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The Hauser Report: Caleb Plant is Making His Mark

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The July 20 IBF 168-pound title fight between Caleb Plant and Mike Lee wasn’t expected to be competitive. But it was a coming out party for one of boxing’s more compelling personalities.

Plant was born and raised in Tennessee. As his ring career progressed, he moved to Henderson on the outskirts of Las Vegas to hone his craft. On January 13 of this year, he scored an upset decision victory over Jose Uzcategui to claim the IBF belt and bring his record to 18-0 with 10 KOs. Prior to that, his hardscrabble origins had been scarred by tragedy.

Plant grew up in a home where alcohol and drug abuse were common. His own daughter, Alia, was born with severe brain damage.

“She had zero motor skills,” Caleb recounted last year. “She couldn’t sit up. She couldn’t hold her head up. She couldn’t lift her arm. She couldn’t eat. She ate through a tube in her stomach. I didn’t know if she was gonna know who I was. I didn’t know if she knew that I loved her. She was never gonna stand and say ‘I love you, dad’ or ‘Merry Christmas, dad.’ She’s not gonna know what it’s like to have friends. But what if I could just give her a nice life, a life that I didn’t have. What if I could work so hard that I can give her a life and things that I never had as a kid. We won’t be able to have the relationship that I had with my dad. But I’ll give her my all, my best, no matter what. This is what I can try to give her. A roof over her head; food in her stomach even if it’s not through her mouth.”

In 2015, at nineteen months of age, Alia was in the hospital on life support for the fifth and final time in her young life. Plant’s words speak for themselves.

“The doctors were telling me, ‘Mr. Plant, your daughter is gonna pass away. That’s a tough conversation to have. She was slowly going down and down and down and down. I went to her. It was just me, and I said, ‘You know, this has been a long nineteen months, and I know you have to be tired. And if you are over this, then I’m okay with that. I’m not gonna be mad at you. I’m not gonna be disappointed in you. I’m not gonna be upset with you. If you’re tired of this and you’re done and you don’t want to do this anymore, then your daddy supports you. And I’m gonna be right here.’ And right after that conversation – a conversation that I had never had with her before because, every time before, it was ‘No, this is not gonna happen’ – she started going down. I said, ‘I want you guys to take this stuff off of her because I don’t want her to pass with these tubes down her throat and an EEG machine on her head and sticky and all that stuff.’ They took all that stuff out. They cleaned her off and washed her hair. They took everything out. I got to sit there with her. She took her last breath at 10:55. And I just sat with her there for a long while.”

Adding to the tragedy in Plant’s life, his mother was shot and killed by a police officer in March of this year. According to the Tennessee Bureau of investigation, Beth Plant was being taken to a hospital by ambulance when she became unruly and pulled a knife from her backpack. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and called for assistance from law enforcement. When a policeman arrived, Plant came toward him brandishing the knife and he shot her.

After Plant’s mother died, Caleb posted a message on Facebook that read, “Love you forever and always momma. You always said ‘work hard bubba’ and I did. I know that we spent a lot of time wishing the relationship we had was different but you was still my momma. We both wished we could start from scratch so we could go back and you could have a fresh start with me and Maddie. Regardless you was one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever come across. You had your demons but you’d give the shoes off your feet and your last dollar to someone who needed it less than you. I love you momma and I know you are up there with Alia now and her and grandma finally get to spend time together like we talked about way back. You are the first one out of all of us to see what Alia is really like so make the most of that and kiss her up and tell her that her daddy loves and misses her. I know in the end it’s your demons we always talked about that got the best of you. Maybe you always told me because you knew I’d understand because we shared some of the same ones.”

The saving grace in Plant’s life has been boxing.

