Caleb Plant has survived frigid nights and blistering temperatures on an empty stomach and mourned the death of an infant daughter, yet has used boxing as a pathway to inner peace.
Born in impoverished Ashland City, Tennessee, a young Plant and his sister, Madeline, slept in a mobile home trailer that had no air conditioning in the sticky summers and faulty heating during bone-chilling winters.
“We’d bundle up next to little space heaters in the winter. Food was donated from churches, or we had little to eat,” Plant recalls. “I’d ask for a dollar from people at school for snacks for me and my little sister, and we got served foreclosure papers a lot.
“My mom was dealing with some things and wasn’t around much. My dad was there for us, but he worked a lot.”
At 9 years old, Plant sought divine intervention. His prayer was answered when Richie Plant, once an amateur kickboxer, introduced his son to that sport in a gym he struggled to fund himself. Three years later, the elder Plant guided his 12-year-old boy into pugilism.
“I asked God, ‘Please send me something I can use to change my life and the world.’ God answered my prayers, sent me boxing and saved my life,” says Plant, a 2011 graduate of Sycamore High School in Pleasant View, Tennessee. “Once God put this blessing into my hands, I’d get up every day starting at 9, 10 years old and begin the process of saving of my own life.”
As an amateur, Plant—who earned the nickname “Sweet Hands” from admiring teammates—won the 2011 National Golden Gloves championship at 178 pounds and traveled to London as a 165-pound alternate for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Then on May 10, 2014, he made his professional debut by scoring a 47-second knockout of Travis Davidson.
Now 24 years old, Caleb Plant (13-0, 10 KOs) will continue his improbable boxing journey Tuesday when he battles 29-year-old Juan De Angel (18-4-1, 17 KOs) of Colombia at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
The scheduled 10-round fight against the heavy-hitting De Angel will be Plant’s first as a headliner.
“ When I step into the ring, I bring in with me what I need. ... What matters is my work ethic, who I want to be, and how much I’m willing to do whatever it takes to not go back to what I was. ” Caleb Plant
“Boxing’s been a sanctuary. When I step into the ring, I bring in with me what I need and leave the other stuff outside,” says Plant, who as recently as three years ago lived out of an office building for “about six months.”
“What matters is my work ethic, who I want to be, and how much I’m willing to do whatever it takes to not go back to what I was."
Even as his pro career was just getting rolling, though, Plant faced more adversity in the form of an unimaginable tragedy: On January 29, 2015—less than two months after he moved to 5-0 with a first-round knockout of Daryl Gardner—his 19-month-old daughter, Alia, died from a rare medial condition.
Losing his daughter tested Plant’s faith.
“When Alia’s time was cut short, I questioned why I’m still here. But Alia inspired more than 20,000 followers on her Facebook page,” says Plant, who has memorialized his daughter with a tattoo on his left arm and also wears her name on various ring attire. "Her job was finished even if I didn’t want it to be.
“If I don’t follow through with what I promised her and see this thing out, then all those times I was in the gym, unable to hold her, will be for nothing. That’s not an option."
With the support of a new girlfriend, Plant has been training out of MADE Fitness in Nashville, Tennessee, where his father assists Justin Gamber and strength and conditioning guru Omar Edwards. However, Plant will soon be leaving his home state and heading west to Las Vegas, where he says he intends to relocate after facing De Angel.
For the 6-foot-1 Plant, it’s simply time to write a new chapter in what has been a challenging life.
“You don’t ask for a story like mine, but a lot of people have been inspired, and you learn to embrace it,” he says. “My perspective on life has changed immensely.
“I appreciate the hard times for making me the boxer and the person I am.”
For complete coverage of Plant vs De Angel, check out our fight page.