From an early age, Caleb Plant was tried and tested. His story of living in a mobile trailer in Ashland, Tennessee, with his family has already been documented. And after being asked about it again, he revealed a few brutal truths to Hannibal Boxing: sometimes the only warmth he had was from space heaters and sometimes the Plant family relied on donations for food.
“If you’re asking me if we grew up poor,” Plant said, “then I would say yes.”
Plant, twenty-six, isn’t looking for sympathy, but these are the facts about his life, one that has been balanced with direction from his father Richie, who has played a pivotal part in leading him to where he is now.
On Sunday night, Plant gets his first shot at a world title, when he enters the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles as an underdog against IBF super middleweight champion Jose Uzcategui.
The fight, scheduled to take place last year, is overdue. It was postponed when Plant had to undergo surgery to his left hand after suffering an injury in a sparring session. Ring rust is fact or fiction depending on whom you consult, but this will be Plant’s first fight in just under a year.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Plant said. “I stayed in the gym, I stayed sharpening my tools, doing the things I could and honestly it just made me a better me.”
A better version of Plant could trouble Uzcategui, the aggressive Venezuelan (now based in Mexico), with a 28-2 (23) record. But Plant is unintimidated for a very good reason: there is no pain that can be inflicted upon him that he hasn’t already experienced. “All the things that I was scared of and feared, all of those things have already happened to me in my life.”
It’s a fearlessness gained through experience, not machismo. Caleb Plant has lived through hardship but also suffered every parent’s worst nightmare. In 2015, his nineteen-month-old daughter Alia died. Like her father, Alia was a battler. Diagnosed with a rare medical condition she fought on bravely for nearly two years.
How was he still able to carry on and fight six times that year? “I buried her on a Thursday,” Plant said, “the next Thursday I was in the gym. And it was hard to keep it together throughout my workouts, hard not to tear up, some emotions did get to me but I was determined to stay in the gym, continue on with what I had promised her and my mission that I had started long before her. I don’t fold . . . for anybody . . . for anything. And that’s no disrespect to anyone else, how they would handle it, how they would grieve but me. . . . I do not fold for anybody or anything. I do not quit for anybody or anything. No matter what. In boxing, in life, whatever pressure is given to me I will come out the other side. I knew that I had a job to continue. I’m a man. My job is to continue on. That’s what my father taught me and that’s what I did. And that’s what I’m doing.”
One could imagine that boxing, training, or working on fight night would provide a perfect release of mixed emotions for the trauma he had just been through. That, however, began long before Alia died. The gym has been Caleb’s sanctuary his entire life and has been the one place where he can let go of whatever has been burning up inside him.
Caleb Plant’s boxing story began with his father, a former fighter himself. “I wanted to be just like him,” Plant recalled. “He wanted to see if he could scramble up a little money to try and open up a gym so, when I was older, I wouldn’t just be running around with my buddies getting into trouble, because it seems to happen a lot where I’m from. And he did and it wasn’t special or nice by any means but it was a place for us to go.”
“It didn’t even have a boxing ring,” he continued. “It was just tape on the floor and when we would spar people would be around it holding hands. We sparred there and we had one heavy bag and that was it, and some mirrors on the wall. But it was a place for us and that’s what we wanted and that’s where we spent our time. As soon as he opened that up, I took off. At that point, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. At that point, there was nothing else I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be a doctor, I didn’t want to be a firefighter . . . I just wanted to fight. I knew at that point what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
As a child, Caleb Plant used to sleep in a dresser drawer; as he puts it: “The story goes from there.” All the things he has been deprived of have molded him into something far greater than a fighter. His bout on Sunday night will be his eighteenth, but he has won many more fights outside the ring.
“I owe it to the cards I’ve been dealt,” Plant said. “The hand that I’ve been dealt has made me who I am today. I know the importance of this fight. I know what’s on the line. The difference is I know what I’m up against and I don’t think that Uzcategui does.”