By Thomas Gerbasi
Caleb Truax’ boxing career began as a reason to pay off his student loans from the University of Minnesota. In June, those loans were paid, but he decided to stick around anyway.
Armed with a sociology degree, good connections in the business and an even better reputation, he could do anything, but when there are still possibilities left on the table and the talent and determination to make those possibilities realities, a fighter can still dream.
After a first-round TKO loss to Anthony Dirrell in April 2016, Truax thought the possibilities had dried up. Two fights earlier, he lost his shot at the middleweight title against Daniel Jacobs, and he didn’t expect a second crack at a belt. The loss to Dirrell only advanced his feelings that maybe it was time for something new.
But then, as it seemingly always happens in this business, a pair of wins over Zachariah Kelley and KeAndrae Leatherwood led to a phone call.
Seven weeks. A title shot. One last chance.
“That’s the way I approached it,” said Truax of his IBF super middleweight title fight with James DeGale. “Most guys don’t get one shot at a title, and I had my shot with Danny Jacobs at middleweight and hardly anybody gets two shots at a title, so I jumped at this opportunity and I approached it like it was gonna be my last hurrah. So I put everything into it. I had a full camp - it was seven weeks and obviously you would have liked to have a little bit longer, but I worked my ass off for all the time I had and everything came together.”
Last Saturday at The Copper Box Arena in London, everything did come together for the 34-year-old Truax. Brought in as the B-side, the opponent, the tune-up – any negative connotation for a challenger you can think of – the Minnesotan fought the fight of his life against the top super middleweight in the world. And he knew he would.
“I was confident that I was gonna win the fight,” Truax said from London, two days after one of the biggest upsets of 2017. “I thought that my strategy would work, my team had a great game plan and I think I carried it out pretty much to a tee. I expected a little bit more resistance from DeGale, and I did some things to stifle him, but at the same time, I thought he was gonna mount a last stand in the late rounds and that never really came. Everything was just working.”
Boxing has a way of taking such hard work away, though. Ask Tevin Farmer, who was the victim of a bad decision against Kenichi Ogawa later that Saturday. But as Truax waited for the decision, he was confident that the fight he thought he won would be made official by judges Dave Parris, Benoit Roussel and Alex Levin, despite fighting in DeGale’s backyard.
“At first, in my mind, the scores were wide enough to where I thought they couldn’t take it from me,” he said. "But then that first card came up.”
Parris saw the fight as a draw, 114-114.
“I was like, ‘Hell no.’ I was nervous after that first card.”
Card two was Roussel’s: 115-112
“The second was 115-112 and I did the math and figured there was no way they could give him a 10-8 round, so I figured I had it after that.”
He did, with Levin’s 116-112 making it a 12-round majority decision for the winner and new champion. Did it feel better than paying off those school loans?
“I’ll tell you what, the championship, that was one of the best feelings of my life besides my daughter being born,” he said. “As you saw in the ring, it was pure joy with me and all my guys that have been with me since day one. We got to revel in it together, so it was cool.”
On Thursday, Truax will be back home in Minnesota, a city that has taken him in despite it not being a hotbed of world champions. In fact, as pointed out by MNFightNews.com, Truax is only the fourth from the state, following Johnny Ertle, Mike O’Dowd and Will Grigsby. Yet when asked about what his win means to the boxing scene at home, he is quick to deflect praise to his neighbors.
“We have a lot of real good fighters from there,” Truax said. “Jamal James is a great welterweight; he’s fighting Diego Chaves this week. Rob Brant just fought in the (super middleweight) tournament. And I think this will boost the amateur program a little bit and show kids that you can achieve your goals if you put your head down and work for them.”
Those kids will hear from Truax soon. But for now, he’s still in London and enjoying his new life as champion with his coach, Tom Halstad. In a year with plenty of bad news, Truax has delivered a perfect feel good story for the holiday season, so good that it can’t be ruined by talk of what’s next. For now, it’s all about a well-deserved victory lap.
“We decided to stay a few days in London because neither of us had ever been here before. We’re just staying and seeing the town and having a few pints in the local pubs and just celebrating. So it hasn’t set in. It probably won’t set in until I get home and see my family and my friends. Right now, I’m on Cloud Nine and I still gotta wait to come down before it hits reality.”
By then, maybe he’ll have his IBF belt and will get to fly up to that cloud one more time.
“They’re gonna send me one,” he laughed when asked about the belt. “I was taking pictures with it after in the ring and I didn’t want to give it back.”
He’ll have it soon enough. But in the meantime, calling Truax “Champ” is a good enough reminder of what happened last weekend.