale for panning this one, It’d be worthwhile enough to point out that the WBA has a guy named Leo Santa Cruz as a “super” champion at 126 – not to mention a recently deposed “interim” king in Jhack Tepora. Two’s a crowd, three’s an embarrassment.
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Doheny, Andrade; LOSS: Warren)
2018 picks record: 3-1 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,015-344 (74.6 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.