It has taken Caleb Plant nearly all of his 25 years, but he is finally transforming calamity into serenity.
Plant endured a “chaotic” childhood in impoverished Ashland City, Tennessee. He and his sister, Madeline, and father, Richie, slept in a mobile home without air conditioning in the summer and with faulty heating in the winter.
Nine-year-old Plant was introduced to boxing by Richie, a former kickboxer, in a struggling gym. Plant was given the nickname “Sweet Hands” from admiring amateur teammates. He earned a 2011 National Golden Gloves championship at 178 pounds and was an alternate at 165 pounds for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London.
A 2011 graduate of Sycamore High School in Pleasant View, Tennessee, Plant’s pro debut was a 47-second knockout of Travis Davidson on May 10, 2014. He was 5-0 with four knockouts when he was rocked the death of his 19-month-old daughter, Alia, from a rare medical condition on Jan. 29, 2015.
Memorialized by a tattoo on his left arm, Alia remains a motivator for Caleb Plant (15-0, 10 KOs) entering a clash against Andrew Hernandez (19-6-1, 9 KOs) at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT) on Sept. 8.
The event features David Benavidez (18-0, 17 KOs) versus Ronald Gavril (18-1, 14 KOs) in a title bout in the main event.
Plant shared his thoughts on life and the prospect of facing Benavidez from the Las Vegas-based training facility where his father assists corner man Justin Gamber and strength and conditioning guru Larry Wade.
How has training gone?
Camp has gone smoothly and I can’t imagine things being better.
How long have you lived in Las Vegas, and how are your living conditions different than your impoverished youth in Ashland City, Tennessee?
It’s like night and day. It’s been great.
I live in a nice house on a hill in Henderson, Nevada, two stories, three bedrooms in a quiet neighborhood just outside of Vegas. It’s a nice area in a nice part of town that’s close to an elementary school. It’s peaceful and it’s 11 minutes from the strip where all the action is, but far enough away.
Do you mind discussing your childhood – surviving frigid nights and blistering temperatures on an empty stomach in the mobile home trailer with no air conditioning along with your father, Richie, and sister, Madeline, in Ashland, Tennessee?
We have running water and air conditioning, unlike what we used to have. I don’t like to have pity from anyone, but there were rough times where we didn’t have a lot of food. We had food donated to us from a place called The Bethesda Center.
A lot of times, their food was out of date and wasn’t that good. But it was better than nothing. Sometimes, the heat would go out in the winter, and we would have little space heaters in the living room and we would be bundled up next to them in blankets and stuff, staying warm.
Sometimes the air conditioning would go out in the summer time and it would be ridiculously hot. When it’s cold, you can always get warmer, but when it’s hot, you can only take off so much, you know? That’s what made it so rough.
“ We have running water and air conditioning, unlike what we used to have. I don’t like to have pity from anyone, but there were rough times where we didn’t have a lot of food. ” Caleb Plant
Can you describe the survival techniques you used to feed yourself and your sister in school?
There were times when I went around and I’d ask for a dollar here or there, and I’d then save up to buy something for myself and for my little sister, like a pizza.
Where were your parents at this time?
When I was young, my Mom [Beth] started going downhill with some of her issues, and my Dad had some temper problems. Things were very chaotic and unstable. But my Dad was extremely hard on me. He put pressure on me, and I had to be able to perform. My whole life has been about being able to perform under pressure.
When it’s chaotic, I still have to perform under pressure. That’s one of the reasons I’m so focused and so good. As I became a young teenager, my Dad really calmed down a lot. He got some money together and opened a gym. So maybe boxing saved him, too.
We were always in there, even when I was nine, working out, heavy, together. I was putting in the work. I never thought about it. Today, my Dad is a gentle, calm, cool, intelligent man. He really focused on giving me so much direction in my life that he’s turned me into the man that I am at the age of 25.
What is the origin of the nickname, “Sweet Hands?”
Back in the amateur tournaments, I was sort of the minority at the time. So when I was doing really well, they were like, “Man, that dude’s got some sweet hands. He can box.” That stuck and more people started calling me that.
How were you affected at 5-0 with four knockouts, after the tragic death of your 19-month-old daughter, Alia, on January 29, 2015?
You don’t reconcile with losing your daughter, no matter who you are. That’s something you don’t get over. That’s something that doesn’t happen. You wake up, you keep going and you do what you’re supposed to do, but that’s the hand I was dealt, so I keep going.
I made it away from a chaotic childhood, and then Alia comes along, and that’s a chaotic 19 months. But at least it was a chaotic 19 months where I had a daughter. But when that goes away, you don’t understand why. I still don’t understand why. That’s just life.
When you’re working very hard and you have to be away from your daughter because you are trying to lay down a foundation toward a nice life for her, you can’t always be there at the time because you’re doing what you can as a father.
She couldn’t call me Daddy, say I love you or say I’m proud of you, can’t hold her head up or stand up or eat on her own, so the least that I could do was to provide a nice life for her. So I worked really hard at that. Then, during the process of doing that, your time with her gets cut really short.
During those 19 months, I did more for her than most people do in a lifetime, but I didn’t get to experience or be a part of things exactly how I wanted to. So if I don’t do well, now, then all of those times that I missed are in vain. I can’t stop now.
What have you learned as you look back on the fact that you’ve gone the distance in four of your last six fights after starting out at 9-0 with eight KOs?
I wasn’t trying to knockout all of those guys to get to 9-0. I go in and box and make adjustments if needed. If they run into something, that’s on them. I just do my job. Some of the most recent guys weren’t trying to win. They’d come in and get hit with stuff, get into deep water and want to run around.
When people run away, and they have it made up that they’re not going to fight and they’re going to survive, it’s hard to get them out of there.
My last fight, I hurt my left hand in the second round, and my right in the fifth round. Right now, my hands are uninjured, unhurt and they’re 100 percent. I’m working with Bob Ware, who wraps Floyd Mayweather’s hands.
How many fights removed are from challenging for a title, and how much incentive is there that you’re fighting as the co-main event to a 168-pound title fight featuring David Benavidez and Ronald Gavril?
David and I are the future of the sport at 168. We’re on the path to a collision. I know that’s going on. We’re on a path to have a super fight. That’s T-Mobile Arena type of stuff.
I called out Ronald Gavril in front of everybody at the Mayweather Gym, and he didn’t want to fight. This is a pitch for David Benavidez to knock it out of the park. This is an early Christmas present.
David and I can fight next, or we can fight a year or two from now. After I beat David Benavidez, I’ll be a million dollar fighter from there on out.
What is your favorite punch to throw and when did you land it most effectively?
The jab is the most important punch. If you can’t hit someone with the jab, you can’t hit them with anything else. You can control timing, tempo and distance with the beautiful punch.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be…
If you could have dinner with any four people in history, who would they be?
Bill Gates, Dave Chappelle, my Dad, and I would have Alia there sitting on my lap.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would have Alia here and healthy, otherwise, having her here the way she was, previously, that would be selfish.