For Caleb Truax, Experience is Key

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The former world champion says his experience will earn him another title as he prepares to face unbeaten IBF World Super Middleweight Champion Caleb Plant Saturday night on FOX.

Sitting in his college dorm room one night at the University of Minnesota, 19-year-old student Caleb Truax and his friend were bored. Reading a local alternative newspaper, they noticed an ad seeking contestants for a local Toughman fighting contest.

Being an excellent athlete, a walk-on football player at Virginia State whose college career ended before it began due to a knee injury, and admittedly an even better baseball player in high school, Truax and his pal gave it a shot. Why not?

"We both got our asses kicked the first time," he says, laughing, "but I liked it and stuck with it and I'm glad I did."

Indeed, Truax went on to become a world champion boxer, winning the IBF world super middleweight title with a massive upset of Britain's James DeGale in England in 2017. Truax was 34 at the time.

He lost the title in a rematch four months later in Truax's only career fight in Las Vegas, suffering cuts around both eyes but going the distance. He's been trying to regain a belt ever since, struggling through a series of injuries and tough luck along the way.

Now 37, Truax (31-4-2, 19 KOs) has been granted what could be his final shot at a championship belt -- ironically the same IBF 168-pound belt he won three years ago -- when he faces undefeated champion Caleb Plant (20-0, 12 KOs) in the headline bout on national television Saturday (FOX PBC Fight Night, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) from the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles. 

Plant is a 20-1 favorite in what might be the only professional title fight between two guys named Caleb. But Truax is used to being an underdog, as he was at 40-1 when he upset DeGale in 2017.

“I’ve always been the underdog and I embrace that role," Truax said. "I fight my best when I’m in that spot and I look forward to proving the naysayers wrong again."

The Osseo, Minn., native has been proving naysayers wrong his whole life. He has a degree in sociology, political science and African-American studies from the University of Minnesota, one of the rare boxers to earn a college degree. 

Truax was thinking about taking a job after graduation with the local city government right outside of Minneapolis, but decided not to because "I was going to try my hand at boxing for a while because I didn't want any regrets."

A while turned into a career. He was nearly 24 years old when he began his pro career, extremely late by any measure. Truax was 18-0-1, having fought almost exclusively around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, when he faced what would be the first of several top-tier fighters, former middleweight champ Jermain Taylor, in Mississippi in 2012. He knocked Taylor down in the ninth round but lost a unanimous 10-round decision.

His first world title fight came in 2015 in Chicago against WBA middleweight champ Daniel Jacobs. Truax was stopped for the first time, in the 12th round by Jacobs.

In 2016 he faced former 168-pound champion Anthony Dirrell and lost by first round TKO, under difficult circumstances. His longtime girlfriend, Michelle Stocke, had complications in child-birth around that time, and nearly died.

"She had a brain bleed due to pre-eclampsia," Truax said. "She's fully recovered now, has no side-effects. My daughter Gia is about to turn five a few days after (Saturday's)  fight. And my boy Cam is one and a half. So everything is going good. They're healthy, they're driving me crazy and that's the way it should be."

A title eliminator against former champ Peter Quillin in April 2019 ended in a no-contest after two rounds due to an accidental head butt that opened a nasty gash over Truax's right eye. It also resulted in an Achilles problem later on which led to his withdrawal from the rematch. Last August, he suffered heat exhaustion leading up to his fight against Alfredo Angulo, which caused him to withdraw. On top of all that, he had some elbow issues.

I’m going to win because I’m the most experienced and the best fighter that Plant has ever faced." Former IBF World Super Middleweight Champion - Caleb Truax

"I'm finally feeling healthy for the first time in a couple years," Truax said by phone last week. "I have been able to work out nearly every day through the pandemic. And when all the gyms were shut down I've found ways to keep busy. So I don't think I'll show much rust. I'm like a throwback. Always in shape and always ready to roll."

Truax takes the glass-half-full approach to one of the toughest, most bleak times in the country's history. He refuses to allow the pandemic to have a negative effect on him and his family as it has for millions of others.

"I'd be lying if I said this was super difficult for me," the fighter explained. "I've stayed healthy, my family's stayed healthy, I don't believe I know anyone who has passed away from COVID; obviously there's been some frustrations and things we had to adapt to. But I didn't lose a business, I didn't lose my job, I was still able to put food on the table, so all things considered, I'm doing OK. 

Truax was able to get in the semi-private gym he's been going to since he started in the sport, Lykes ACR Boxing Gym, close to where he grew up in Osseo. As if to prove he likes continuity, nearly his entire team has been with him from the start: His trainer Tom Halstad, manager Ron Lyke, cutman Jim Maurine and promoter Tony Grygelko.

All those injuries and setbacks are in his rear-view mirror.

Truax, who last fought a year ago, a 10-round majority decision win against 41-year-old Ugandan David Basajjamivule, has even taken up yoga in hopes of staving off the ravages of Father Time.

"I recently started doing it a little more because I'm trying to focus on recovery workouts, just because I'm getting old and want to make sure I'm healthy and flexible," Truax said. "I wish I could say it's helped me with flexibility but I'm still stiff as a board. But it's helped me with getting healthy for sure. I feel better and fresher after I do it, so it's something I've added to my routine three times a week." 

As one of Minnesota's most visible and beloved boxers, Truax has reaped the benefits of his popularity. He has a beer named after him through one of his sponsors, the Lupulin Brewery down the road in Big Lake, Minn., an IPA called 8-Count. There's a graphic illustration on the can of Truax throwing an uppercut.

"I've had my afterfight parties at their place, and the beer is not only all over the U.S., it's all over the world," Truax said. "It's in the U.K, and Tokyo and it's selling really well and tastes real good and I can't wait to drink a few to celebrate after the fight on January 30.  It's pretty popular here in Minnesota."

Still, Truax is under no illusions that this won't be his last hurrah, at least as title shots go, if he cannot get past the champion Plant. A must-win fight?

"At this point in my career, they're all must-win fights," Truax said, matter-of-factly. "I'm approaching this fight as if it's my last chance to win my title back. And I've been training to leave it all in the ring and have no regrets about it afterwards. I'm there to win my belt back and I've been on a mission since 2018 when I lost it."

Despite being nine years older than Plant, Truax believes that facing better competition during his career gives him an edge.

"He's fought one guy that I consider a great fighter and that's Jose Uzcategui, who he won the title from," Truax insisted confidently. "And I believe I'm a better fighter than (Uzcategui). So  I think I'm the best fighter he's ever fought. The last two guys he fought -- Mike Lee was a layup and Vincent Feigenbutz was a mandatory. I think fighting tough competition goes a long way and that's one of the things I clearly have over him.

“I’m going to win because I’m the most experienced and the best fighter that Plant has ever faced."

For a closer look at Caleb Truax, check out his fighter page.

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