Nearly five years and 17 fights into his pro career, it's time for unbeaten super middleweight Caleb Plant to find out how good he really is.
Plant (17-0, 10 KOs), a native of Tennessee who is nicknamed "Sweet Hands" due to his quickness and technical boxing skills, has the potential to become a marketable champion. But he'll first need to show the toughness needed in the most difficult fight to date against battle-tested IBF titleholder Jose Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KOs).
The 168-pound title bout headlines Sunday's Premier Boxing Champions card at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles (8 p.m. ET, FS1).
Respect box? Subscribe to my podcast -- State of Combat with Brian Campbell -- where we take an in-depth look at the world of boxing each week.
For Plant, 26, he'll need to overcome not just the aggressive, two-handed power of Uzcategui, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who fights out of Mexico, he'll need to make the significant experience gap between them.
"Everyone says Jose Uzcategui is the bogeyman, but after Jan. 13, I don't want no excuses," Plant said. "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."
What needs to be considered is how big of a step up in competition Plant is taking against Uzcategui, who rebounded from a controversial disqualification loss against Andre Dirrell in 2017 (in which Uzcategui was attacked by Dirrell's uncle in a post-fight melee) to knock him out in their March title rematch.
Plant's best win to date was against veteran Rogelio "Porky" Medina, whom he outboxed to a decision in February. But Median is the same fighter Uzcategui defeated nearly six years ago.
Uzcategui, who has guaranteed a knockout, believes Plant's biggest weakness is the fact that he simply hasn't faced anyone as tough or as talented as himself. The oddsmakers have agreed, installing Uzcategui originally as a large favorite although Plant has pulled much closer to slight underdog status as the fight draws closer.
Moving to 168 pounds has revived Uzcategui's career and given him the freedom from a previously hard weight cut at middleweight to spread his wings and become a better fighter. He considered his 2014 decision loss to former titleholder Matt Korobov a completely different time and chapter in his career.
For Plant, who promised his late daughter four years ago before her death that he would win a world title in her honor, Sunday's fight represents the culmination of a difficult journey to the top.
"This has been a lifelong dream of mine to be fighting for a world title and now that time has finally come," Plant said. "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. I've worked hard for this defining moment in my boxing career and I'm going to rise to the occasion, and everyone will hear the words, 'and The new!'"
It can be difficult to believe how good a prospect truly is until they are thrown into the deep end to prove themselves against a division elite. Consider this the moment of truth in that regard for Plant, who doesn't have the track record to suggest -- either way -- that this is a leap he will be willing to make.
Yet if you're looking for reasons to believe in Plant from the standpoint of intangibles, he seems to possess mental toughness in spades after a difficult upbringing in rural Tennessee and the overcoming of personal tragedy. He also appears to have the kind of speed and craft that should fare well on the championship level.
The question then becomes whether Plant can do enough offensively to give the hard-charging Uzcategui a reason to alter his course. Unless Plant proves he is capable of raising his game to an entirely new level when pushed so he can set traps and avoid engaging, he'll likely need to fight his way out of trouble consistently given Uzcategui's relentless style.
Should the bout then evolve into more of a dog fight in the later rounds, it's difficult not to favor the bigger puncher with more experience.
Pick: Uzcategui via UD12