“I’ve been boxing since I was nine years old,” Caleb says. “There ain’t never been a Plan B. Not to go to college. Not to get a nine-to-five. Not to get a job. Not to be in the NFL. Not any of that. All I’ve ever had is boxing. I’m from the metho-heroin capital of the U.S. where a mother will sell her child’s last toy for one Xanex. Where a mother will lock her son and her daughter in a room for hours, not taking care of them, just so she can be locked away in her room doing her own stuff. I’m from where the Bethesda Center gives out-of-date canned food to you because you ain’t got no food. There ain’t no Plan B.”

Elaborating on that theme during a July 1 media conference call, Plant declared, “Boxing has always been like a sanctuary for me. It’s been a place that I could go and be somebody. As a kid, I was somebody that nobody would want to be, living in a place where nobody would want to be in. When I got to go to the gym, then I got to be somebody that everybody wanted to be. Grown men looking up to me, oohing and ahhing. And once I got back out of those doors, I had to go back to being that kid that nobody wanted to be. So that became like an addiction for me, to want to be there, want to be in the gym.”

“Through everything that came and left in my life,” Plant continued. “Through all the things that I’ve lost, through all the things I’ve been deprived of or haven’t had, boxing has always stood by my side. Boxing has always been there for me through thick and thin. Boxing is like a woman. If you treat her right and you do good by her, then she’ll stand by you and she’ll do right by you. But she’s a jealous woman. And the difference between me and my opponent is, I haven’t glanced off of her. I haven’t endeavored into other things.”

Mike Lee comes from a world that Caleb Plant is unfamiliar with.

Lee went to high school at the Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. Virtually all of Benet’s students go on to college. Lee spent a year at the University of Missouri before transferring to Notre Dame, where he graduated with a degree in finance. “I relax by watching CNBC,” he told writer Kieran Mulvaney several years ago. “And I like reading the Wall Street Journal.”

For most of Lee’s ring career, he was well marketed and well protected by Top Rank. At one point, he parlayed his Notre Dame pedigree into a much-commented-upon Subway commercial. Recently, he left Top Rank to campaign under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. Now 32 (five years older than Plant), he came into Saturday night’s fight with a 21-0 (11 KOs) record and had fought his entire career at light-heavyweight or a shade higher.

Plant’s opposition had been suspect prior to his victory over Uzcategui. Lee’s opposition had been worse. “The typical Mike Lee opponent,” one matchmaker observed, “has had ten fights and won all but nine of them.”

Kick-off press conferences are usually characterized by the lack of anything eloquent being said. The May 21 press conference for Plant-Lee was different. Lee spoke first, voicing the usual platitudes.

“Every single fight is different. I don’t really care what his other opponents have done in or out of the ring. It doesn’t matter. On fight night, the bell rings, it’s just me and him. The best man will win. I’ve been in so many press conferences where opponents either talk shit or they’re dismissive or they’re respectful. I’ve beat them all. This is an incredible opportunity and I will make the most of it. I’m going to shock a lot of people”

Then it was Plant’s turn.

“I’ve been boxing my whole life,” Caleb said. “No college degree for me. No high school sports. No acting gigs. No Subway commercials. Just boxing, day in and day out, rain, sleet, or snow. He may have a financial degree. But in boxing I have a Ph.D and that’s something he don’t know anything about. Something else I have a Ph.D in is being cold and being hungry and being deprived, coming from very rock bottom. That’s something he don’t know anything about. So if this guy ever thought for one second that I would let him mess this up for me and send me back there; unlike him, I have everything to lose. This is how I keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. That’s something he don’t know anything about. So if he thinks he’s going to mess this up for me, he’s not half as educated as I thought he was.”

At times, the dialogue seemed to verge on class warfare. And it continued in that vein through fight week.

“There are zoo lions and there are jungle lions,” Plant said at the final pre-fight press conference two days before the bout. “The zoo lion will look at the jungle lion and think they’re the same thing. And from a distance they look the same. Until it’s time to eat or be eaten.”

