Heavyweight contender Travis Kauffman isn’t one to make excuses, even when he’s on the wrong end of a controversial decision. In December of 2015, Kauffman (31-1) fought former world title challenger Chris Arreola in a crucial crossroads match. Despite flooring Arreola in the third, Kauffman fell victim to his early explosion, which resulted in a controversial split decision for Arreola that was changed to a No Contest after the “victor” tested positive for a banned substance.
Suspect verdict aside, Travis Kauffman has a refreshing attitude when it comes to the Arreola fight and what amounted to a missed opportunity. Unlike the majority of fighters who readily trot out a litany of excuses when justifying a setback or middling performance, Kauffman assumes full responsibility for what happened in the most significant fight of his career.
“I worked my ass off for this,” Travis says. “It was my own fault. I let it go. After watching it so many times, even though I still score it the same way, I feel that was my fault. When I knocked Chris down, I had him hurt and out. It was my job to finish him off, and I didn’t.”
On Friday, Kauffman will look to score his second consecutive victory since the Arreola bout when he faces dangerous fringe contender, and borderline gatekeeper, Amir Mansour in a must-win contest (9:00 p.m. ET/PT; Bounce). At 31, Kauffman needs to generate momentum now if he hopes to land a title shot. Fully aware of the stakes, Travis can also count on the support and wisdom of his father Marshall. For the Kauffmans, boxing is indeed a family affair.
Marshall Kauffman was first seriously drawn to the sport at 18 when “slap boxing” in the inner city streets with friends — “I had to learn to defend myself,” says Marshall — morphed into a dedication to serious training, as well as a brief amateur and professional career. Forced to make a decision between prizefighting and the business he’d started, Marshall chose the latter, but boxing never left his blood.
In 1995, Marshall opened King’s Gym as a means to help troubled youth get off the streets, and he followed that up with King’s Promotions to generate opportunities for the fighters he trained and handled. For Marshall, providing his fighters with the framework to potentially succeed in boxing’s notoriously conniving landscape became a calling.
“The reason I started to promote boxing back then was just as a way to move the fighters I trained and managed,” Marshall says. “When I came up, what I learned from other people was that they were sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. And I didn’t want to do that because 90 percent of the time you’re the opponent. So, I had to make things happen for my guys, and I didn’t want to put them in the position where they were just the opponent.”
In 2013, Marshall and King’s Promotions skyrocketed after forging a working relationship with Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions. Prior to working with Haymon, Marshall was promoting around four shows per year and had no full-time staff. But last year alone, King’s put on over 25 televised fight cards, and while they have worked all over the United States, Marshall and his company retain a strong sense of home. “I love Pennsylvania,” Marshall says. “That’s where I started from, and that’s where I want to continue.”
With a burgeoning stable of prospects, Marshall stepped away from coaching following open heart surgery in 2013. Because of this, Travis began working with renowned trainer Naazim Richardson, which both father and son agree is for the best. While Travis’ success has been shared, both admit that a certain critical distance is necessary in their boxing relationship. With father-son relationships in boxing notorious for their volatility, Travis and Marshall appear to have struck an admirable balance.
But don’t think that means Marshall, with his decades of experience in the sport, isn’t a nervous wreck whenever his son fights. “There’s a lot of anxiety,” Marshall says. “That’s why I don’t have any hair left on my head. Or what I do have left is grey.”
“The only one who wasn’t nervous [for the Arreola fight] was Travis,” Marshall continues. “It took a lot of weight off my shoulders. Prior to every fight we pray together. I’m praying, I’m starting to cry, and he pats me on the back and says, ‘Dad, don’t worry about this. I got this.’ It was a great feeling, and that’s something I’ll remember forever.”
Indeed, Travis Kauffman has given his father concrete reasons to be confident, but the road to becoming a ranked amateur and burgeoning contender in the paid ranks was arduous and laden with frustration. Simply put, Travis loathed boxing when first introduced to it, and much of that had to do with it being the precise thing that kept his father, a single parent, away from him.
Travis trudged to the gym beginning at age nine, but he went through a period of depression only a year later when his grandmother, who was integral in raising him, passed away. Seeking attention from his father, Travis acted out as he grew into adolescence, culminating in a traumatic beating at the hands of approximately 10 peers who ambushed him.
The harrowing event, however, turned out to be a turning point for Travis Kauffman. As Travis sought retribution one assailant at a time, he found out that the ringleader was an amateur boxer. For the first time, Travis felt genuinely motivated to box, and he wound up defeating his tormentor in the Golden Gloves. This began a five-year amateur odyssey that saw Travis compile a 52-12 record and a top national ranking. And yet, despite this achievement, he languished, content to coast on talent. But that changed in 2009 when his first and only pro defeat, to fellow prospect Tony Grano, led to some serious soul searching. The end result was Travis Kauffman found the determination to fully dedicate himself to developing his natural abilities.
“Now I’m 31. I’m a single father of two boys myself, and this is something that I need,” Travis says. “I don’t have anything else to fall back on. I’ve never worked a day in my life; boxing has been my job. When I was 18, I got arrested for selling drugs. I’m a felon for the rest of my life. What else can I do? Boxing’s all I have. And I love it now because of what it’s done for me and my kids, and my family and community.”
Travis Kauffman has evolved as his children have matured. At his lowest point, following the Grano loss and years of sporadic activity, he found himself unable to support his family. It wasn’t until associate and friend Jeff Nigrelli offered financial backing that Travis was able to focus solely on boxing. With his basic needs accounted for, Kauffman is free to fully dedicate himself to the sport he’d long orbited around; it’s a chance he’s determined to take full advantage of.
And through all this, Marshall Kauffman has been there for his son. Although Travis and Marshall no longer have a training partnership, Marshall maintains an influential, managerial-type role, which works for Travis given the palpable craving he’s always had for a meaningful relationship with his father.
“It’s rough. They say never do business with family, and this is my business,” Travis says. “My dad should understand that I’m the boss in this career. But at the end of the day, my father’s my best friend. I know he wants what’s best for me.”
For Marshall and Travis Kauffman, the winding road boxing has taken them on is at a fork, with Amir Mansour threatening to obstruct their desired path. But both father and son enter Friday’s bout with total confidence and a clear sense of where they’re headed. “The Chris Arreola fight opened up eyes,” Travis says. “A win over Mansour, that’s going to open up doors.” — Zachary Alapi