In the middle of the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a graphic promoting the upcoming PBC on Fox telecast ran, paired with a read by commentator Joe Buck.
“On Saturday, Caleb Plant, the man who many are saying will be boxing’s next can’t miss superstar defends his perfect record and super middleweight title against Caleb Truax,” read Buck.
Boxing Twitter might have chuckled at the lofty praise, even those users who rate Plant highly, but those who didn’t know any better and didn’t have any additional context likely took the prediction at face value. And if they tuned in amongst the 1.38 million viewers who did so on Saturday night to see Plant defeat Truax, they wouldn’t have seen any reason to believe that Buck was made to read something that was wholly untrue.
Plant completely dominated a former titleholder in Truax, holding him to double digit connects in a shutout victory to retain his IBF super middleweight crown. Throughout the broadcast, the marketing pitch for Plant continued, centered around the possibility that he could be one of the next men to challenge pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez, and that perhaps he is the man who could unseat him.
“I feel like I’m the best super middleweight in the world. You line ’em up, I’ll knock ’em down,” said Plant at the post-fight press conference. “I believe the talent and the skill is there. I think with more performances like I’ve been putting on, in due time, I’ll 100% be on the pound for pound list.”
It is undeniable that Plant sits among a small handful of fighters in the neighborhood of super middleweight with a chance of troubling Canelo. However, this speculation is just that—an assessment based a collection of performances against fighters who are not in the stratosphere of Canelo’s skill level.
Last week, avid boxing fan Rob Renaldi posted a graphic on Twitter outlining the betting lines for Plant’s recent bouts. Of course, betting lines are made by bookies who take in mind not just their assessment of what the outcome ought to be, but based on public perception and how to get them to bet in a way that best protects the book itself. That said, Plant has been a betting underdog once in his career, against Jose Uzcategui.
In his last nine fights, removing the Uzcategui fight, the following have been the lines in favor of Plant: -3333, -2500, -1275, -550, -850, -1050, -9600, -2300.
Of course, exceptional fighters are almost always going to be favored. But a review of the sportsbooks’ analysis of Plant’s formative years shows that only once has he been in a fight in which the public consensus was that he was in real danger of losing. Which means that any prediction about Plant’s chances against another elite fighter is based solely on the eye test.
To be clear, Plant aces the eye test. The Nashville native is a creative operator offensively with a stellar jab and nimble footwork. Aesthetically, there is a flair about him as well, a relaxed kind of bravado that shines through as he’s working in the ring, accented by fun fashion choices in terms of his ring attire that suggest he’s someone to pay attention to.
Even Andre Ward, the best super middleweight of this generation and maybe of all-time, thinks highly of Plant.
“Caleb Plant is very much still a problem for anybody at 168lbs. Including Canelo. He’s a money (champion) fighter, he fights better when he is facing better competition. You will see his best when the comp gets stiffer,” the newly-minted International Boxing Hall of Famer tweeted after the fight.
It’s important to note that Plant’s level of opposition to this point is not his fault, nor is it necessarily a nefarious piece of matchmaking meant to disguise the flaws in the fighter’s game. For one, Plant is still just 21 fights into his pro career, but also, sometimes fighters have less than impressive schedules until they take their big step up. For proof of that, one need only look at Canelo himself, who was maligned for his level of opposition until he fought Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather back-to-back, before going on to a tremendously strong schedule and distinction as the world’s best fighter.
It is commendable of Plant to be calling for this fight this early, and without any real additional “step-up” fights after the Uzcategui bout. You might say well, of course he wants to fight Canelo, it’s the heftiest payday available to a non-heavyweight right now, and you would be right. But there is an immense risk in going after the top name in boxing. Much of boxing marketing is predicated on the possibility that a fighter is or could one day be the very best, and once you lose to whoever wears that crown, that illusion is dispelled.
Just look at the change in public perception of fighters who have lost to Canelo. Their entire careers are distilled to that one night, and the stigma of that loss can the fighter mentally, but can also hinder their handlers forever in terms of rehabilitating them as an attraction.
“Sweethands” currently sits in the sweet spot of being able to sell the promise of potential, all while cashing sizeable checks against opponents who can’t prove him wrong.
The truth is that even a step-up fight against names proposed such as Anthony Dirrell or Badou Jack would be a risk for Plant, for far less reward up-front, and threaten to derail the ultimate goal of even getting a chance to beat Canelo. Fights such as those could help him be better prepared for facing Canelo, or they could ruin those plans altogether. Taking nine months to heal his injured hand and banking on a September date if the safest and surest path to just getting his shot.
But if you come at the King, you best not miss. The ad reads about forthcoming superstardom can just as quickly turn in to message board threads about how that billing was never deserved at all.