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 Truax’s 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 “The Drill” 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 Truax’s promoter Tony Grygelko as a “nuclear weapon,” forcing Truax to fight hesitantly not just in the opening round but all night long.
“Knowing that he’s a big puncher, I didn’t want to get caught with anything stupid,” 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.
“I 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,” Truax said.
Williams felt that while he wasn’t landing big punches early on, he did do enough to win points early on.
“I controlled that man with that jab the whole night,” Williams said. “It’s about hitting and not being hit; that’s the science of boxing. I wasn’t getting hit, and I was hitting him.”
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 Truax’s body to close out the third round.
The game plan for Truax coming into the fight was to use his speed to counter Williams’ strength, which is something Truax said he failed to do at points in the fight.
“I could’ve punched a little bit more, threw some more punches and some more combinations, but I just tried to work behind my jab,” Truax said. “Get the jab in his face and work behind that.”
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.
“Don’t talk to him, just work,” Hickman said. “Talk with your hands.”
Regardless of talk, Williams threw some of his best punches in the fourth, landing a right straight that bloodied Truax’s 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 Williams’ 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.
“I thought I was doing a good job negating that [power] by just moving and hitting the right angles and using my speed,’ Truax said. “I felt I took it away from him.”
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.
“Don’t wait for the perfect shot; it’s not going to be perfect,” 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 Truax’s head near the neutral corner that had Truax wobbly, but he stayed on his feet.
Truax withstood Williams’ final flurry, and the closing bell sounding meant the fate of the fight would be left in the hands of the three judges.
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, Truax’s 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.
“99 percent of the people think he won,” Truax trainer Ron Lyke said. “The only round I thought he had a problem was the very end.”
In the locker room after the fight, without celebrating a victory for the first time in his professional career, Truax felt he didn’t deserve the blemish Friday night.
“I worked so hard to have it taken away from me … if he would have really beaten me, then it’s a different thing,” Truax said. “If it was an even fight, then it’s different, then I can live with that. It hurts because I thought I won, and obviously they didn’t think that.”
On the other side, Williams too felt he did enough to earn the win.
“I come fight him in his hometown, and if I usually fight someone in their hometown and get a draw, you know I dominated,” Williams said. “It is what it is.”
Hickman, who has worked with both Williams and Truax, said he thought Truax held his ground, but Williams should have won the championship bout.
“In my mind I thought Phil edged it out,” Hickman said. “He didn’t dominate. That’s for sure. But he worked enough to edge it out just barely.”
Benson, who scored the fight for Truax, expressed surprise not at Nelson’s draw decision but at Mariano’s belief Williams won the fight.
“I thought [Truax] beat him,” Benson said. “He landed more blows.”
Nelson said that while Truax controlled the early action, Williams strong finish garnered his split decision.
“I thought in the beginning, Caleb was winning, but then Williams started coming back with them jabs,” Nelson said. “He was landing some pretty good jabs.”
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.
“I’m feeling I’m going to go out there and get what’s mine,” Williams said before the bout.
Williams’ 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.
“He didn’t have the energy; his mind was in a completely different place,” said Hickman, who travelled with Williams for the fight. “He told me he was going to quit then, but he decided ‘I was going to fix this.’”
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.
“They thought I was down,” Williams said, “and I felt like all the cards were stacked against me. When all the cards are stacked against me, that’s when I’m ready to fight.
After the crowd had dispersed, talks with both fighters turned from discussing the fight that was, to discussing the next fight that could be.
“We can rematch,” Truax said. “If he wants to do it, we can do it. I’ll beat him again.”
Not surprisingly, Williams was likewise up for a rematch between the fighters but under different circumstances. Friday’s fight was fought at 164 pounds. Truax’s side wants to drop to 160 for a rematch, but Williams said he will only fight at 168, the maximum weight for the class .
“I met him at 164 just to meet him because he didn’t want to come to 168,” Williams said. “I doubt he’s going to want to get back in the ring with me. He’s going to feel that power again.”
It’s 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.
“I guess all they can do is have a rematch,” Nelson said.
-Josh Katzenstein contributed to this report.
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