While most of the boxing world’s attention this week has been on the two-city, cross-country media tour as Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman promote their welterweight world title fight, super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant and challenger Mike Lee were also along for the stops in New York and Los Angeles to talk up their showdown.
Plant will make the first defense of his 168-pound world title when he faces Lee on July 20 (Fox, 7 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in a network bout that will lead into the Fox PPV event headlined by Pacquiao-Thurman.
Plant and Lee brought their own heat to the proceedings at their news conferences, where Plant vowed to keep the title he said he worked his entire life to get his hands on while Lee said he would win it to culminate his own dreams.
“I’ve been boxing my whole life. They say it takes 10,000 hours of work to become a true success at something. Come July 20, I’ll have been doing this for 18 years straight,” Plant said. “No breaks and no plan B. I’ve just been boxing, day in and day out.
“Mike Lee may have a financial degree [from Notre Dame], but in boxing, I have a Ph.D. That’s something he doesn’t know anything about. I came from very rock bottom, where nobody makes it out. If he thinks I’m going to let him mess this up for me, he’s not half as educated as I thought he was. I have everything to lose. Every night from now until July 20, I hope Lee and his team are envisioning the words ‘and still,’ because that’s all anyone is going to hear on fight night.”
Plant (18-0, 10 KOs), 26, won the title in mild upset fashion when he scored a unanimous decision against Jose Uzcategui on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles in a fight in which Plant scored two knockdowns.
Plant’s road to the title was not an easy one. He grew up in poverty in Ashland City, Tennessee — he now resides in Las Vegas — and endured the heartache of the death in 2015 of his 20-month-old daughter, Alia, who suffered from a rare brain disorder that caused constant seizures.
Two months after Plant won the title, there was more tragedy in his life as his mother, Beth Plant, died at age 51.
“I don’t look at myself as the favorite in any fight,” said Plant, who dedicated the title victory to his daughter and said he would dedicate the fight against Lee to his mother. “I’m the one who’s not supposed to be here. Put everyone through what I’ve been through, and see if they would make it here.”
Lee (21-0, 11 KOs), 31, of Chicago, gained fame as a Subway sandwich pitchman and also received tremendous publicity after graduating from Notre Dame for giving up a potential career on Wall Street to pursue his dream of boxing professionally. He has fought his entire career in the 175-pound light heavyweight division but will drop down in weight for by far the most notable fight of his career. He also will be returning from a 13-month layoff caused in part by a battle with an autoimmune disease.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Lee said of his shot at a world title. “I’ve been through so much and there were days where I thought my dream was over. I’ve chased this since I was 8 years old and I’m thankful for this chance to go after a dream that others thought I couldn’t reach.”
Lee acknowledged his status as a prohibitive underdog but said he would not be deterred.
“The beauty of this sport is that it’s only me and Caleb in there,” Lee said. “Everyone else can only talk. I’ve been in the ring through adversity and stuck it out, because that’s the kind of person I am. I know that if I come on July 20 as the best Mike Lee possible, that I can win.
“I’ve been in the gym working every day. Doctors told me at one point that I wouldn’t fight again, but I’m still standing right here. I pushed through my pain to get here. Today is the culmination of years of sacrifice, hard work and discipline. I’m undefeated for a reason, but I feel people underestimate me and I like that. I’ve been underestimated my whole career. I’ve thrived off people saying I couldn’t do it. I respect Caleb Plant. He’s the champion for a reason and I respect any fighter who can step into that ring. You have to be a different kind of animal to do that in front of all those people, and I am that animal.”