POUND-FOR-POUND king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez saying he intends to unify the 168lbs division this year adds interest to Caleb Plant’s defence of his IBF belt against veteran overachiever Caleb Truax in Los Angeles on Saturday (January 30) night. Talks about a Canelo-Plant fight broke down last year. Canelo instead took the WBA belt from Callum Smith last month while winning the vacant WBC strap in the process and Plant meets Truax, a former IBF champion who’s now 37 years old.

For Plant, it is his first fight since last February when he used willing German Vincent Feigenbutz (31-2) as target practice for 10 rounds before it was stopped.

He starts a heavy favourite, but British fans will remember Truax outhustling 1/100 James DeGale on a majority points vote at the Copper Box Arena in December 2017 to win this title.

DeGale put that result down to rushing back from shoulder surgery and in the rematch four months later, he was more robust and won unanimously. Two scores of 114-113 told the tale of a closer fight than it was but Truax again showed what a gritty and awkward competitor he can be.

Truax (31-4-2-1 NC) has fought three times since, including a match with Peter Quillin (34-1-1) that was ruled a no contest after he was cut. He pulled out against veteran warhorse Alfred Angulo (26-7) last August through dehydration.

Nothing seems to bode well for his chances here.

Last time out, Truax only got past 41-year-old Ugandan David Basajjamivule (16-4-1) on a majority decision after his opponent was docked two points. Without the deductions, Truax would have lost. Perhaps he was undermotivated. No matter; despite the indifferent form and no win over a ranked fighter since 2017, Truax retained his place at No.3 in the IBF rankings.

Plant is a fighter on the way up.

The quick-fisted and slippery 28-year-old from Nashville makes the third defence of the title he took from rangy Venezuelan Jose Uzcategui (28-2) two years ago.

Plant scored knockdowns in the second and fourth rounds and though he won clearly enough by margins of four and six rounds (twice), he boxed from the fourth with a cut over his right eye inflicted by a left hook. That was also the punch that had Plant in a spot of bother in the ninth. He lost his balance briefly, but kept his wits about him and saw every punch coming when Uzcategui jumped all over him looking for the finish. For much of the fight, Uzcategui was reluctant to let his hands go.

Plant, who first went to the gym aged eight and won Golden Gloves honours in a 117-bout amateur career, was often an inch or two out of range and when Uzcategui was able to force exchanges, Plant got the better of it.

The fourth round knockdown came moments after Plant was cut. Uzcategui went for him, they traded punches and when they landed left hooks simultaneously, it was Uzcategui who landed on the seat of his trunks.

By comparison, Plant’s two subsequent defences have been drama-free. Mike Lee (21-0) and Feigenbutz both lacked the tools to bother him.
Lee was down four times and stopped in the third, while Feigenbutz soaked up a lot of punishment and tried to fire back until a final combination in the 10th convinced the referee he had taken enough. Truax says he needs to stop Plant unloading combinations.

“He’s quicker and crafty,” said Plant. “I don’t think I can stay on the outside and box him. I need to go to the body early and stick with it. My pressure makes people make mistakes. That’s how I fight.”

The way he holds his lead hand low and dips to the right when he jabs makes Plant look open, but he doesn’t take too many clean punches. He has good feet, sees punches coming and lets opponents knows when they’ve missed him. The champion is fond of looking into the crowd the way Billy-Joe Saunders did after making David Lemieux miss with a haymaker.

Plant looks comfortable when opponents come to him, but Truax believes he brings an intelligent pressure the champion hasn’t seen before, the sort of intelligent pressure that got DeGale where Truax wanted him in their first fight and kept him there.

That was a result that nobody outside Truax’s camp saw coming. Truax was considered fortunate to get a shot having previously fallen well short against Daniel Jacobs (28-1) and Anthony Dirrell (28-1-1) and talking to him at the weigh in didn’t make anyone want to run to the nearest bookmakers and bet their house on him.

He told me how he was looking forward to spending a few days sightseeing with his family after the fight in a ‘I’m-just-happy-to-be-here’ manner. The following night, Truax fought his heart out from first bell to last to beat DeGale on a deserved decision.

Perhaps Plant, who’s been using words like “legacy” and “greatness” in recent weeks, will overlook Truax the way DeGale did. But it’s a huge ‘perhaps’, even by boxing’s standards.

Plant looks the better all-round fighter while Truax has been showing signs of wear and tear. Even at his best, it would have been difficult ask for Truax. We go for Plant to finish his challenger around the halfway mark of this 12-rounder.

The Verdict Plant under pressure to look good against former beltholder.