“The trash talking goes back and forth,” Lee responded. “That’s as old as time. Nothing he’s saying is new. It’s all recycled stuff he’s heard on TV or heard in movies. It’s nothing new to me. It doesn’t even bother me. I laugh at it.”

Plant-Lee was broadcast live on Fox as a lead-in to the Pacquiao-Thurman pay-per-view card. Lee was a 15-to-1 underdog. The consensus was that he had as much chance of beating Plant in a boxing match as Yale would have of beating Notre Dame in football.

Nevada’s choice of 76-year-old referee Robert Byrd as third man in the ring was a bit of a surprise. Byrd was once a capable referee, but his performance in recent years has been erratic. The most egregious example of this was his mishandling of the June 15 World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semi-final bout between Mairis Briedis and Krzysztof Glowacki.

Byrd is past the point where he can move nimbly around the ring and was out of position for much of Briedis-Glowacki. His judgment was also faulty. In round two while the fighters were in a clinch, Glowacki hit Breidis in the back of the head with a rabbit punch. Briedis retaliated by flagrantly smashing an elbow into Glowacki’s face, driving the Pole to the canvas. In a post-fight in-the-ring interview on DAZN, Briedis acknowledged the foul, saying, “I did a little bit dirty.”

Glowacki, for his part, noted, “The elbow was really strong and clear to the chin. I did not know what happened. I do not remember a lot after that.”

Byrd deducted a point from Briedis but didn’t give Glowacki additional time to recover. Still hurt, Glowacki was knocked down fifteen seconds later by a two-punch combination that ended with a right hand to the back of the head. He rose. The bell rang to end the round. And Byrd didn’t hear it.

“The bell’s gone,” DAZN blow-by-blow commentator Jim Rosenthal shouted. “They’re carrying on. Come on, referee. I can hear it. Get in there.”

But Byrd allowed the action to continue. With people at ringside waving their arms and screaming at him that the round had ended, he allowed Briedis to batter Glowacki for another eight seconds until Mairis scored another knockdown.

“He’s gone down after the bell,” Rosenthal proclaimed. “What is occurring in there? What is occurring? That bell was ringing for ages. It’s farcical. He’s saying he couldn’t hear the bell. He must have been the only one in the arena.”

A badly damaged Glowacki was allowed out of his corner for round three but the fight was stopped twenty seconds later. In the same post-fight interview on DAZN, Briedis conceded that he’d heard the bell ending round two but kept punching.

As for Plant-Lee, the fight lived down to expectations. Lee tried to fight aggressively but didn’t have the tools to do it. Plant was the faster, stronger, tougher, better schooled fighter. He dropped Lee with a lead left hook late in round one, dug effectively to the body throughout, and put Lee on the canvas thrice more in the third stanza. After the final knockdown, Byrd stopped the mismatch. According to CompuBox, Lee landed just eight punches in the entire bout.

It will be interesting to see how Plant progresses from here, in and out of the ring. In that regard, it should be noted that writer Jeremy Herriges talked at length recently with Carman Jean Briscoe-Lee (Alia’s mother, who was once Caleb’s companion). Thereafter, Herriges wrote a thought-provoking article for NY Fights that calls portions of Plant’s narrative into question.

A Missing Part of the Caleb Plant Story 

 

Meanwhile, Caleb remains a work in progress.

“I’m not a grown man,” he said during a July 1 media conference call. “I’m a growing man. So I’m going to continue to become better in the ring. I’m going to continue to become a better man outside the ring. Thus far, I think I’ve done a good job of handling that responsibility. If I just continue to follow what I’ve done, I think I’ll be on the right path.”

Let’s see how the journey unfolds.

Thomas Hauser’s new email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – will published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Rey Vargas: “The featherweight title is absolutely still mine”

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Although there have been many speculations and comments about his boxing future, Mexican Rey Vargas affirms with total conviction that he will only decide after his fight against American O’Shaquie Foster on February 11th at the Alamodome in Texas.

