The scenes and words Caleb Plant spent years dreaming of were realized Sunday night when the new super-middleweight world champion scored two knockdowns on his way to defeating Jose Uzcategui by unanimous decision.
Tennessee’s Plant (18-0) sent Uzcategui to the canvas in both the second and fourth rounds at L.A. Live’s Microsoft Theater, then weathered a cut by his right eye and the whipping blows of the Venezuelan to hear he was “the new” International Boxing Federation champion by the judges’ unanimous-decision scores of 116-110, 116-110 and 115-111.
“I worked my whole entire life for this, boxing 17 hard years,” Plant said. “This is overwhelming. I believed in myself and now I’ve been crowned king.”
Plant, 26, honored the memory of his late, 20-month-old daughter, Alia, who died four years ago this month following a lengthy illness, noting it was appropriate he claimed the title in the City of Angels.
“I buried my daughter in the process of getting this belt,” he said. “I promised I would bring her this, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Plant started impressively, finding Uzcategui with a body combination, then a clean right to the head in the first round, and his theatrics pleased the crowd.
When Uzcategui missed a big right, Plant mocked him by keeping his head frozen to emphasize the whiff.
Deploying impressive jabs, Plant then knocked down Uzcategui (28-3) with a left to the head in the second.
“I knew I caught him clean, … but I knew he wasn’t all the way out,” Plant said.
Instead of backing from Uzcategui’s threatening right hand, Plant avoided it and sent the champion down again with a left counterpunch. Plant won the first five rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
Uzcategui, who was making his first title defense, embraced the desperation by winning five of the final six rounds on judge Lou Moret’s card and he snapped Plant’s head backward on a left uppercut in the ninth.
But judges Max DeLuca and Zachary Young gave him only three of those narrow rounds that also featured inside fighting and holding.
Plant won over an admirer he may ultimately face.
Plant “did what a champion needs to do — stood in there with a puncher,” said Anthony Dirrell, who beat Uzcategui for the belt in 2017, then lost the rematch last year. He will fight for the World Boxing Council version of the 168-pound belt later this year and said he’d be willing to meet Plant for a potential unification.
“Why not? If the money is right. It’s all about entertainment,” Dirrell said and when asked if Plant was sufficiently entertaining, he answered, “Of course.”
Uzcategui said he was hopeful to get a rematch.
“Everyone saw a great fight tonight,” Uzcategui said. “I gave him a chance at the title and I would hope he would give me the chance to win it back.”
Also on the FS1-televised portion of the card, Texas super-bantamweight contender Brandon Figueroa (18-0, 13 KOs) relied on power to finish veteran Moises Flores (25-2) of Mexico in the third round.
Figueroa devoted early attention to pounding Flores in the midsection, hurting him, then unleashed more hard uppercuts in the third before delivering a hard overhand right to the head that dropped Flores for good.
“Break him down and finish him. It went like I thought,” Figueroa said. “I knew those body shots would take him out.”
Figueroa is aiming at a title shot against 130-pound World Boxing Assn. champion Daniel Roman of Los Angeles.
“My message to Roman is that I am going to go home and prepare,” Figueroa said.
Earlier, former super-bantamweight world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (18-1, 12 KOs) of Cuba returned to fight for the first time since his December 2017 loss to two-belt lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and knocked out Mexico’s Giovanni Delgado (16-9) in the first round.
“This is my division. This is my time … whoever has a belt, I am taking it,” said Rigondeaux, 38, who fought Lomachenko at super-featherweight.
Super-lightweight prospect Lindolfo Delgado of Mexico knocked out West Covina’s Sergio Lopez (22-13-1) in the third round to improve to 8-0 with eight knockouts.