Caleb Truax felt like an afterthought as he sat through the traditional prefight news conference a few days before his world title bout in London last week.
His opponent, England’s James DeGale, was the star attraction. The former Olympic champion held the IBF supermiddleweight title and was fighting on his home turf.
DeGale was returning to the ring after an 11-month layoff because of injury. Truax was supposed to be a tune-up for DeGale, a chance to knock off some rust before moving on to bigger bouts.
“I was a long shot,” said Truax, the pride of Osseo.
DeGale seemed to think so at their news conference.
“He was most definitely looking past me,” Truax said. “He wasn’t talking about the fight that was two days away. He was talking about who he’s going to fight after he beats me. In boxing, you can’t do that.”
Asked how he reacted to that slight, Truax said he mostly smirked. He got the last laugh Saturday.
In an outcome that stunned the boxing world, Truax captured the world title by majority decision. One judge scored the fight a draw. That made Truax nervous that DeGale would benefit from home cooking. But the other two scorecards had Truax as the winner.
He dropped to his knees as the ring announcer delivered the news.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Truax said by phone Monday from his London hotel.
His emotions poured out in the ring because Truax nearly quit boxing last year after losing to Anthony Dirrell by technical knockout in the first round. Truax admits he wasn’t in a good place mentally before that fight.
His girlfriend, Michelle Stocke, had suffered bleeding on her brain during labor with their daughter, Gia. Both mom and daughter are perfectly fine now.
Also, Truax’s prefight MRI was flagged by the New Jersey commission because of concerns over his brain scan. Truax said his camp had to prove that he was fit to fight.
Emotionally, he didn’t belong in the ring.
“I was scared that I was going to get hurt,” he said. “I was trembling before the fight. I knew that my girlfriend had just suffered an injury that is a common serious injury for boxers.”
Truax took a hiatus after that fight. He stopped training for several months. Boxing observers thought he was finished.
“I didn’t know if I ever could fight again just because of the way I felt before that fight,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back in the ring and be confident.”
He eventually returned to the gym and rekindled his love for boxing. He won two tune-up fights before getting his date with DeGale.
Truax studied DeGale on video extensively and rehearsed his game plan for seven weeks. He flew to Europe prepared mentally and physically.
“I came here to win,” he said. “I wouldn’t have come all this way if I wasn’t confident in the fight.”
Truax took control in the fifth round when he bloodied DeGale’s nose.
“I give him credit because I hit him with some huge shots and he stood up to them and didn’t go down,” Truax said. “He has the resolve of a champion. But after that he was hurt.”
Now, Truax’s career is at the pinnacle at age 34. He goes by the nickname “Golden” because he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in sociology. At one time he envisioned a career devoted to public policy.
“Maybe we’ll revisit that after my boxing career is up,” he said.
He’s in line for a big payday with his next fight. He’s not sure when, where or whom he will fight. But he’d love to bring a title fight to Minnesota.
“That was one of my goals when I started, to bring a championship fight back there,” he said. “It’s a definite possibility.”
He can’t shake his Minnesota roots. Not even while celebrating his big upset in London.
“We went to the bar, drank some beer and watched the Vikings game,” he said.
A few patrons recognized him and asked to take their picture with the new world champion.