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LAS VEGAS — The boxing ring is a place of violence. Men have lost their lives inside the squared circle, leaked countless gallons of blood, suffered enough cuts that when added together would be wider than the Grand Canyon. They broke bones and tore ligaments and lost their teeth and destroyed their eyes, punctured their ear drums and had their brains bouncing around inside their skulls repeatedly.
It is a cold and cruel and often unfair place.
For Caleb Plant, it is also a place of refuge, the place he goes to right the wrongs, to flee the cold, hard realities of a life far too savage for a 29-year-old to deal with on his own.
This is a young man who lost his daughter at 18 months old, saw his 50-year-old drug-addicted mother shot to death by police. As a boy, he helped his mother sell drugs. He lived the kind of life that few can relate to, with hate and despair and crime and violence enveloping him.
He’s seen it, survived it all, and he’s out on the other side, wearing a slick suit and calmly answering questions about his fight for the undisputed super middleweight title on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden against Canelo Alvarez.
Alvarez is the big deal here, the best fighter in the world who is a win away from a historic victory that would make him the first male Latino boxer to hold an undisputed crown. He’ll make at least $40 million for the quest, and he’ll be greeted by a hero’s welcome.
If Plant's been asked once, he’s been asked 10,000 times about whether he feels pressure in meeting Alvarez.
Pressure isn’t stepping in the ring and fighting another man for a couple of million dollars. Pressure is not being able to go to sleep at night because you’re afraid your infant daughter won’t be alive when you wake up.
Pressure is trying to repair a relationship with a mother whose life was ruined by drugs and who did things in front of her son that no young child should see.
Fighting another man with gloves on his fists, even if it’s the best fighter there is, isn’t going to faze Plant.
“It’s been a long journey for me and my dad [co-trainer Richie Plant],” said Plant, who learned to box in a ring with no ropes, but rather with tape put on the floor. “Those tough moments made me the fighter that I am now.”
He’s a massive underdog and few are taking him seriously. BetMGM has Alvarez as a -1000 favorite with Plant at +625.
Those odds have little to do with Plant and everything to do with Alvarez. Alvarez is the blue-chipper, the surefire Hall of Famer, the guy who at just 31 is already considered one of the best of all time.
The vast majority of Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks who are in the Hall of Fame. Twenty-six Super Bowls have been won with a starting quarterback who is already in the Hall of Fame. Add Tom Brady (7), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Eli Manning (2), Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes who have all won Super Bowls and look likely to make the Hall of Fame, and that total rises to 41 of 55 games having been won by a Hall of Fame quarterback.
That’s why Alvarez is so heavily favored.
But for every Super Bowl won by Rodgers, Wilson and Mahomes, there have been those won by Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Nick Foles.
That’s the hope for Plant. He doesn’t have the résumé yet that Alvarez does, but all he needs to do is be better on this one night. He can’t afford mistakes and he needs to capitalize on those Alvarez makes.
Plant has said and done just about everything perfectly from the moment the bout was signed in August. He’s stood up for himself when necessary. He refused to be intimidated by either Alvarez’s aura or his lofty reputation. And he hasn’t appeared to be bothered by the scores of naysayers who remind him that he’s fighting the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, and is a massive underdog.
And the truth is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him handle himself similarly through the fight. It’s no fluke he’s an undefeated champion. He’s a guy who commits to what he is doing.
On the night his 18-month-old daughter died, Plant had promised her he’d win a world title for her. When he did, the first trip he made was to her grave, where he placed the belt on her grave marker, knelt down and wept while praying.
He’s vowed to win this undisputed title, becoming just the sixth man in the four-belt era to do it, following Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford, Oleksandr Usyk and Josh Taylor.
He’s been scoffed at and ignored, overlooked and underestimated much of his life. It’s happening again, and it’s music to trainer Justin Gamber’s ears.
“I know that people are overlooking Caleb and that’s perfect for us,” Gamber said. “Caleb is just like me, because for our whole lives, when someone told us that we couldn’t do something, we love to prove them wrong. It just drives us even more.”
Alvarez will hit him hard on Saturday. Very hard.
But Caleb Plant knows deep in his core that Alvarez will never be able to hit him as hard as life has already.
And that is what makes him dangerous and has him believing that, yeah, he really can do this.