THE vultures came out in force for the head of Caleb Plant in February.
Fresh from the second successful defense of his IBF super-middleweight title, a 10th round stoppage of Vincent Feigenbutz, the Tennessee native wanted to take a little time to recharge his batteries and simply get away from the sport for a bit. It was an understandable request, but not to the fans and pundits who then trashed him when it was rumoured that he was going to be offered a May 2 bout with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Plant wasn’t interested. Not with a shortened camp, not right after a fight, not even if it was going to be the most lucrative bout of his career. For him, to take a fight like that, he wanted to give himself the best possible chance to win, even if a loss would have been easily excused by matters such as the relative short notice and less than ideal training conditions.
“I’m in this to win it, I’m in this for the long haul,” said Plant. “I could have taken the fight and things would have happened where nobody would have blinked an eye, but I would have blinked an eye because I would have known that I took the fight for the money. The fans today, they get so mad when they say, ‘Oh, he’s just in it for the money, he’s just in it for the fame.’ Then they get a fighter like me, who’s not in it for the fame and not just in it for the money, who cares about being great, who cares about legacy, who cares about pride and respect, and then they don’t like that either.”
Caleb Plant chuckles.
“If I walked on water, they’d say I couldn’t swim.”
The 28-year-old didn’t take the fight with Alvarez, who didn’t wind up fighting in May anyway thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then came a legal fight with his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, and television partner DAZN, that finally reached an end on November 6 when the Mexican superstar became a free agent. Now Alvarez wants to fight in December. And he reportedly wants that bout to be against Plant.
The 168-pound champ didn’t want to comment on this latest development, but when Boxing News spoke to him last month, he was determined that he would ultimately get Canelo in the ring.
“I’m gonna get to Canelo and me and Canelo will fight,” Plant said. “That’s a fight that I said in the past many times that I wanted and that’s a fight that I’m saying now that I want.”
That’s not to say the early-year criticism didn’t still sting a bit. But as far as he’s concerned, a world champion should be treated as such in matters like these.
“Some people say, well, look at Andy Ruiz, he took a fight on short notice,” said Plant of the former heavyweight champ who shocked the world when he halted Anthony Joshua in June 2019, only to lose a rematch six months later. “But did that wind up being too good to be true? It absolutely did and he lost his belts again because things like that don’t work in boxing. He got lucky once and that was it for him. At the same time, I’m already a world champion and Andy Ruiz was not, so I’ve already solidified myself as a world-class fighter who demands the respect of a world-class fighter.”
It’s been a long journey to earn that respect for Plant, who picked up his first belt in January 2019 with a hard-fought decision win over Jose Uzcategui. The Venezuelan was the favorite leading up to the bout, considered too heavy-handed and too rugged for Plant. It was an insult to the challenger, who saw more than his share of hard times growing up in Ashland City, Tennessee.
“Where I’m from, there’s a lot of poverty, there’s a lot of drugs, there’s not a whole lot of opportunities,” he said. “There’s honor in all work, no matter what you do. But some work is meant for some people and some people are okay with some work and some people just feel like they’re not meant for that, that they’re meant for something more. And I felt like that at a young age and I wasn’t really willing to accept anything less than where I’m at now. And if I didn’t get up and go do what I had to do to get here, then I’d be stuck where I’m from and I just don’t think that’s a good place to be.”
Boxing was the way out for Plant, who had a solid amateur career, winning a National Golden Gloves title in 2011 and earning an alternate spot on the 2012 United States Olympic team. He was a natural to turn pro and he did just that in 2014, knocking out Travis Davidson in 47 seconds.
Back then, pro boxing was his way out. There was little talk of things that he discusses these days, like legacy, unification fights and championship belts. Boxing was going to pay the bills – nothing more, nothing less – especially when he and his then-girlfriend Carman Jean Briscoe brought a daughter, Alia, into the world in 2013.
“I turned pro because I had Alia, I had bills to pay, I wanted to get all this money and get all the things I never had as a child,” he said.
Unfortunately, Alia wouldn’t get the chance to reap the rewards of her father’s work, as she was forced to fight the rare brain condition Aicar Transformylase Imp Cyclohydrolase Deficiency from birth. In January 2015, after a valiant battle, she passed away at just 19 months old.
Plant fought on, but tragedy wasn’t done with him yet, as his mother, Beth, was shot and killed after pulling a knife on a police officer in March 2019. By then, Plant was already a world champion and far removed from the life he grew up in back in Tennessee. But some scars never heal.
In September, he posted a photo of Alia on Instagram with the caption: “I hustle harder for ghosts then a lot of them do for people that are still here.”
I ask him if he’s found any peace.
“In a lot of ways, I’m a lot more at peace than I once was,” he said. “Some voids probably never get filled, but in a lot of ways, things have definitely turned around for me.”
He is one of boxing’s rising stars, he’s a world champion and could be fighting the biggest superstar in the game by the end of 2020. Plant also married FOX Sports reporter Jordan Hardy in 2019 and proceeded to make all married men look bad when he gave her 400 roses to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary in October. The couple even made the time off due to the pandemic work for them.
“I haven’t been able to do some things in boxing I’ve wanted, but me and Jordan have been on top of other things to help us be successful,” he said. “We financed our house, I got my credit score up to 740, we got our first rental property, and we invested in stocks when they were at their lowest. I’m in this for the long run, so I’m looking to be here and be successful for a long time.”
Plant has come a long way from Tennessee, but he’s never forgotten his home state and where he came from, and the lessons learned there. It’s what’s helped him move on from the dark days of his life.
“At one point, it was, if I don’t [move forward], I’m gonna die right here where I stand,” he said. “So it was out of survival. And then once I got so far along, it was ‘I’m too far to turn back now.’ I’m on a one-way mission. I don’t have a Plan B. This boxing has had to work out for me. And now I’m so far in it and have become so successful at it, it would be silly for me to stop and if I do stop, I could wind up right back where I’m from. And if I have to go back there, I know nothing good is gonna come from it.”
So Caleb Plant fights, because fighting is all he knows. And if some think living a good life now has taken away his hunger, they’re about to find out that they’re dead wrong.
“To be honest, I’m not there yet,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be. And that’s not because I need a chip on my shoulder. I do have a chip on my shoulder, but when I won that world title, I didn’t get to the peak of the mountain; I was finally at the base of the mountain and now I’m working my way up to the peak. So once I won that world title, a lot of people think, ‘Well, I’m not the hunter anymore; I’m the hunted.’ But I’m still the hunter. I’m still out on this mission to obtain what I need and what I want. A world title was not the goal. To win A world title was A goal, but it wasn’t THE goal, so there’s still a lot more for me to accomplish in boxing, there’s still a lot more for me to obtain. This is about respect for me. I’ve been told so many times what I can and can’t be, that I don’t belong here, that this sport isn’t for me or whatever it is. And the only thing that’s better than proving somebody right is proving somebody wrong.”