Osseo native Caleb Truax hung up his cleats and left the football program at Virginia State in 2003 to transfer back home to the University of Minnesota. An injury from high school left him with lingering patellar tendinitis and cut his collegiate football career well short of what it could have been.
In the year that followed, Truax didn’t battle any regret or a longing to return to the gridiron. But the one enemy the longtime football and baseball star did face proved to be a challenging and elusive foe—boredom.
“I was so bored,” Truax says. “I had been playing football and baseball my whole career, I didn’t have anything that was competitive anymore. I was lifting weights for no reason. I just needed something to compete in. I needed an end goal.”
Truax didn’t flinch when an opportunity to compete next presented itself.
“Me and my buddy were sitting in an apartment drinking some beer when we saw an ad in the City Pages for a Toughman Contest and we signed up.”
The Toughman Contest was an aptly named event. Hundreds of people crowded into the bar at CR’s Sports Bar in Coon Rapids to enjoy the spectacle. Fighters paid their entrance fee, got taped up while sitting on pool tables, and then most drank at the bar and smoked cigarettes until it was their turn to step into the ring. When Truax’s name was called, he stepped in and put on boxing gloves for the first time.
“We both got our asses kicked. But it was fun so I stuck with it.”
– Caleb “Golden” Truax
“We both got our asses kicked,” Truax says laughing. “But it was fun so I stuck with it.”
It wasn’t a conventional baptism into boxing, but the experience proved invaluable to the then 20-year-old Truax.
“Even though I lost, everyone at the Toughman thought I did pretty well for never having put on gloves before,” Truax says. “I went to the gym that Toughman was associated with, which is still my gym today. I did another Toughman and that transitioned to amateur boxing.”
Truax was three years into a promising amateur career when he encountered his first big obstacle, which left him with a decision to make.
“[The governing body of amateur boxing] said I was ineligible to compete as an amateur because of the fact that I fought in a Toughman competition,” Truax says. “It was either stop boxing, or turn pro if I wanted to continue. I never really wanted to turn pro because I was in college and I was having fun being an amateur. I wanted to just go get a job when I was done with school. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to be done boxing because I loved it so much so I just said ‘screw it’ and turned pro.”
Truax showed that he was a natural when he stepped into the ring for the first time that night at CR’s Sports Bar, and he backed it up during his brief time as an amateur. But three years as an amateur in boxing is more of a stint than a career. The ineligible ruling forced Truax to grow up fast and transcend his lack of experience in the ring.
“Some guys have a decade of amateur experience and hundreds of fights before turning pro,” Truax says. “I only had 35 fights or something like that. I was hesitant at first but I wanted to do it, and I knew that the people around me would take care of me. They looked after me and made sure I fought the right opponents when I first started.”
And what a start it was. Truax, whose nickname is “Golden,” didn’t taste defeat as a professional until his 20th fight. His star continued to rise in the world of boxing and when he stepped into the ring for his 29th fight, it was with the World Boxing Association (WBA) middleweight title on the line.
For Truax to step into a ring with the chance to become a world champion was surreal. The former amateur and Toughman competitor didn’t have any visions of hoisting a world championship belt while majoring in sociology at the University of Minnesota. As a pro boxer, his aim was altogether common.
“Basically my only goal when I turned professional was to pay off my student loans.”
– Caleb Truax
“Basically my only goal when I turned professional was to pay off my student loans,” Truax says, having made his last payment in the summer of 2017. “Obviously it’s a monkey off your back when you do it because it fucking sucks paying $300 a month for 10 years. Anytime you achieve any goal it’s awesome, especially when you do it through doing something you love.”
Truax fell just short of becoming a world champion in his first opportunity to do so. Daniel Jacobs defeated him by TKO in the 12th and final round at UIC Pavilion in Chicago. The losing result was disappointing, but Truax refused to let it define him.
“Obviously every fighter wants to be a world champion because you get recognition, you get money, and it’s a crowning achievement in boxing,” Truax says. “But I was okay with my career where I was at, even if I didn’t win a world title. It was never that big a deal to me to win it. Even though it is a big deal. It was never my driving factor.”
In addition to paying for his education, Truax’s biggest driving factor was to provide for himself and his girlfriend Michelle. When Michelle nearly died during the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Gia, shortly before his fight with Anthony Dirrell, Truax contemplated leaving boxing altogether.
“My last loss was really tough and the way I lost sucked,” Truax says. “My girlfriend and I had just had our baby and she almost died in childbirth. I just wasn’t mentally right. Normally you get nervous for a fight—before this fight I was just trembling with fear that something was going to happen to me and I wasn’t going to be able to take care of my daughter, or I wasn’t going to be able to take care of my girlfriend.
“Afterwards I was like, I don’t know if I can ever fight again because I was so scared, I fought like shit and I wasn’t myself. I didn’t think I was mentally going to be able to do it again. I took some time off and got the fire back and eventually started training again. There was a while where I thought I was done.”
Truax wasn’t done. In fact he was just getting started. He rebounded from the loss against Dirrell with back-to-back wins by way of knockout. In December of 2017, he was given something every fighter dreams of: a second chance to be a world champion.
Truax stepped into the ring at the Copper Box Arena in London as a heavy underdog by the world boxing community on December 9, 2017 for the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title. Facing British boxer James DeGale, Truax’s odds to win the belt fell as low as 41-1. When Truax won the fight in a majority decision, it was seen as one of boxing’s biggest upsets of 2017.
“I just wish I bet on myself. If I had known the odds, 41-1, I could have gotten some money.”
– Caleb Truax
“I just wish I bet on myself,” Truax says with a laugh. “If I had known the odds, 41-1, I could have gotten some money. I didn’t see it as an upset. I was confident I could beat him. I thought the odds were skewed from my point of view, but there are experts who do that stuff so whatever.”
Truax hopes to fight for another few years. His next fight is likely to be a rematch with DeGale, hopefully at home in front of the Twin Cities’ small, but close-knit boxing community—an event that could ignite the sport’s popularity in Truax’s hometown.
The Osseo native may not have seen himself as a future world champion when he put the gloves on for the first time on that fateful night amidst the stench of cigarette smoke and light beer at CR’s Sports Bar, but through heart, dedication, and unwavering toughness he became one. And he’ll get the chance to defend his championship on American soil, in front of his young and healthy family.
Not bad for a local kid with patellar tendinitis who never boxed before. Thank goodness for that advertisement in the City Pages 15 years ago.