Rumble in the Tundra

By Gordon Marino on January 2, 2014
Rumble in the Tundra
Before the George fight Truax took on and drubbed the very experienced Matt Vanda.

“There is nothing,” says Caleb Truax, “like the kind of commitment that boxing demands. I love every moment of it…”

Minneapolis, Minnesota is not one of the places that people dream of coming to in January. It was eight below without the wind-chill factor last night. But this week, ESPN FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS will kick off their 2014 season at the Target Center here in the tundra.

The bouts, promoted by Iron Mike Productions, Seconds Out Promotions, and Warriors Boxing will feature the IBF Super Featherweight Championship contest between titleholder Argenis Mendez (21-2-1, 11 knockouts) and #1 ranked challenger Rances Barthelemy (19-0, 12 knockouts). In the co-feature, Minnesota’s own Caleb Truax will tussle with Ossie Duran. Mike Tyson, who manages Mendez, will be in the house on Friday night and despite the icebox conditions, many Minnesotans will be lining up to shake the hand of the hand that put so many heavyweights down.

The Gopher State has a rich fistic tradition. Oscar Garner, Tommy Gibbons, Billy Miske, Jackie Graves, Del Flanagan, Glen Flanagan, and Lee Savold all hailed from Minnesota. But boxing is not just something in the rearview mirror in this state. According to Jesse James Kelly of Minnesota Boxing, there were 17 professional shows in Minnesota in 2013.

There is a wide swath of talent to draw from in the area. Jamal James, Al Sanders, Aaron Green, Joey Abell, and Vicente Alfaro all ply their gloved craft in Minnesota; still, a good part of the rationale behind ESPN returning to the Twin Cities comes in the form of Minnesota native, middleweight contender Caleb Truax.

A former football and baseball standout from Osseo, Minnesota, Truax has compiled a record of 23-1-1, with 14 knockouts. His only loss came at the hands of Jermain Taylor, whom he had down in the 9th round of their 2012 contest. The WBO has Truax in the 12th spot in their world rankings and the IBF places him 14th.

Brian Kweder of ESPN confided, “One of the reasons we are returning to Minnesota is Caleb Truax. We had him in show out here in June and despite typhoon like weather conditions people came out to see him, and we like to have good live crowds at our FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS.”

I was one of those who never made it to the contest because of the toppled trees, power lines, and flooding but over 4000 fans still showed up to watch Truax chop down the tough and hard slugging Don George (24-4-2, 21 knockouts)

Kweder noted, “Truth be told, we anticipated a very good fight but we expected George to win, and Caleb knocked him out and dominated him.”

A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Truax is looking forward to going to graduate school after he is done with his study of the sweet science. A very personable individual, Truax has a large and fervent following in his home state.

Recently, he reflected, “I was very serious about sports in high school, but I always liked boxing but I never knew how to get into it. Then I found out about this Tough Man contest and learned that there was a gym just ten minutes away.”

Many boxers are only in the practice of taking and giving punches simply because they need to punch a paycheck, but Truax is passionate about the sport. “There is nothing,” said he, “like the kind of commitment that boxing demands. I love every moment of it. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be doing it.” 

So far, the knockout win over George in front of a hometown crowd has been Truax’s defining moment in his boxing career and he has his eyes on bigger prizes. But Truax is not just a dreamer.

Today, many promising fighters short-circuit their promise by trying to preserve a perfect record and slipping competitive fights. They skip school. Not Truax.  Before the George fight he took on and drubbed the very experienced Matt Vanda (44-14). In September, Truax stopped Cerresso Fort (17-1-1), and he plans to keep as busy as possible in 2014.

Truax has excellent balance and is a proficient and potent body puncher. Asked what he and his long time trainer Tom Halstad are working on, Truax replied, “On coming in behind my jab and trying to finish off and go back with the jab.”

Halstad, who has been with Truax for a decade, effused, “Caleb is great to work with. He never gets out of condition. He is patient and always thinking in the ring. And once he starts sitting down on his punches, look out.”

Truax was originally scheduled on January 3rd to toe the line with Derrick Ennis of Philadelphia but Ennis was injured in training and was forced to pull out. So Truax will square off with Ossie Duran (28-11-2, 11 knockouts).

Pressed to assess Truax’s potential and progress, Teddy Atlas reflected, “Truax is still an open question. George was straight ahead and easy to hit. Truax looked like Pernell Whitaker compared to George. But he did what he needed to do. We have to see what he does at the next level of competition.” Atlas elaborated, “Will he get ‘that test’ from Ossie Duran? Not exactly. Duran is 36 and coming off his first knockout loss. But he is experienced, crafty, and has been in there with better competition than George, so it will be a test.”

