Rumble in the Tundra
“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.