Plant plans to fulfill longtime dream by defeating Uzcategui

The opportunity for super middleweight contender Caleb Plant to fight for a world title has been a long time coming.

Plant earned the mandatory title shot with a one-sided unanimous decision victory over Rogelio “Porky” Medina in their title elimination fight last February, and he was supposed to challenge 168-pound titlist Jose Uzcategui this past September.

But then Plant fractured his left hand training for the bout with a little more than a month to go, and it was called off. Plant needed surgery to repair the injury followed by rehabilitation. Uzcategui, meanwhile, remained sharp with a nontitle bout on Sept. 28 in which he soundly outpointed Ezequiel Maderna over 10 rounds.

Now that the injury is behind him, Plant will return from an 11-month layoff — the longest of his career — and get the title shot against Uzcategui in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card on Sunday (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, main card 8 p.m., preliminary action at 6:30 p.m. ET) at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.

Plant (17-0, 10 KOs), more of a skillful boxer compared to the brawling and physical style possessed by Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KOs), has dreamed of fighting for a world title since not long after his father introduced him to boxing at age 9.

Plant, 26, who grew up in poverty in Ashland City, Tennessee, and now lives in Las Vegas, has thought so often and so hard about fighting for a world title that he has a giant picture of the IBF title belt affixed the ceiling above his bed so he sees it every night before he goes to sleep and every morning when he wakes up. Of course, he hopes to take home the real thing Sunday.

“This has been a lifelong dream of mine to be fighting for a world title, and now that time has finally come,” Plant said. “Any time that a pro fights for his first world title, it’s something that they’ve always dreamed of. This is something that I’ve always wanted. I’m excited to be here and be a part of this great night.”

Justin Gamber, Plant’s trainer, added, “This is what we’ve trained for since Caleb turned pro [in 2014]. This is the direction we’ve been headed the whole time, and this is the biggest fight of our lives. We’ve put in as much work as we could. It’s been smart work, not only hard work.”

Plant will also be fighting, as he always does, in memory of his daughter, Alia, who died in January 2015 at 19 months because of a rare medical condition that caused more than 100 seizures per day.

“I’ll be fighting for my daughter Alia, may she rest in peace. The trials and tribulations I’ve gone through to get to this point have been overwhelming at times, but they’ve only made me stronger,” said Plant, knowing that Uzcategui also lost a young daughter to a heart condition. “I’ve worked hard for this defining moment in my boxing career and I’m going to rise to the occasion.”

Although Uzcategui is the favorite in his first defense, Plant believes he was handed the belt because he did not dethrone a reigning titleholder. Instead, Uzcategui, 28, a Venezuela native now living in Tijuana, Mexico, faced Andre Dirrell for a vacant interim title in May 2017 and suffered a controversial eighth-round disqualification loss before battering Dirrell into an eighth-round corner retirement in their rematch last March.

That victory gave Uzcategui the interim belt before he was elevated to a full titleholder when James DeGale elected to vacate rather than make a mandatory defense Uzcategui.

Uzcategui has taken exception to how Plant has denigrated his road to the belt.

“About the only thing I can say about my fight is that I don’t respect Caleb Plant,” Uzcategui said. “He has talked too much, and I will punish him, beat him up and then knock him out.”

Still, Plant said he respects Uzcategui and expects a good fight.

“This is a great matchup. I think this could be one of the best fights of the year,” Plant said. “On paper at least, it already looks like that. He’s a rough, rugged guy who comes forward and I know he’s coming to win. Everyone says Jose Uzcategui is the bogeyman, but after (Sunday), I don’t want no excuses. He is a top fighter in the division, but I will take that spot after I take his title from him. All I can tell him is be ready.

“I really think that with our styles, this is going to be fireworks. I believe that on [Sunday] you will hear [the ring announcer say] ‘and the new!'”

Gamber is also confident in his pupil.

“In this fight Uzcategui’s biggest assets will be his experience and his comfort level in the ring. But I think he’s tailor-made for Caleb and the hand speed and defense he brings. It’s definitely not going to be an easy fight, but it’s a fight that could play into Caleb’s hands stylistically.”

Uzcategui hopes he won’t have to chase after Plant, who likes to use movement to frustrate opponents.

“I am looking forward to getting in the ring and showing all my talent and put on notice all the champions in this division. I want to be the best, and I am willing to face the best,” he said. “I will take the fight to him, and I hope that will be willing to engage and give the fans a spectacular fight.”

In the co-feature, Brandon Figueroa (17-0, 12 KOs), 22, of Weslaco, Texas — the younger brother of former lightweight world titlist Omar Figueroa Jr. — will square off with Moises Flores (25-1, 17 KOs), 32, of Mexico, in a junior featherweight title elimination bout that will put the winner in position to be the mandatory challenger for world titlist Daniel Roman. In June, Flores lost a decision to Roman but was ineligible to win the title because he failed to make the 122-pound weight limit.

“This is definitely a step up for me,” Figueroa said. “He’s 25-1 and he’s been in some tough fights, especially the championship fight against Daniel Roman. I feel like I keep getting better with each fight, stronger and wiser in the ring. I want to show everyone that I’m the real deal, and I’m ready for that world title. I believe that it’s coming soon and this is the kind of fight that I need to prove that I’m ready.”

Flores aims to rebound from the loss to Roman and earn another shot at him.

“While I wasn’t happy with my performance, it was great to get 12 rounds in, and I’ve been in the gym since that loss,” Flores said. “So now I’m confident I will be at my best. Figueroa and I both throw a ton of punches. It’s gonna be an all-out war.”

In another bout slated to be part of the telecast, former junior featherweight world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux will return from a 13-month layoff to face Giovanni Delgado (16-8, 9 KOs), 27, of Mexico, who has lost six of his past seven fights, including three in a row by knockout. Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs), 38, the former two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist fighting out of Miami, is dropping back to junior featherweight after moving up two weight classes to challenge then-junior lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and quitting after six rounds of a one-sided fight in December 2017.