Super middleweight champion Caleb Plant is undefeated after 19 fights but all too familiar with loss.
A different kind of loss.
The kind that’s far more damaging than any jab, hook or uppercut he’s been hit with.
Plant, who will fight Mike Lee on Saturday on the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, lost his 19-month-old daughter, Alia, in 2015 to complications from an unknown medical condition. And this March, his mother, Beth, was shot and killed by a police officer in his native Tennessee.
He’s eternally heartbroken.
And eternally focused on honoring their legacies by creating his legacy.
“In every decision, there’s two ways you can go. To quit, to stop, or to let it beat you. Or you can beat it,” the 27-year-old Las Vegas resident said. “I feel like I’m a conqueror. That’s what I do. I conquer things.”
Plant was raised in Ashland City, Tennessee, a town of about 4,500 without any boxing culture to speak of around 25 miles from Nashville. He grew up in a trailer — sometimes without heat during glacial winters or air conditioning during sweltering summers — but found comfort in martial arts, kickboxing and boxing.
Refuge while he coped with the perils of poverty.
“That was a constant in his life that really nothing from the outside touched,” said his father, Richie, a former kickboxer who opened the area’s first gym. “No matter what seemed to be going on or what the situation was, we always had that to go and do every afternoon. Rain or sun. It didn’t matter. We were always there.”
The younger Plant traveled the country as an adolescent amateur, collecting boxing and kickboxing championships while striving toward an inevitable professional career. He journeyed to London in 2012 as a 165-pound alternate with the U.S. Olympic boxing team and aggregated additional titles abroad, thereby validating his potential.
“Where I’m from, there’s really not a whole lot going on. … Because everyone is in the same situation, no one really sees it as an issue,” Plant said. “I just knew it was a big world out there, and I wanted to experience it. I think it really opened my eyes. I wanted to obtain more.”
In 2013, Plant fathered Alia, who was born with several unknown complications that required consistent medical attention. Promoters backed off Plant as he immersed himself in fatherhood, intent to provide the best possible life for his daughter.
“I think it just scared a lot of people off because they thought, ‘Here’s this young kid with this disabled child. Probably going to get distracted and fall off,’” Plant said. “Everybody stopped returning my calls.”
Except for Premier Boxing Champions’ Al Haymon, with whom Plant signed in 2014.
Tragedy to triumph
Plant debuted as a professional in May 2014 and continued to balance boxing and parenthood.
Alia, hospitalized for months on end, suffered from daily seizures, sustained permanent brain damage and was on life support five times.
She died Jan. 29, 2015.
“It’s not something you really get over,” Plant said. “It’s not something you ever become OK with or learn to accept. It’s just something that you’ve got to carry.”
So he continued fighting.
For himself. For Alia.
“Through me is how she gets to continue to live,” he said. “It’s important to me that I continue to be successful and do right and try to inspire others, because through my success is how she gets to keep living and how her name and spirit get passed on.”
Plant won eight of his first nine professional fights by knockout and matured into a top prospect in the super middleweight division. He earned a title shot in January against IBF champion Jose Uzcategui and defeated him by unanimous decision.
Now, he’ll defend the title for the first time against Lee (21-0, 11 knockouts), some four months after the death of his mother, to whom he’s dedicating the fight.
“It’s not easy. I miss her. I miss Alia,” he said. “I have to continue on. The world doesn’t stop spinning for anybody.”
Plant (19-0, 10 KOs) is driven by their deaths and eager to continue his ascent within the division. Winning the IBF championship was one of his goals.
But not the most important one, he says.
That would be unifying the IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC titles to become the division’s undisputed champion.
One belt at a time.
“He always does whatever he says he’s going to do. Nothing better than someone who says they’re going to do something and they do it,” said Plant’s fiancee, Jordan Hardy. “That’s in all aspects. In his relationship with me. In the gym. When he tells fans, ‘I’m going to be a world champion.’ He’s going to be world champion.”
Who: Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
Tickets: Starting at $232.85 on axs.com
TV: Fox Sports (pay-per-view)
Odds: Pacquiao -165, Thurman +142 (Westgate)