Minnesota has never been near the center of the boxing world. Until last night, the state had produced only one world title-holder since 1917. But Caleb Truax, the best Minnesota fighter of his generation, changed that with an epic upset over IBF super middleweight champion James DeGale in DeGale’s home town, London.
I’ve seen the odds on the fight everywhere between 11 to 1 and 100 to one. Suffice it to say that Caleb was a heavy underdog. The highly-regarded DeGale won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and took the IBF super middleweight belt in 2015. He was returning to the ring after an 11-month layoff due to a shoulder injury. DeGale was 23-1-1 entering last night’s fight.
Truax came into the bout at 28-3-2, but suffered a first-round knockout in his last fight. He has had a good career and has ranked among the top 15 middleweights worldwide, but until last night, had never quite cracked the top echelon. I saw Truax box Danny Jacobs in Chicago two or three years ago; he put in a creditable performance, but couldn’t quite match up to one of the world’s top fighters.
I have followed Truax’s career with interest both because he is Minnesota’s top boxer, and because he is a good friend of my son, who manages some professional fighters in his spare time.
After the one-sided defeat in his last fight, it was obvious that Truax was being brought to England to lose. The fight would be a tuneup for DeGale before he moved on to more famous opponents. But Truax refused to follow the script. While DeGale was talking about the fighters he would take on in following fights, Caleb and his team were studying tape. Caleb came into the fight prepared to press DeGale relentlessly, something the slick Brit doesn’t like.
Caleb broke through in the fifth round, battering DeGale against the ropes and coming close to knocking him out. At least one judge scored it a two-point round, although there was no knockdown. Caleb again scored heavily in the 10th. The fight went the distance, and if it had been close everyone would have expected a home town verdict. But it wasn’t that close, even though one judge scored it a draw; the other two scored it a decisive, if shocking, victory for Truax.
I give a lot of credit not just to the judges, but to British fight fans. Boxing is more popular in Europe than in the U.S., and the London newspapers covered the fight extensively. The Sun wrote:
In his first fight back for 11 months after shoulder surgery, DeGale went into the fight the overwhelming favourite at incredible odds of 1-100.
But Truax didn’t read the script at the Copper Box Arena in London and upset the odds to secure a huge victory.
The American consistently managed to find the defending champion on the ropes and when he got there unloaded some fierce shots. … DeGale was consistently on the back foot, he struggled to find his range and when his shots did land on target there was little there to trouble the challenger.
In truth, Truax put in a much better performance and well deserved his win.
Truax was a Division 1 football player until an injury (to his knee, as I recall) ended that dream. He then graduated from the University of Minnesota and took up boxing to pay off his college debt. Caleb is a high-class guy in a sport that does not always reward such qualities. His intelligence and poise come through in this post-fight interview for British television. DeGale skipped the post-fight press conference as he was taken to a hospital to repair a broken nose.
This is the complete fight; if you jump ahead to 19:25 you can see the decisive fifth round:
While the DeGale-Truax fight got extensive coverage in the London press, it barely rated a mention in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. To get a decent account of the fight, you had to go to the relatively obscure Minnesota Fight News. While local media might be slow to catch on, Caleb Truax understood the significance of what he accomplished last night: he will forever be a world champion.