The first thing Caleb Plant would see every morning when he woke up and the last thing he would see each night before going to sleep was a giant photo of an IBF world title belt that he had affixed to the ceiling over his bed.
That is how focused he was on winning a world title when he challenged Jose Uzcategui on Sunday night in the main event of the Premier Boxing Champions card at the Microsoft Theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.
Now Plant can get rid of the photo because he has the real thing to take home.
Plant, the mandatory challenger, scored two knockdowns in an action-packed fight and won a clear unanimous decision to win a 168-pound world title, fulfilling a lifelong dream and a promise he made to his daughter, Alia, before she died at 19 months old two years ago from a rare medical condition that caused constant seizures.
Plant faded over the final few rounds, but he had done more than enough to earn the decision on scores of 116-110, 116-110 and 115-111. ESPN.com also scored the fight 116-110 for Plant as he dethroned Uzcategui in the first defense of his 168-pound belt.
“I’ve worked my whole entire life for this, 17 years straight,” a teary-eyed Plant said. “I buried my daughter in the process of trying to get this belt. I promised her that I’d become a world champion and that I’d bring her this title and that’s exactly what I’m gonna go back to Tennessee and do. And the new!”
According to CompuBox statistics, Plant landed 217 of 707 punches (31 percent) and Uzcategui connected with 157 of 546 blows (29 percent).
The quicker Plant (18-0, 10 KOs), 26, an Ashland City, Tennessee, native fighting out of Las Vegas, landed a left hook that dropped Uzcategui to his rear end about a minute into the second round, and the confident Plant shimmied his shoulders as he walked to the neutral corner. Uzcategui, however, did not appear badly hurt and got up quickly.
Plant, who was coming off an 11-month layoff because of a fractured left hand that forced the fight to be postponed from September, suffered a cut over his right eye early in the fourth round. But as blood trickled down his face, Plant landed a powerful left hook simultaneously with Uzcategui’s left. Plant’s connected cleaner and knocked Uzcategui to his backside for the second time.
“I knew I caught him clean during those knockdowns, but I knew he wasn’t all the way out so I took my time. I stayed relaxed, I stuck to the game plan and got it done just like I said I would,” Plant said.
Said Uzcategui: “I went down because I was off balance, but I wasn’t hurt. He started to get tired around the sixth round, which was the plan. Caleb knew how to clinch and hold. He was smart. He knew how to stay away from the punches. I expected more movement and more boxing out of him. I would love the rematch. I think everyone saw a great fight tonight.”
They kept such a fast pace that after the seventh round Plant’s trainer, Justin Gamber, asked Plant to slow things down and to throw more jabs than combinations against Uzcategui, whose face was marked up but who continued to plow forward looking for a big punch.
Uzcategui (28-3, 23 KOs), 28, a Venezuela native now living in Tijuana, Mexico, badly rocked Plant with a left hand on the chin with a little over minute to go in the ninth round. Plant wobbled badly but managed to stay on his feet as they traded toe to toe with the crowd roaring.
Following an intense, back-and-forth 10th round, the fighters put their arms around each other and touched heads as a clear sign of respect.
Plant, who earned $150,000 to Uzcategui’s $280,000, faded over the final few rounds against the hard-charging and physical Uzcategui but he had put enough rounds in the bank — and scored the two knockdowns — that the outcome was in little doubt as long as he could stay on his feet. Uzcategui chased after him in the 11th and 12th rounds but could not connect with a fight-changing punch.
“This is overwhelming,” Plant said. “I am a kid who came from nothing. I believed in myself and now I’ve been crowned king. Right now I am not thinking ahead. I just want to embrace this moment and soak it in.”
Figueroa wins title eliminator
In the co-feature, Brandon Figueroa knocked out Moises Flores in the third round of a junior featherweight world title elimination fight to move into position to become the mandatory challenger for world titlist Daniel Roman.
Figueroa (18-0, 13 KOs), 22, of Weslaco, Texas — the younger brother of former lightweight world titlist Omar Figueroa Jr. — was stepping up the level of his opposition against Flores and passed the test with ease.
“Break him down and finish him,” Figueroa said of his plan. “This is exactly how I expected it to go. My message to Daniel Roman is that I am going to go home and prepare.”
Figueroa was aggressive throughout the fight, pounded Flores’ body and in the third round scored the first two of two knockdowns when he floored Flores with a clean left hook to the head. Figueroa continued to attack Flores and nailed him with a right hand during the follow-up attack that dropped him near the ropes and caused referee Jack Reiss to wave off the fight at 1 minute, 35 seconds. Figueroa outlanded Flores 85-28, according to CompuBox.
Flores (25-2, 17 KOs), 32, of Mexico, suffered his second loss in a row. In June, he was overweight and ineligible to win the title when he faced Roman, who won a decision.
Rigondeaux returns with KO
Former junior featherweight world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (18-1, 12 KOs) scored an easy first-round knockout of soft touch Giovanni Delgado (16-9, 9 KOs), 27, of Mexico, in his first fight in 13 months.
Rigondeaux, 38, the former two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist fighting out of Miami, returned to the junior featherweight division after moving up two weight classes to challenge then-junior lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, who dominated and made him quit after six rounds of a one-sided bout in December 2017.
“I came prepared and I am ready to face people that are undefeated,” Rigondeaux said. “Whoever has a belt, I am taking it. You can expect me back in less than two months.”
Delgado, who lost his fourth fight in a row by knockout and for the seventh time in his past eight fights, was no match for Rigondeaux. He boxed smoothly and then landed a clean overhand left to Delgado’s face. The shot dropped Delgado to a knee, where he took the count from referee Reiss at 3 minutes.
“I fought my idol tonight,” Delgado said. “I knew he hit hard, but I didn’t know he hit that hard. I have been cleared by the doctor and am fine. Just a little bit in shock.”
Also on the undercard:
Junior middleweight prospect Joey Spencer (6-0, 6 KOs), 18, of Union City, California, toyed with Brandon Harder (2-2, 1 KO), 39, of Southaven, Mississippi, in a second-round knockout in which he outlanded him 34-2, according to CompuBox. He outclassed Harder, who didn’t seem to have any idea how to box professionally.
Spencer knocked him down three times, once in the first round and twice more in the second. After the third knockdown, referee Thomas Taylor waved it off at 1:27.
Light heavyweight Ahmed Elbiali (18-1, 15 KOs), 28, of Miami, scored three knockdowns in a one-sided third-round knockout of long-faded former contender Allan Green (33-6, 22 KOs), 39, of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Elbiali won his second fight in a row since a sixth-round knockout loss to former world champion Jean Pascal 13 months ago and made it look easy. He dropped Green once in each round with a variety of punches, finishing him with a right uppercut and a right hand combination. Green went down and was counted out by referee Sharon Sands at 1:16.
“I think it was easier that I thought it was going to be,” Elbiali said. “Losing to Pascal the way I did, it messes with you mentally. I was trying to stay on my A-game. Stay focused and thankfully it showed.”
Junior welterweight prospect Lindolfo Delgado (8-0, 8 KOs), 24, a 2016 Mexican Olympian, knocked out journeyman Sergio Lopez (22-13-1, 15 KOs), 32, of West Covina, California, in the third round. Delgado landed a left hook to the body and Lopez took a step back and went down a knee on a delayed reaction and took the full count from referee Taylor at 2:48.
“I felt really good. I have been practicing so much in the gym with [trainer] Robert Garcia,” Delgado said. “I am in this for the long haul. I want to build a great foundation for my career. I am a student of the game and I have a great teacher.”