Judges’ draw gives Truax first blemish of career

The ‘U’ graduate entered the fight 14-0 as a pro boxer.

Phil Williams delivers a punch to Caleb Truax Friday at the St. Paul Armory.

Mark Vancleave

Phil Williams delivers a punch to Caleb Truax Friday at the St. Paul Armory.

by Max Sanders

Draw is a word not often heard in sports. For Osseo, Minn. native and University of Minnesota alumnus Caleb Truax , that word spoken at the end of his title fight Friday night signaled the end to his previously unblemished professional record in a controversial 10-round draw. In TruaxâÄôs first chance to defend the Minnesota State super middleweight title he won in November, he appeared to be ahead of Queens-born, Minneapolis-based Phil âÄúThe DrillâÄù Williams early but had to stave off a late Williams surge in which Truax had to grab his opponent multiple times in the final minute of the final round. Both fighters spent much of the first three minutes feeling each other out. Williams came into the fight known for having a devastating right hand, labeled by TruaxâÄôs promoter Tony Grygelko as a âÄúnuclear weapon,âÄù forcing Truax to fight hesitantly not just in the opening round but all night long. âÄúKnowing that heâÄôs a big puncher, I didnâÄôt want to get caught with anything stupid,âÄù Truax said. Through the first three rounds, Truax was setting the tone, not allowing Williams to land his powerful haymaker by using his speed to jab and move around the ring. âÄúI felt that I fought a great fight. I felt I stuck to the game plan and just boxed and moved and just out-quicked him the whole night,âÄù Truax said. Williams felt that while he wasnâÄôt landing big punches early on, he did do enough to win points early on. âÄúI controlled that man with that jab the whole night,âÄù Williams said. âÄúItâÄôs about hitting and not being hit; thatâÄôs the science of boxing. I wasnâÄôt getting hit, and I was hitting him.âÄù As the rounds wore on, both fighters took turns alternating shots with Truax landing a right hook to the body at the end of the second round, followed by Williams using a combination of his own, a left jab with a right straight to TruaxâÄôs body to close out the third round. The game plan for Truax coming into the fight was to use his speed to counter WilliamsâÄô strength, which is something Truax said he failed to do at points in the fight. âÄúI couldâÄôve punched a little bit more, threw some more punches and some more combinations, but I just tried to work behind my jab,âÄù Truax said. âÄúGet the jab in his face and work behind that.âÄù Starting in the fourth round and continuing throughout the fight, Williams was routinely seen taunting Truax, waving his left hand in a circle and shouting at the fighter. During the fourth round, cutman Sean Hickman implored his fighter to instead let his gloves do the talking. âÄúDonâÄôt talk to him, just work,âÄù Hickman said. âÄúTalk with your hands.âÄù Regardless of talk, Williams threw some of his best punches in the fourth, landing a right straight that bloodied TruaxâÄôs nose for the rest of the match. The fifth and sixth rounds began with Truax starting strong immediately after the opening bell rang, using multiple combinations to WilliamsâÄô face and body. While Truax failed to land big shots, the jabs he was landing were forcing Williams to fight on the defensive for much of the fight. âÄúI thought I was doing a good job negating that [power] by just moving and hitting the right angles and using my speed,âÄô Truax said. âÄúI felt I took it away from him.âÄù The later rounds saw Williams attempt to make his move. As if he was waiting for the perfect opportunity to land a one-punch knockout, Hickman told his fighter during the ninth round that opportunity may never come. âÄúDonâÄôt wait for the perfect shot; itâÄôs not going to be perfect,âÄù Hickman said. Truax had Williams on the ropes briefly at the 1:30 mark of the ninth round, but Williams stormed back to the middle of the ring after throwing a left jab. As the bell sounded for the final round, the crowd at the St. Paul Armory rose to its feet, and two minutes later, Williams nearly sent Truax to the canvas. Williams used a left jab, right straight-shot combination to TruaxâÄôs head near the neutral corner that had Truax wobbly, but he stayed on his feet. Truax withstood WilliamsâÄô final flurry, and the closing bell sounding meant the fate of the fight would be left in the hands of the three judges. The Decision After a brief delay to get the judges decision, the raucous crowd fell silent and awaited the verdict. Judge Carl Benson scored the fight 97-94 in favor of Truax. Judge John Mariano ruled it 96-94 in favor of Williams. That left the fate of the fight, TruaxâÄôs unblemished record and Williams attempted comeback in the hands of 40-year veteran judge Denny Nelson , who scored the fight 95-95. Immediately at the announcement of the tie, both camps shouted expletives. Each side felt they deserved the win. âÄú99 percent of the people think he won,âÄù Truax trainer Ron Lyke said. âÄúThe only round I thought he had a problem was the very end.