Undefeated and current WBC featherweight champion, Vargas (36-0, 22 KOs) will seek to add the vacant WBC super featherweight belt that American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) lost on the scale last September when he beat Brazilian Robson Conceicao (17-2, 8 KOs) by unanimous decision.

Referring to his 126-pound title, Vargas expressed via a translator, “The featherweight title is absolutely still mine, so no worries about that. As far as 130, this is definitely an interesting challenge, an interesting place to be. We haven’t really decided what we’re gonna do afterwards, but we’re focused on the moment right now. Let’s focus on this fight, on this great crowd that we’re gonna be in front of, and then whatever happens, it will come after this fight.”

Born 32 years ago in the Federal District and residing in Otumba, Mexico, Vargas captured the world featherweight belt in February 2017, defeating Gavin McDonnell (22-2-3, 6 KOs) by majority decision at the Ice Arena in McDonnell’s hometown of Hull, England.

During the following two years, he made five successful defenses and in November 2021 he was victorious in a 10-round bout against his compatriot Leonardo Báez (21-5, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.

Eight months later, in his second appearance at 126 pounds, Vargas defeated then-undefeated Philippine champion Mark Magsayo (24-1, 16 KOs) by split decision. Magsayo was defending his WBC belt for the first time that night at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

After beating Magsayo, Vargas’s representatives made arrangements to collide with Mexican Leo Santa Cruz (38-2-1, 19 KOs), who at that time was the WBA featherweight super champion.

However, the agreement with Santa Cruz did not materialize and Vargas directed his attention towards the 130-pound belt, which Stevenson lost at the weigh-in in September. Considering his status as champion, the WBC agreed to Vargas’ request and ordered him to compete with O’Foster, who is ranked at the top of the category.

In a statement on its website, the WBC specified that the winner between Vargas and Foster has the obligation to make two defenses, according to the rules and regulations of that sanctioning body.

“The Leo Santa Cruz fight is definitely something that we have been meaning to do for years now,” Vargas said. “But as the process got more complicated and other stuff just kept getting in our way, this door opened for us where it was definitely an interesting challenge, something that can be as good as the Leo Santa Cruz fight.”

“(I’m) in a new division, the super featherweight division, where I can test myself,” said Vargas. Yes, it’s not my division per se, but I’m always up to new and exciting challenges, and this is definitely one of them. So, even though this isn’t the Leo Santa Cruz fight, it can definitely live up to the hype just as that one would.”

Foster (19-2, 11 KOs) has nine successive wins, the most recent against Tajikistan southpaw Muhammadkhuja Yakubon on March 18 of last year in Dubai, where they fought for the WBC silver belt.

Born 29 years ago in Orange, Texas, Foster said in an interview that this opportunity to face Vargas for the 130-pound crown “is a dream come true. And I’m so happy I can’t even hide it.”

Foster continued, “It’s something that I’ve been working for since I was eight years old. I never had a dream to be an Olympian, it was always to be a world champion so I’m feeling great and I’m ready to put on a show for the world.

“I feel like everything is happening at the right time and it’s my time to take over. I would love to unify once I get the title and then go undisputed if I can.  I’ve got big, big, big aspirations coming up.  We’re going to make it happen.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Navarrete Overcomes Adversity to TKO Wilson in a Corker

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Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete won his 31st straight fight, pushing his record to 37-1 (31) and captured a title in a third weight class tonight at the Desert Diamond Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, but nearly came a cropper himself in a match in which both he and his opponent Liam Wilson were on the deck and hurt on multiple occasions. At stake was the WBO 130-pound belt vacated by Shakur Stevenson.

The obscure 26-year-old Wilson, subbing for Oscar Valdez who had to pull out with a rib injury, was making his U.S. debut and appearing in his first scheduled 12-rounder. The skinny on him was that he had a puncher’s chance because of a powerful left hook, but with only 12 pro fights on his ledger he was a massive underdog.

