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Travis Kauffman Still Waiting On That Big Break He Needs

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Scan the top 15 ratings for the four most widely recognized world sanctioning bodies and you’ll see that there isn’t the shortage of U.S. heavyweights many believe to be the case. But most of the names listed belong to fighters over 30 years of age and, in the case of the highest-ranked American, Tony Thompson, over 40.

That whittles the supply of “young” American heavyweights – defined here as those on the sunny side of 30 – to three men who might or might not have the goods to represent a real challenge not only to reigning champions Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, but to a glut of other Eastern Europeans who dominate the rankings.

Two of those heavyweights you probably know about. Deontay Wilder (29-0, 29 KOs) is 27, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and has won every one of his professional bouts by knockout, including a first-round starching of faded former WBO titlist Sergei Liakhovich on Aug. 9 in Indio, Calif., a fight which was televised by Showtime. Bryant Jennings (17-0, 9 KOs) is 28 and has been featured regularly in nationally televised scraps on NBC SportsNet, including a ninth-round stoppage of the aforementioned Liakhovich on March 24, 2012.

Then there is Travis Kauffman (24-1, 18 KOs). The Reading, Pa., fighter, who turns 28 on Wednesday, is not a former Olympian, hasn’t had the benefit of recent TV exposure and has no really recognizable names on his resume. Maybe he is the best of the young American heavys, as his father-trainer-manager, Marshall Kauffman, insists, but there aren’t many who have seen enough of him to objectively weigh in on the subject, despite Travis’ No. 13 ranking from the WBA.

One thing is certain: No matter what happens Friday night at the Valley Forge (Pa.) Casino and Resort in suburban Philadelphia, few are apt to sit up and take notice. Kauffman is paired against 32-year-old journeyman Arron Lyons (12-12-1, 9 KOs) — who’ll be fighting for the first time in 16 months — in a scheduled eight-rounder, and he’ll be expected to take care of business swiftly and emphatically. Kauffman-Lyons ostensibly isn’t even the main event of the evening; top billing is going to Naim Nelson (10-1, 1 KO), who defends his Pennsylvania lightweight title against Ryan Belasco (18-5-3, 3 KOs) in a scheduled six-rounder.

But those high-paying, high-visibility TV dates are hard to come by for someone who is not backed by a big-time promoter or manager , so Kauffman for now is obliged to play not only off-off-Broadway, but off-off-Broad Street (that’s Philly, folks).

Kauffman, who was on the cusp of much bigger and better things four years ago, before he was stopped in the fourth round of a ShoBox-televised fight against Tony Grano, still believes it can happen for him, and that he is a more complete and naturally gifted fighter than either Jennings or Wilder.

“I take nothing away from them, but I see so many things I could take advantage of if we fought,” Kauffman said. “Yeah, Wilder has a great jab and good power, but I think I’m better than him. Same thing with Jennings. I don’t consider Jennings to be so very talented, but his work ethic is unbelievable. He’s gotten as far as he has because he works so hard.”

Make no mistake, the 6-3½ Kauffman, who has fought at weights ranging from 221 pounds to 243, hasn’t always had the most disciplined approach to his craft. At one point between bouts, he allowed his weight to balloon to 310 pounds. The reformed bad boy – he has spent time in juvenile detention facilities and once was charged with statutory rape, although the charge eventually was dropped for lack of evidence – has had to deal with injuries (including two surgeries to his right hand and one to his left) and his less-connected handlers’ inability to secure the kind of fights he needs to get back into the limelight. He admits to occasional stretches of depression, none more severe than in the months after his powerhouse manager, Al Haymon, dropped him following the loss to Grano.

“It wasn’t so much that I lost,” Kauffman said of that fateful night of Sept. 18, 2009, in Indio, Calif. “It was more that Al Haymon turned his back on me. I had put my whole life into boxing and it felt like I lost it all in the blink of an eye. Let’s face it, Al Haymon was the one who was getting me that TV exposure in the first place. He’s got Floyd Mayweather. When he told me I could go all the way to the top, of course I believed him.”

Kauffman, who also had scored a third-round TKO of Malachy Farrell that was televised by ShoBox during his brief association with Haymon, suddenly found himself not only a step or two behind where he had been, but seemingly at the back of the line.

“Al Haymon had promised me that if I beat Tony Grano, my next fight, my coming-out party, would be on HBO for a minimum of $100,000,” Kauffman recalled. “I live in the inner city of Reading, Pennsylvania. I was showing my kids (he had four at the time, including two stepchildren, a number which has since climbed to five) nice houses in the suburbs. So when I lost and Al turned his back on me, it was devastating.

