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Caleb Truax: Anatomy of a Fight Day

(Photo © Jesse Kelley)
(Photo © Jesse Kelley)

By Judd Spicer


The following is a first-hand, diary-style account of middleweight Caleb Truax’s, 17-0-1 (10), rematch versus Phil Williams (11-4-1) on Saturday, February 26, 2011 at Grand Casino, Hinckley, Minnesota. This narrative details Truax’s entire fight day: from breakfast, to his bout, to beyond.

 

7:00 AM Central Standard Time

 

The compass turns north as the thermostat descends into the negatives on what is a steely-gray winter morn. My destination is Hinckley, Minnesota, a gambling and golf bastion located equidistant between the Twin Cities and Duluth. Approximately 15 hours from now, rising fighter "Golden" Caleb Truax of Osseo, Minn. will attempt to avenge the lone blemish on his undefeated record. Ten months back, he and Minneapolis’ Phil "The Drill" Williams fought to a draw in St. Paul.

 

I know Truax -- seen him fight on myriad occasions, interviewed him in multiple settings, and even had the pleasure of training with him a few months back. He’s as rare for being a successful pro fighter with a college degree as he is for owning a genial, focused, and charming nature that has endeared him to much of the Midwest fight base.

 


But his bout versus Williams stands out uniquely (and unfortunately) as a real dud in an otherwise stellar, four-year career that presently finds him as BoxRec’s number nine middleweight  in the country. Truax was unable to either penetrate Williams’ sound jab or puncture his chiseled physique back in April of ’10, and while he impressively dispatched ring vets Antwun Echols and Jonathan Reid in the months since -- there’s little doubt that the draw has survived as a shadow in the back of his fight mind.

 

Tonight, in his first bout of 2011, that sour memory will find revisited illumination.

 

9:00 AM

 

Truax wakes from what he’ll later describe as an atypically restless slumber. An hour later, we gather for breakfast along with his head trainer, Tom Halstad. Mirroring a pre-fight ritual of a straight oatmeal packet, Truax goes healthy with two steaming bowls of the grain, along with fruit and a large glass of grape juice.

 

Organically, the conversation turns to the task at hand and it becomes evident that while Truax is still the genial, composed athlete that I’ve come to know -- there’s something simmering below the surface today. The evening prior, Williams came in at three pounds heavy while Truax arrived at 161, a pound below the contracted weight. Williams was afforded two extra hours to shed mass but was only able to drop a half-pound in said window. To make the fight work, Truax agreed to a slight increase for his share of the purse. There’s a term for such orchestration. It’s called boxing. 

 

Truax is too polite to overtly talk smack about his opponent but it’s obvious the oversight from his opponent bothers him. He peruses a sports page with only cursory interest; Phil Williams occupies his mind and likely has for some time.

 

11:00 AM

 

With ample time to burn, Truax and I segue to the casino floor. For a Twin Cities’ fight, he says he’ll generally spend the afternoon hours keeping his mind occupied by running comp tickets to friends about town. Here, that void is filled with blackjack. He drops $50 on chips while I plop down a modest $40 at our five-dollar table. It’s still before noon but already the floor and tables are active and the room heavy with smoke. 

 

With his likeness depicted in lights upon the Grand Casino marquee and fight posters displayed about the sprawling gaming space, anonymity belies Truax here. Greeters may not know him by name but they surely sense he’s "somebody." Well-wishers pass with the consistency of the cards and concurrent questions come from patrons and staff alike.

 

Truax says he didn’t necessarily train differently for the rematch, although he did train more specifically. In doing so, he worked with a sparring partner (ironically, one who trains at Williams’ gym) to refine his defense of Williams’ jab. In addition, he closely reviewed tape from their initial bout and deduced -- based on Williams’ "skinny" stance and low glove position -- that he should derive greater success from rotating to his right, whereas his footwork directed him conversely during the draw.

 

Like-minded strategy discussion would have continued but the cards are crap. I silently hope the fortunes of our collectively blown $90 portend nothing of the eve to come.

 

5:00 PM

 

After a four-hour respite, we reconvene for dinner. Among the company is Truax’s manager, Ron Lyke, who also advises with his training. Lyke is a member of the 60-plus set but owns the chest, shoulders and biceps of a man 20 years his junior.

 

The fighter’s meal matches that of his manager’s manner; they keep it light. Truax dines on a small plate of pasta while Lyke keeps the pre-fight mood fluid with stories of how he used to have fighters train in his garage, along with reflections of his former acumen as a street fighter (albeit one who also charted nearly 100 wins as an amateur in the ‘60s. As a pro, he tallied a recognized mark of 6-1).

 

While his charge briefly departs for a second plate that will ultimately hold more silverware than substance, Lyke acknowledges that he keeps the vibe casual for the sake of his fighter. All those in his stable are different, he notes, and for this thoroughbred, a whinny works better than a wail.

 

However, on the inside, it’s evident that for both men, regardless of buffet choices, there’s a simmering fire in those bellies.

 

7:00 PM

 

After a brief return to the hotel, we re-shuttle to the casino. Contrary to his alias, silence isn’t "Golden" during the short ride. In all sports, pre-event quiet breeds an awkward recognition of the tension that is sure to come; talking about anything fills the void and Truax playfully exchanges verbal jabs with the other passengers.

 

Back inside the casino, we make our way to the convention center. Along the way, the random well-wishers from the morning have now taken the familiar shape of friends and followers. Truax is stopped constantly with encouragement, backslaps and handshakes. With his bout just a few hours away, he handles it with impressive patience.

