CALEB PLANT, the IBF super-middleweight champion, knows Britain has a lot to offer the 168lbs division.
Liverpool’s Callum Smith holds the WBA title, Brighton’s popular Chris Eubank Jnr defeated James DeGale earlier this year and Billy Joe Saunders plays a key role too after moving up to win the WBO belt in a second weight class.
“I appreciate the UK fans, they’re a huge part of boxing. They treat their fighters well, they’re huge boxing fans. [The next fight] makes me come a step closer to filling up an arena over there one day in a unification,” Plant told Boxing News.
Though he adds, “I don’t think that any of these super-middleweights are on my level. I feel like I’m the best super-middleweight in the entire world.”
His first world title defence comes against Mike Lee in Las Vegas, sharing the bill with the Manny Pacquiao vs Keith Thurman world title clash. “I don’t want to start talking too far about the future or anything because you start counting your chickens before they hatch and they don’t even hatch. The goal one day is to unify, become undisputed. But other than me saying that, I don’t really care about any other champion, any other fight, I don’t care about anything or anybody that’s out there besides July 20,” he cautions.
But this next fight, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, marks a landmark on Plant’s remarkable journey. The man from Tennesse has risen from, in boxing terms that is, nowhere. “As a kid I grew up in a place called Ashland City, which is right outside of Nashville. It was a pretty small town, there’s probably not over 3,000 people in there,” he explains. “Not really a lot going on, a pretty poor town, not a lot of opportunities or things going on. No boxers in there. Nobody had even been a competitive boxer from there before.
“The road to that world title and just the road to this fight, everything that happened up to this point, it’s been a ride. A lot of peaks and a lot of valleys inside the ring, inside the gym, outside the ring, outside the gym. It’s been a crazy journey that’s for sure.”
His life has been scarred by tragedy. His infant daughter passed away and only this year his mother was killed in a police shooting. He has had to cope. “I picked up the pieces as best as I could and carried on,” Plant said bluntly. “It was simple but it wasn’t easy. That was to keep carrying on or to quit. I had already come so far. I’ve always been passionate about this, I’ve always wanted this really badly. So I could either quit or I could keep going. For me quitting’s not really an option. This is a one way mission for me, a one way journey. So I don’t feel like there’s any turning back for me. There is no plan B.”
Boxing for him has been a kind of sanctuary. “There have been times where I’ve been in the gym after certain things have happened, I can’t lie and say I was only thinking about boxing at that time. At least I wasn’t completely sulking in the situation, at least I was in there with my mind halfway off things. For the most part when I’ve gone to a boxing gym, instead of having to worry about a million things I can just worry about the task at hand and focus on the task at hand. And just escape from the world for a minute,” he said. “This has given me an outlet. A place to go and not have to be concerned with everything that’s going on in the world. Just for that short amount of time that I’m in there, I can kind of let everything else go and just focus on what I love and what my passion is. In the world you can’t really control everything that happens but inside the boxing gym, unless you have a freak injury or a freak accident, I can control what goes on. I can control sparring, I can control what’s happening here in sparring, I can control when I’m fighting, what’s going on in the fight.”
His chance to win a world title came against Jose Uzcategui, a feared opponent, whom he went in with as the underdog. “Some losses as an amateur, a lot of losses outside of the ring. It came down to that one moment, to do so well and be so successful that night, because the fight wasn’t even that close, against a guy who a lot of people thought was going to whoop me and knock me out or whatever,” Plant recalled. “I felt it was my chance to properly introduce myself to the boxing world and to everyone tuning in. Before that fight I hadn’t the chance against someone who would bring out all of my skill and everything that I had to offer. I knew that would be the fight where I got to properly introduce myself.
“To do what I knew I could do was just a fairytale ending to that portion of my journey. Then to get engaged with my fiancé, it was a special night.”
But Plant, just 18-0 and 26 years old, promises this is only the beginning. “It was a goal to become a world champion,” he says, “it wasn’t the goal. I’m really still getting started.”