Navarrete got a taste of that left hook in the fourth round which Wilson landed after landing a hard overhand right, and suddenly it appeared that the Queenslander was poised to score the biggest upset in Australian boxing history since Jeff Horn upended Manny Pacquiao. Navarrete hit the deck, lost his mouthpiece and was clearly hurt, but managed to survive the round after precious seconds elapsed as he was getting his mouthpiece re-fitted.

Navarrete fought his way back into the fight and was having a strong sixth round until the final 30 seconds when Wilson hurt him again, this time with a right hook. But the Mexican weathered the storm, winning the next two rounds decisively and closed the show in round nine when he put the intrepid Aussie on the deck with an overhand right, the prelude to an assault that forced the referee to waive it off.

Semi-windup

In a tactical junior welterweight fight that heated up in the final round, LA’s Arnold Barboza continued his steady ascent toward a title fight with a narrow but unanimous decision over Puerto Rican veteran Jose Pedraza, a former Olympian and world title-holder in two weight divisions.

Barboza, who fights well off his back foot but isn’t a hard puncher, won by scores of 97-93 and 96-94 twice to push his record to 28-0. The 33-year-old Barboza fell to 29-5-1.

Also

In the opening bout on ESPN’s main platform, Tulare, California’s Richard Torrez Jr, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Summer Games, scored his fifth fast knockout in as many opportunities at the expense late sub James Bryant

Torrez came out like gangbusters, as is his custom, and sent Bryant stumbling back into the ropes with a harsh left uppercut followed by a straight hand in the waning seconds of the opening round. A highly decorated high school football player in Pennsylvania who had a cup of coffee with two NFL teams, Bryant, 37, was saved by the bell but elected not to come out for round two.

Torrez has mentioned that he would welcome a fight with British up-and-comer Frazer Clarke. Both were defeated in the Tokyo Olympics by fearsome Uzbek southpaw Bakhodir Jalolov, the heavy favorite.

ESPN+

Las Vegas super featherweight Andres Cortes (19-0) overcame a deep cut on his left eyelid to keep his undefeated record intact with a lopsided decision over Luis Melendez. The cut was caused by an accidental clash of heads in round six. Cut man deluxe “Stitch” Duran used his magic potion to stem the bleeding and the match continued on its established course. Cortes, the busier fighter, won all 10 rounds on all three cards. Melendez, a Puerto Rican from Hialeah, Florida, declined to 17-3.

Nico Ali Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, advanced to 8-0 (5) with a unanimous decision over a local fighter, Eduardo Ayala (9-3-1), in a six-round middleweight affair. The scores were 60-53 and 59-54 twice.

Walsh, who sparred with Caleb Plant in preparation for this fight, had Ayala on the canvas in round two, compliments of a short right hand, but his durable opponent managed to last the distance.

In an 8-round junior welterweight match, Mexico’s Lindolfo Delgado, a 2016 Rio Olympian, advanced to 17-0 (13) with a unanimous decision over Clarence Booth (21-7), a 35-year-old Floridian. The scores were 80-71 and 79-72 twice.

The heavy-handed Delgado, who had Robert Garcia in his corner, scored the fight’s lone knockdown, knocking Booth off his pins in the final stanza with a chopping right hand to the ear.

In the ESPN+ opener, 18-year-old Emiliano Vargas (3-0, 2 KOs) won a 4-round unanimous decision over 19-year-old Tex-Mex southpaw Francisco Duque (1-2). Vargas won all four rounds, but Duque had several good moments.

Emiliano Vargas is the youngest and most well-touted of three fighting sons of Fernando Vargas, the former U.S. Olympian and two-time world super welterweight champion.