 

The fight night soon begins and the Grand Casino house is near full-capacity, replete with Twin Citians who made the hour drive outside the city proper. This really is a fine venue; a catwalk brings fighters to the stage, two large screens are poised to present the action for those with seating in the back, and the bar bustles with activity.

 

In the bowels of the facility, Truax is roomed with his corner team and a small circle of other fighters on the card. Among the fellow pugilists are Minneapolis’ Ismail Muwendo, a Ugandan-born super feather who’s soon to run his mark to a perfect 8-0, and Charles Meier, a long-armed, 36-year-old super middleweight who owns a ring heart so inspiring, it nearly encompasses the tight confines of this space. 

 

Hand tapings begin, as does shadow boxing and glove work. Duke versus Virginia Tech plays on a flat screen but the hoops serve as nothing more than ambient noise, a space to faux-fill the collective attentions of those present, moving images to assume the unspoken truth that soon all of these men will  bleed and sweat and search for breath.

 

10:06 PM

 

The undercard’s completed; an enthusiastic stage has been set, namely via Meier’s spirited, unanimous decision loss to Hinckley’s Tim Taggart. A cut near Meier’s left eye created a bout so bloody, the ring-adjoined tables and paperwork (my own notebook included) appeared a Jackson Pollock canvas, speckled with countless flecks of red upon white pages.

 

Williams is announced and patiently bounces (to the frustration of some) upon the catwalk for several minutes before the drum solo of Phil Collins’ "In the Air Tonight" takes him inside the ropes. Truax soon follows and his active gait suggests that both the shadow of the past ten months along with the underlying tension of the day are soon to find liberation.

 

The rematch begins and Williams instantly announces his presence with a surprising, southpaw stance. He’s known to have the ability to employ stance reversal but in their initial bout, he spent a nominal amount of time leading with his right. Round one seems segued from ten months ago, with ample feeling-out and circling as Truax undoubtedly encounters the unexpected.

 

Round two offers much of the same and it’s evident that there’s something about Williams that gives pause to Truax’s superior ability as a tactician. Williams is strong; his glove position unusual; his defense formidable. Both men are fine athletes and appear in stellar condition, yet even as Truax attempts to be proactive, quality connections are few from either fighter. Truax works continuously to put his exceptional counter-punching ability to work but time and again Williams is able to flick him away with a fine right jab.

 

I consider Truax’s aforementioned strategy of rotating to his right and observe that he’s rarely employing the game plan. Rather, as the fight proceeds toward the middle rounds, it’s Williams who’s warding off most every challenge while steadily taking control of the bout.

 

And that’s why it’s so confounding that, coming out for round six, Williams arrives at center ring with an orthodox stance. Analogous to the blackjack from earlier in the day, the switch was akin to hitting on 16 all night and then scrapping the strategy when you’re starting to win.

 

Truax took advantage and looked far more comfortable with the presentation. He began walking through left-handed jabs and bulling his way to Williams’ body. Not that the newfound midsection blows found much purchase; Williams proved game for each advance, absorbing everything and keeping his opponent at bay with consistent response.

 

"Sweet" abandoned the "Science" as the final three rounds found each man evidencing fatigue. Both fought gamely and neither relented in effort nor passion but the count of quality head shots could be counted on two gloved hands.

 

The threat of another draw between this two appeared a realistic outcome when the first judge’s score of 95-95 was announced but after the latter two tallies were called, it was the arm of Truax that was raised, a victor by majority decision. His unbeaten record intact, it was still evident via the verbal disputes from a portion of those in attendance that the win wasn’t painted with the most tactile of brushes.

 

11:30 PM

 

His face puffy and distorted, his right ear caked with dried blood, Truax is back in the warm-up room, icing down his left hand, which owns a knuckle the size of a ping-pong ball. Without pause, he acknowledges that the effort wasn’t pretty. The outcome makes the juice worth the squeeze of course but he isn’t pleased with his performance.

 

The strategy Truax had erected and perfected for months wasn’t adhered to in the ten rounds, now a new chapter of his fight history. He didn’t work to his right; he hadn’t expected to see Williams coming out southpaw (and didn’t spar to that effect) and he hadn’t connected with much more quality than he had in their first go-round.

 

To be sure, Truax respects Williams, holding both his power and intensity in high esteem. This wasn’t the convincing win he’d set out to earn but at the close of the work day, it’s a business trip where he indeed took care of business. 

 

Each man owns an adversary that serves as a yin to his yang, a Professor Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes, a Joe Frazier to his Muhammad Ali. For Caleb Truax, this man is Phil Williams.

 

As a Grand Casino administrator administers post-bout proddings for saliva, the fighter’s face holds a curious expression mixed with equal parts pain, pride, satisfaction and lament.

 

1:15 AM  

 

Last call nears and Truax has honored his friends and fan base with a few Heinekens. A circle aside, Williams and his own lot are partaking in their own nightcaps. A shared moment between the two fighters occurs for no more than a minute’s time but despite the brevity, such sportsmanship is worthy of as much applause as the two received an hour prior.

 

Calls for shots are heard above the din of the gaming environs but Truax politefully declines with repetition. Earlier in his career, he says he’d carouse deep into the eve after a fight night but now he’s worked that desire from his system. Instead, Truax is satisfied with listening to the peanut gallery dissect his performance while he slowly works a couple of beers.

 

As the remnants of the libations move below the label, we clink the necks of our respective bottles and bid one another a simple good night. At this hour, there exists no need to recount the day that was. It was lived and my tired eyes and pocketed pen across from his wounded face tell the story. But the scars are worthy and tomorrow, on Sunday morning, they will have already begun the process of healing.  

 

For more of Judd’s work and writings, please visit www.juddspicer.com.

 



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