“Caleb Truax is a True Cinderella Man” read the headline above Chip Scroggins article in the Dec. 12 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The allusion to Jimmy Braddock, the original Cinderella Man, wasn’t too far off the mark.
Braddock’s 15-round decision over defending heavyweight champion Max Baer in 1935 ranks as one of the most memorable upsets in the history of boxing. It was far-fetched to think that a journeyman like Braddock could overcome a murderous puncher like Baer, but Braddock made it happen by the sheer power of his will. Pressing forward round after round, he took the fight to Baer and emerged with a well-earned victory. It was a victory for perspicacity, a triumph that said an honest worker can accomplish great things if he keeps his nose to the grindstone.
Caleb Truax’s conquest of defending IBF 168-pound champion James DeGale at London’s Copper Box Arena on Dec. 9 was three rounds shorter but in many ways a carbon. It wasn’t an especially entertaining fight, but it was a mesmerizing fight once it dawned on us that a mammoth upset was brewing. And when his hand was raised, the 34-year-old boxer from Osseo, Minnesota, leapfrogged other contenders to finish first in the voting for the 2017 TSS Upset of the Year.
Jimmy Braddock suffered 25 losses before his date with destiny. Truax entered his match with DeGale with a record of 28-3-2, but he too bore the stamp of a journeyman. In his first stab at a world title he extended WBA middleweight title-holder Daniel Jacobs into the 12th round before the referee had seen enough, but he was never in the fight. Two fights later he was bombed out in the opening round by Anthony Dirrell.
There was also a question about his motivation. Back in June, he happily tweeted that he had finally paid off all of his student loans. “Mission accomplished,” he wrote, while saying that his “only goal” when he took up boxing was to erase this debt. (Truax earned a degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota. His nickname “Golden” is a play on the nickname of the school’s athletic teams, Golden Gophers.)
In James DeGale, Truax was meeting a former Olympic gold medalist. Moreover, he was fighting on DeGale’s turf. The pre-fight storyline played up the homecoming aspect. This would be DeGale’s first fight on British soil in almost three years.
The pundits wanted to know whom DeGale would fight next after this “tune-up.” Would it be a unification fight with WBA champion David Benavidez? Or perhaps a rematch with George Groves, a match that would be a huge fight in England whether or not Groves succeeded in winning the World Boxing Super Series 168-pound tournament.
Truax, needless to say, spoiled the soup. He had a big fifth round, breaking DeGale’s nose and hurting him with several combinations. In the ensuing rounds, he continued to plow forward, repeatedly pinning DeGale on the ropes. On social media, as the fight progressed, fight fans wondered if he would be victimized by a hometown decision. But justice prevailed. One of the judges had it even, but the others got it right (116-112 and 115-112) and Caleb Truax won the title.
There were other notable upsets in 2017, two of which occurred in the month of July. On July 2, Jeff Horn shocked the world (pardon the cliché) when he was awarded a controversial 12-round unanimous decision over superstar Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane, Australia. Later that month, on July 28 in Shanghai, unheralded Japanese invader Sho Kimura, trailing on the scorecards, knocked out defending WBO world flyweight champion Zou Shiming in the 11th round. The upset didn’t cause much buzz in the western world but was a big news story in China where Shiming, a three-time Olympic medalist (bronze in 2004; gold in 2008 and 2012), was a national hero.
One week prior to Caleb Truax’s fight in London there was a big upset on American soil when Sadam Ali ruined Miguel Cotto’s farewell party, winning a unanimous decision. Although Ali was an ex-Olympian with only one loss blemishing his professional ledger, he was yet thought to be out of his league against Cotto who is widely considered a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Congratulations to Horn, Kimura, and Sadam Ali for defying the odds, and especially to Caleb Truax who forged the best upset of them all.
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