A 10-round super featherweight fight between Zavier Martinez (18-1) and Yohan Vasquez (25-3) was cancelled when it became obvious that Martinez would not make the contracted weight.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: An Act of War Benavidez vs Plant Press Confab

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LOS ANGELES-Heated words straight out of a burning furnace filled the cool air in downtown L.A. at the press conference on Thursday for top super middleweight contenders David Benavidez and Caleb Plant.

“Every fighter has one of these grudge matches that brings the best out of them. I don’t like Caleb at all, but I want to thank him for bringing the animal out of me. I’m more motivated than ever,” said Benavidez. “On March 25, I finally get to put hands on Caleb Plant.”

Plant was cool in his response.

“This rivalry only started because we agree to disagree on who’s better. And that’s fine, he should feel like that. That’s how great fighters are supposed to feel. It’s slowly built up over time,” said Plant.

Both are former world champions and both are ready to engage.

A large media turnout arrived at the Conga Room in LA Live to witness the two opposite style fighters, much like fire and ice.

Fiery Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) seemed eager to fight on the stage as the mere presence and cool demeanor of Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) seemed to ignite anger. They have both agreed to meet in the prize ring on March 25, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Showtime pay-per-view will televise the TGB Promotions card.

“If you know anything about boxing, you know this is one of the very best fights that can be made in the sport. The consensus No. 1 and No. 2 contenders in this division,” said Stephen Espinoza president of Showtime boxing. “This is a high-stakes matchup, personally and professionally. There’s a personal rivalry here. There are bragging rights here. There is supremacy in the division at stake.”

Both fighters have held world titles before and for years debates sprung up on who was better.

Benavidez was the youngest super middleweight champion at 20 when he first won the WBC version in 2017 defeating Ronald Gavril. He lost the title for testing positive for illegal substances the next year. In 2019 he faced Anthony Dirrell for the WBC title again and stopped him in nine rounds in Los Angeles. However, he failed to make weight in his next fight and lost the title again on the scales.

He is hungry to regain a world title but even more hungry to defeat Plant.

“I’ve been wanting to fight him for a long time and now the winner of this fight gets to be the mandatory for Canelo Alvarez. I’m super motivated,” Benavidez said.

Plant agrees that their match up is motivating because the winner gets Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and a hefty payday.

“I knew I was next in line to fight the interim champ before that fight, and that meant David Benavidez. I’m in the fight that I want,” said Plant who formerly held the IBF title.

Plant’s last fight was voted WBA Knockout of the Year when he double-left-hooked Dirrell to unconsciousness last October in Brooklyn. It was a shocking ending. His fight before that saw him lose the world title to Canelo Alvarez by knockout.

No shame in losing to Canelo.

Now the title former world titlists are eager to regain their former status and grab a mega payday fighting Alvarez. It’s perhaps the best fight in over a year for men’s boxing.

“I believe that this fight between David Benavidez and Caleb Plant will be added to the list of epic brawls between two warriors taking it to the next level,” said Tom Brown of TGB Promotions. “This fight will be one of, if not the winner of Fight of the Year this year. This is one you don’t want to miss.”

Top Rank

Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs) challenges Australia’s Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs) for the vacant WBO super featherweight title today, Feb. 3, at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona. ESPN+ will stream the Top Rank card.

Wilson, 26, has never fought outside of Australia but is known for his strength and power. He is also taller than Navarrete.

Navarrete and Wilson

Navarrete and Wilson

Navarrete is the former WBO featherweight champion and has not lost a fight in over a decade.

Also, Arnold Barboza (27-0) meets Jose Pedraza (29-4-1) in a super lightweight battle. And several others such as Lindolfo Delgado, Richard Torrez and Nico Ali Walsh will be performing.

Ontario Card

Southern California’s hot super lightweight prospect Ernesto “Tito” Mercado (8-0, 8 Kos) fights Jose Angulo (14-4) at the LumColor Center in Ontario, California on Saturday, Feb. 4. RedBoxing Promotions is staging the event.

Doors open at 6 p.m.

Photo credits: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME; Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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