Quillin-Truax is must-win in Minneapolis

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Peter Quillin is looking to get back on top, but a road fight in Minnesota against Caleb Truax will be no easy task.

This Saturday night on FS1, Premier Boxing Champions returns to Minneapolis for a super middleweight main event between a pair of former titleholders in Peter Quillin and local favorite Caleb Truax, a fight that neither man can afford to lose.

Quillin (34-1-1, 23 KO) and Truax (30-4-2, 19 KO) both have some name value, both have credentials, and both have the right connections. But both are also 35 years old, and the clock is ticking on them being serious players in the sport.

The more intriguing in-ring story is Quillin’s, with no disrespect meant to Truax.

Quillin, a former middleweight titleholder, has fought just two times since his stunning, 85-second TKO loss to Daniel Jacobs in Dec. 2015, a highly-anticipated Showtime main event that lived up to its billing, at least as far as it resulting in something memorable. It just wasn’t something anyone really expected, least of all “Kid Chocolate” himself.

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The Brooklyn-based fighter had won the WBO middleweight title in 2012, beating Hassan N’dam in what was a pretty wild fight. Quillin dropped N’dam six times — two times in the fourth, two times in the sixth, and two times in the 12th and final round.

But other than the knockdowns, Quillin had his hands full with N’dam, and won on scores of 115-107 across the board, indicating that he won seven rounds to five on each judge’s card. As odd as it may seem to say about a fight where he winner scored six knockdowns, it was not a blowout.

Before that, Quillin had been considered a potential star to some degree, but he also hadn’t really been tested. He built his name on the way up against guys like Jesse Brinkley, Jason LeHoullier, and Craig McEwan; all contenders and champions beat guys like that on the way up, but Quillin made the leap from that level, which was a couple notches below the top tier, to N’dam. He did fight Winky Wright in June 2012, but Wright was also 40 years old, hadn’t fought in three years, and hadn’t won in five-and-a-half years.

The N’dam fight exposed Quillin somewhat. That’s a word that often gets overused in boxing circles, or used simply to dismiss someone has any talent at all, but eventually, everyone does get exposed to one degree or another, and though he won — and deserved to win — the N’dam fight exposed some of Quillin’s weaknesses.

Noting that, his first few title defenses were a bit of a step back in the competition, which was probably the smart thing, a chance for Quillin to grow into the role of “champion.”

For his first defense in 2013, he beat Fernando Guerrero, a former prospect who had been blown up by Grady Brewer in 2011. Quillin blew Guerrero away, stopping him in seven.

Then came Gabriel Rosado, a tough fighter, no question, but a notch below that top level, and this was only nine months after Gennady Golovkin had put a serious beating on Rosado, and less than six months after Rosado had another tough fight with J’Leon Love. Quillin stopped Rosado in the 10th round.

After that, it was Lukas Konecny, a solid Czech veteran who had been European champ at 154 pounds, and also held an interim WBO title at that weight, but was widely outpointed by Zaurbek Baysangurov in a world title challenge in 2012. Quillin did the same, all but shutting Konecny out over 12 rounds.

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His first really serious title defense, the first with any real danger, came against Andy Lee in April 2015. Lee was a flawed fighter, but a southpaw who could really crack, too, and was coming off of totally derailing the rise of Matt Korobov with a come-from-behind sixth round TKO in Dec. 2014.

Quillin, though, didn’t actually defend his title, because he didn’t make weight. The fight went on, and Lee was down twice early. But the Irishman didn’t quit, coming back to drop Quillin in the seventh and force a draw on the scorecards. Again, the chinks in Quillin’s armor were visible.

Five months later, no longer with the title belt, Quillin fought and beat Michael Zerafa in what amounted to a mismatch, brutally KO’ing the game but physically overmatched Zerafa in the fifth round.

Finally, the fight with Jacobs came. Jacobs had been ringside to see Quillin send Zerafa out on a stretcher, and the fight was official shortly after, headed to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where Quillin had fought N’dam, Guerrero, and Lee already.

Jacobs was on his own comeback journey at the time. After a 2010 loss to Dmitry Pirog, it was feared he would never be the same. And then came something much more serious: his now-famous battle with cancer, which Jacobs beat back.

He’d been back as a full-time fighter for three years by the time he met Quillin, but the first couple were, understandably, spent easing him back into competition. He beat Jarrod Fletcher to win the WBA’s secondary middleweight title in Aug. 2014, and defended it successfully against Caleb Truax and Sergio Mora, the latter fight ending due to Mora hurting his ankle in the second round.

The Quillin fight was to be the real test for Jacobs. Not only was Quillin a top-ranked middleweight, but he was someone who could crack, too, which wasn’t as big a concern against Fletcher, Truax, or Mora, though the latter two especially were crafty fighters.

Quillin and Jacobs gloved up, headed to the ring in Brooklyn, brights lights shining down, and the bell rang.

85 seconds later, it was over. Jacobs had smashed Quillin with a big right hand, jumped all over him, and referee Harvey Dock jumped in to stop the fight. Suddenly, Peter Quillin was unbeaten no more, and Daniel Jacobs’ comeback was cemented.

Jacobs went on to face Gennady Golovkin in 2017 and gave Golovkin a hell of a challenge in defeat, and gained a piece of the middleweight championship again in 2018, beating Sergiy Derevyachenko in a really good fight last October. As of now, of course, he’s scheduled to face Canelo Alvarez in a big May 4 main event.

As for Quillin, he was gone after the loss. He didn’t fight in 2016. Didn’t fight again until Sept. 2017, coming back to win a fairly pedestrian decision over tough journeyman Dashon Johnson. And then he didn’t fight again for another 11 months, when he returned and beat J’Leon Love over 10 rounds.

