By Ryan Songalia
Undefeated heavyweight prospect Travis Kauffman quietly returned to the ring on June 26 in Rochester, NY, making quick work of Octavius Smith in 45 seconds of the first round. Not much of a ring-rust shaking performance after a 14-month layoff.
What should have been nothing more than a record padding win became took on a greater significance. After all, Kauffman had every reason to believe that he might never fight again.
Kauffman's promising ring career was put on hold in June of last year when he pleaded guilty to charges that he'd had sexual relations with a 12-year-old girl. Kauffman was 19 at the time of the alleged incident.
His then-lawyer had advised Kauffman that, facing the possibility of 8-16 years for marijuana distribution he was already under the gun for, walking with the 5-to-10 year mandatory sentence would be the lesser of two poisons. Kauffman was told that the evidence against him was overwhelming.
Only after pleading guilty did Kauffman find out that he would have to register as a Megan's Law sex offender. Not only that, visits with his son, two-year-old Travis Jr., would have to be supervised by a court liason.
Realizing that his life would never be the same again, Kauffman rescinded his plea and hired new legal counsel. After three years of fighting for his freedom, a Berks County Court jury acquitted Kauffman in March.
"I felt like there was a big weight lifted off my shoulders," said Kauffman, who raised his record to 11-0 (8 KO) with the Smith victory. "I thanked God everyday because the person they were making me out to be was not me."
The 22-year-old Kauffman is still facing drug charges stemming from several incidents four years ago. Kauffman's lawyers are working on a deal for probation. If unsuccessful, Kauffman faces a stint in boot camp.
"That is minor compared to what I was looking at," Kauffman says. "I was dumb and made a huge mistake. I've turned my life around. I hope everything works out with that but you never know. I am willing to accept the consequences for that because I made a mistake.
"Everyone makes mistakes. I am human and I learned from it."
Kauffman had been spending more time in courtrooms than boxing rings. As a result, the typically svelte Kauffman ballooned to 310 pounds. Normally Kauffman weighs in between 225 and 240. To deal with the anxiety caused by his legal travails, Kauffman turned to food.
"This past year I went through so much stress and was at the point of not boxing no more. Everything in sight I ate it because that is how I dealt with everything. In the year and a half off I blew up because of the stress and depression I was going through and really didn't care."
Instead of roadwork and hitting the bag, Kauffman spent as much time with his son as possible.
"My son loves eating like Daddy so when he ate so did I," Kauffman jested.
After being exonerated, Kauffman re-entered the gym to get himself back into fighting shape. He worked "extremely hard" in his father and trainer Marshall's gym, entering the ring at 243 pounds for the Smith destruction. Still, Kauffman would like to be 20 pounds lighter for future fights.
Heavy as he was, it still felt good to fight as a free man.
"I went through so much BS this past year that set me back, but it only made me hungrier to go after my dream. I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and sometimes we don't know what the reasons are. In this case I know what the reason is, because it made me want a title and dig deeper to become the heavyweight champ of the world. The crowd was a great support towards me."
The former number one ranked amateur has fought his last three fights away from his hometown in Pennsylvania.
Throughout the trial, Kauffman faced stigma in his community from the charges brought against him. His loyal hometown fan base lost faith in him, similar to what fellow Pennsylvania native son Paul Spadafora endured during his own legal battles. Slowly, says Kauffman, his community is warming up once more to "The Great White Hope."
"All I can say is everyone who read it and didn't know the facts or know me as a person of course started assuming things. But 12 jurors heard the facts and sat in on the case and they acquitted me.
"I was disappointed that my community turned they're back on me but the charges were serious and I am glad that my family and close friends who know me personally stuck by my side and in the end thats all that matters."
Kauffman now looks to make up for lost time by fighting as frequently as his body will allow him to. His team is looking to broker a deal to place him on the undercard of the July 16 Hasim Rahman-James Toney fight. If that doesn't work out July 19's Rob Calloway-Max Alexander card might be the target for his next bout.
A September 13 homecoming fight has already been finalized.
"I have something to prove. Like I said, everything in life happens for a reason. That was just a bump in the road and I caught a flat tire. I put a new tire on and I am driving again.
"No more stress on my plate so I am now focused once again."
Comments To firstname.lastname@example.org