Duran, who accepted the bout on two weeks notice, is adamant that this is one exam Truax is not going to pass. “I’m always in the gym training and working,” he said. “I train some guys too, so I’m always ready to go. I can’t wait for Friday, you know? I can’t wait to jump in the ring and do what I got to do.”

“It’s a short notice but it’s going to be an upset,” continued Duran. “That’s why I have been training so hard: for a chance like this. Beating this guy will put me back where I want to be. I just have to go grab it.”

A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. His The Quotable Kierkegaard was recently published by Princeton University Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Caleb Truax vs. Cerresso Fort

Jermain Taylor vs Caleb Truax - Round 9 [Taylor gets KD]

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  1. Clarence George 10:49am, 01/04/2014

    Delighted we’re in sync, Gordon, on Barthelemy-Mendez.  I’m no altar boy, but my jaw dropped at Atlas’ blithe indifference to one of the fundamental rules of the sport.  Very que sera, sera, I thought.  Distinctly odd coming from someone who tends to (justifiably) decry boxing’s numerous and manifest problems.

    As for Truax…there’s nothing at all contemptible about Duran, but I expected Truax to win with decision (or at least by decision).  He’s lucky—damn lucky—that he got a draw.  But lucky or not, a setback for him.

    All the best to you!

  2. gordon marino 10:13am, 01/04/2014

    I wouldn’t say that Caleb’s performance was stunningly poor - though it wasn’t great. Duran has a straight A+ jab - right down the middle and Caleb seem to stand in front of it all night. Duran knows his trade- great defense - though no right hand. If he had that, Caleb would have been in trouble because he was open for it all night.

    I agree about the Mendez fight. No question - no contest - it does not matter that Barthelemy was beating the hell out of him.

    Thanks and all the best in 2014!

  3. Clarence George 04:03am, 01/04/2014

    First, I was rooting for Limberth Ponce, a short, tank-like fighter.  I have an admittedly knee-jerk dislike for boxers like Javontae Starks, too tall and scrawny.

    Second, Caleb Truax’s performance was stunningly poor.  Though I had Ossie Duran slightly ahead, I’m not upset or outraged by the draw.

    Third, I was surprised and disappointed by Teddy Atlas’ take on the Argenis Mendez-Rances Barthelemy bout.  Because Barthelemy was likely to win, it really doesn’t matter how he did it?  Really?  Then why not waylay one’s opponent in the dressing room?  Hey, a knockout blow is a knockout blow, right?  Barthelemy won after the bell, which means he didn’t win at all.  Plenty of blame to go around, but ref Pete Podgorski deserves the lion’s share of it.  He should have been in position to come between the two fighters at the sound of the bell.  Failing that, he should have allowed the fight to continue, after penalizing Barthelemy and allowing Mendez time to recover.  Or it could have been called a no contest or declared a win for Mendez by disqualification.  As it is, the result is being called “controversial.”  Barthelemy’s win was manifestly illegal, never mind controversial.  Particularly egregious, given that it was a title match and that the belt changed hands.

    Do we love boxing in spite of this sort of thing…or because of it?

  4. kid vegas 09:09pm, 01/03/2014


  5. Ted 08:17pm, 01/03/2014

    A draw for God’s sakes, but the feature was a real knockout!!!

  6. Ted 06:55pm, 01/03/2014

    Tundra my arse. It’s 21 below where I am right now.

  7. Gordon Marino 05:25pm, 01/02/2014

    Caleb is very easy to root for. Ossie has been 10 with Kirkland. No pushover. Crafty and experienced but 36 and moving up in weight.

  8. Pete The Sneak 11:49am, 01/02/2014

    “There is nothing,” said Caleb Truax, “like the kind of commitment that boxing demands. I love every moment of it…”

    You’ve heard the phrase “those are fighting words.”...Well, the above quote is to the extent of “those are fighters words.”...Here’s hoping Caleb not only stops Ossie, but does so in spectacular fashion on ESPN in front of his hometown fans and hopefully set up something a bit more lucrative for him going forward….Peace.

  9. bk don 10:36am, 01/02/2014

    Truax is the kind of fighter who’s not hard to root for. Throughly enjoyed his performance against George, who he was certainly an underdog against. I agree w/you Ted. Duran is going to be there to be hit and hit allot. Should be a great atmosphere in the MInny for this one.

  10. Ted 09:16am, 01/02/2014

    Duran is done. Easy pickings for Caleb.

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