“It shook me a little bit at times,” Quillin recently said about his loss to Jacobs. “I felt like, hey, maybe I should retire, but something in my mind was telling me, ‘You can’t retire after taking all of that. That’s a quitter. You don’t wanna do that.’ I don’t live with regrets. I don’t let regrets steer my life. I learned at a young age that dwelling in regret was something I didn’t ever want to do in my life.”


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Truax’s story isn’t quite so dramatic, really, but then he was never supposed to be a star like Quillin was. He was never expected to become a world champion like Quillin was.

But he did.

Truax turned pro in April 2007 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, fighting off TV at the bottom of a ShoBox event, headlined by heavyweights Travis Walker and George Garcia. Walker would go on to finish with a pro record of 39-14-1 (31 KO), becoming a stepping stone, the highlight of it perhaps a really fun, short brawl with Chris Arreola in 2008. Garcia, who lost to Walker via split decision, drew against Kendrick Releford next time out and never fought again, retiring with a record of 13-1-1 (4 KO).

The only fighter on the card, in fact, who would go on to win a world title was the debuting Truax, but it took him a while to get there.

After his debut in the big arena, Truax settled into the Minnesota club scene, which is not exactly known these days for producing world class talent. He suffered his first setback in 2010, a draw with another local fighter, Phil “The Drill” Williams, who had come in on a two-fight losing streak and just 3-3 in his previous six. They would rematch 10 months later, with Truax winning a majority decision.

A 2011 fight with Andy Kolle, another local standout who had lost to a young Andre Ward in 2006 and Paul Williams in 2008. Truax won a split decision, leading him to his own big step up, a shot against former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, whose career hit a wall in 2007 and then hit the wall a few more times the next couple of years.

Taylor was trying to get back into contention, and Truax had an 18-0-1 record, so it looked good enough. Taylor won a decision, but Truax did deck him in the ninth round.

After the loss, Truax went back to Minnesota and just kept on fighting. He drew with Ossie Duran in 2014, then won a couple fights in Chicago before being matched with Jacobs for a secondary belt. Jacobs stopped Truax in the 12th round, after which Truax moved to super middleweight. Anthony Dirrell blasted him out in 1:49 in 2016.

For all intents and purposes, any remote hope Caleb Truax had at winning a world title should have ended with that loss to Dirrell. But boxing is a goofy sport — the world title shots are not always (or even usually) given to the most deserving contenders on paper.

So after a couple wins of little real note, Truax found himself invited to London to face IBF super middleweight titleholder James DeGale in Dec. 2017. DeGale was coming back from shoulder surgery and, quite frankly, wanted a soft touch upon his return. Truax was no bum, not an opponent who would simply roll over, but nobody expected him to seriously challenge DeGale.

Truax came in with the game plan of forcing DeGale into a brawl, having studied tape and feeling that DeGale didn’t like pressure.

“I couldn’t box with him. He’s a better boxer than me,” Truax said after the fight. “I had to make it into a dogfight, and that’s what I did.”

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DeGale got hurt badly in the fifth round, shaking his confidence. The defending champ rallied and stayed in the fight, but Truax had an answer for everything, and when it was over, there was the sense that Truax had outperformed DeGale, giving real tension to the moments before the scores were read.

Then it was official: Caleb Truax had shocked the boxing world and forever earned the right to call himself world champion, winning a majority decision.

The reign didn’t last. The two met in a rematch five months later in Las Vegas, DeGale narrowly escaping with a decision win. It would have been reasonable to score it for Truax again, but that one went DeGale’s way, and it wasn’t an outrage or anything. Like the first one, it was a close fight, Truax proving himself a tough matchup for the celebrated DeGale in both victory and defeat.

Truax has fought once since the rematch loss, returning to the Minneapolis Armory and beating Brazilian Fabiano Soares via third round TKO last August. While Truax never got his chance to fight in a Minnesota ring as the world champion, he now hosts Quillin in a truly pivotal fight for both men. If either of them has any significant chance of getting more than another fluke shot on the big stages, they have to win on Saturday night.

Quillin was supposed to get to the top, and he did, despite some bumps in the road. Truax was never supposed to get to the top, but he did, despite some bumps in the road.

Who’s in the best place right now? Who’s better right now?

This figures to be Quillin’s toughest test since the loss to Jacobs. He’s probably still the physically superior fighter in most respects, but that’s nothing new for Truax, who is a crafty guy, and will no doubt have studied Quillin’s strengths and weaknesses, all of which are on full display through various fights.

There’s no belt, and nobody’s “0” has to go. To many, it’s probably not a particularly marquee matchup. But there is a lot on the line for both of these guys. Where they’ve been is history. Where they’re headed from here on out could be largely decided this weekend.


Undercard

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  • Middleweight contender Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10 KO) looks to bounce back from his first career loss last October to Daniel Jacobs in an IBF eliminator with Jack Culcay (25-3, 13 KO). Derevyanchenko is the obvious favorite here, but you never really know how a fighter will come back from a loss until they do it. Culcay is a former European champ at 154, and a former interim WBA titleholder at the same weight. He lost back-to-back decisions to Demetrius Andrade and Maciej Sulecki in 2017, but has won his last three, albeit not near that or this level.
  • Junior middleweight prospect Joey Spencer (6-0, 6 KO) will open the FS1 telecast against Osias Vasquez (4-2, 0 KO). Spencer, 19, has some folks excited about his future.
  • Prelim fights will start at 8 pm ET on FS2, two hours before the show moves to FS1. 22-year-old super featherweight Chris Colbert (10-0, 3 KO) will square off with veteran Mario Briones (29-8-2, 21 KO). Junior welterweight Jose Miguel Borrego (14-2, 13 KO) will also be in action.

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