âÄù In the locker room after the fight, without celebrating a victory for the first time in his professional career, Truax felt he didnâÄôt deserve the blemish Friday night. âÄúI worked so hard to have it taken away from me âĦ if he would have really beaten me, then itâÄôs a different thing,âÄù Truax said. âÄúIf it was an even fight, then itâÄôs different, then I can live with that. It hurts because I thought I won, and obviously they didnâÄôt think that.âÄù On the other side, Williams too felt he did enough to earn the win. âÄúI come fight him in his hometown, and if I usually fight someone in their hometown and get a draw, you know I dominated,âÄù Williams said. âÄúIt is what it is.âÄù Hickman, who has worked with both Williams and Truax, said he thought Truax held his ground, but Williams should have won the championship bout. âÄúIn my mind I thought Phil edged it out,âÄù Hickman said. âÄúHe didnâÄôt dominate. ThatâÄôs for sure. But he worked enough to edge it out just barely.âÄù Benson, who scored the fight for Truax, expressed surprise not at NelsonâÄôs draw decision but at MarianoâÄôs belief Williams won the fight. âÄúI thought [Truax] beat him,âÄù Benson said. âÄúHe landed more blows.âÄù Nelson said that while Truax controlled the early action, Williams strong finish garnered his split decision. âÄúI thought in the beginning, Caleb was winning, but then Williams started coming back with them jabs,âÄù Nelson said. âÄúHe was landing some pretty good jabs.âÄù Pre-Fight History Truax was fighting for the first time as a champion, as his November victory over Kerry Hope gave him the World Boxing Foundation’s super middleweight title. The 10-round unanimous decision over Hope improved his record to a flawless 14-0, nine of those victories coming by way of knockout. Despite facing the No. 27 super middleweight in the country, according to boxingrec.com, opponent Williams was not impressed by Truax and expected an easy victory before the match began. âÄúIâÄôm feeling IâÄôm going to go out there and get whatâÄôs mine,âÄù Williams said before the bout. WilliamsâÄô last fight, a bout in Chicago in which he was knocked out in the third round, had the fighter considering hanging up the boxing gloves for good. âÄúHe didnâÄôt have the energy; his mind was in a completely different place,âÄù said Hickman, who travelled with Williams for the fight. âÄúHe told me he was going to quit then, but he decided âÄòI was going to fix this.âÄôâÄù While Truax was looking to continue an unblemished record, Williams acknowledged the fight was equally as important to him as he was looking to rebound and avoid another devastating knockout loss. âÄúThey thought I was down,âÄù Williams said, âÄúand I felt like all the cards were stacked against me. When all the cards are stacked against me, thatâÄôs when IâÄôm ready to fight. The Aftermath After the crowd had dispersed, talks with both fighters turned from discussing the fight that was, to discussing the next fight that could be. âÄúWe can rematch,âÄù Truax said. âÄúIf he wants to do it, we can do it. IâÄôll beat him again.âÄù Not surprisingly, Williams was likewise up for a rematch between the fighters but under different circumstances. FridayâÄôs fight was fought at 164 pounds. TruaxâÄôs side wants to drop to 160 for a rematch, but Williams said he will only fight at 168, the maximum weight for the class . âÄúI met him at 164 just to meet him because he didnâÄôt want to come to 168,âÄù Williams said. âÄúI doubt heâÄôs going to want to get back in the ring with me. HeâÄôs going to feel that power again.âÄù ItâÄôs not just the fighters clamoring for another fight to settle the score, as Nelson, one of the judges, too opined a rematch would be necessary to settle the debate. âÄúI guess all they can do is have a rematch,âÄù Nelson said. -Josh Katzenstein contributed to this report.