“People tell you it’s just one loss, to forget about it and move on, but it’s not that easy. I really didn’t want to box no more. And it’s been an up-and-down battle ever since. I’ve had my share of injuries. Now it’s time to (crap) or get off the pot. Mentally, I feel as good as I did before the Grano fight, when I was the most talked-about American heavyweight besides Chris Arreola. But after I lost to Grano, it was like everybody forgot who Travis Kauffman was. I won’t lie to you, it hurt.”

Steve Farhood, the ShoBox commentator who was a ringside for Kauffman’s fights with Farrell and Grano, said he is disappointed that Kauffman crawled into a hole following the Grano fight instead of dusting himself off and getting right back to work, preferably in a rematch with his conqueror.

“He was in complete control against Grano, but as soon as things started going against him, it was over. He got stopped,” Farhood said. “I don’t want to make it sound too much like I’m taking a shot at the kid, but look at Seth Mitchell. When he got beat (by Johnathan Banks), he got right back in the ring with the fighter who had beaten him. And while he wasn’t particularly impressive, he was victorious. Kauffman would have shown me a lot more if he had rematched with Grano and won. Instead, he’s fought mostly fighters with losing records.

“You can tell a lot about a fighter by who his handlers put him in with. To this point, (a low level of competition) has been the knock against Deontay Wilder, and you can the same thing about Travis Kauffman.”

But it’s not really the same thing, is it? Mitchell, the former Michigan State linebacker, continued to have the Golden Boy promotional machine in his corner. Without Haymon’s managerial clout to open doors, Kauffman’s career became even more dependent on his dad, who freely admits he doesn’t have the resources to maneuver his son into more lucrative dates than the stay-busy kind he’s taking against Lyons.

“Travis’ biggest drawback, probably, is me,” said Marshall Kauffman, who also has trained former world champs Kermit Cintron and Hasim Rahman. “And the biggest positive for him probably is me, too. We’ve had to deal with that whole father-son, coach-boxer thing that sometimes gets in the way. I don’t think it’s as much of an issue as it used to be. A lot of those kinks have been ironed out over the years.

“But there’s only so much I can do on a limited budget. Look, I’d have Travis fight someone like Liakhovich any time, any place. But you have to have enough money to pay Liakhovich enough money to entice him into the ring. Same thing with Bowie Tupou, who Jennings beat. I just can’t afford to pay those guys enough to appear on a small club card with no TV, like I’m doing at Valley Forge.”

So Travis Kauffman is obliged to take another off-the-radar fight against Lyons, the latest in a line of opponents who pose no real threat to someone his admittedly biased father calls “by far the best American heavyweight out there.” Only eight of the fighters who have faced Kauffman have winning career records, and the cumulative of everyone he has fought is 277-304-23, with 194 wins inside the distance and 164 KO losses.

It’s not that Kauffman hasn’t mixed it up with higher-quality guys. He has sparred with, among others, Rahman, Arreola, Eddie Chambers, Oleg Maskaev, Dominick Guinn and Malik Scott. But sparring sessions aren’t the same things as fights that count, and Kauffman can only hope to catch the sort of break that Jennings did when, on short notice, he and Maurice Byarm found themselves in the main event of the first NBC SportsNet “Fight Night” card after an injured Chambers fell out.

So what’s needed for Travis Kauffman to again wangle his way into position to make some noise in a depleted heavyweight division that is literally crying out for a young American contender?

“Patience. Persistence,” said the father. “Something will open up, eventually. Of course, it can happen a lot quicker when you have a Top Rank or a Golden Boy or a Main Events behind you. But you also have to be smart about the choices you make.

“When Grano fell out of a fight with (Tomasz) Adamek, Travis got offered his spot, but he would have had only one week to get ready, and that wasn’t nearly enough time. Look, you always have to be ready for a chance like that, but you also have to make sure the reward outweighs the risk. Give Travis six to eight weeks to train and he’ll be only too glad to fight anybody.”

Travis said the mistake too many fighters make is to jump into a seemingly lucrative situation when the circumstances aren’t right.

“I have too much pride to take a fight on short notice when I’m not in shape,” he said. “I know a lot of guys who do that simply because they need the money. Do I need the money? Absolutely. Who doesn’t need money? But I want to be heavyweight champion of the world. If I take a fight when I’m not ready and lose, I’ll probably never get the right kind of opportunity again.

“Sometimes you feel, like, cursed. I got offered a fight with Seth Mitchell, but it was on the same day I underwent surgery on my right hand. So much for that.

“You almost feel like quitting sometimes, but I’ve never worked a 9-to-5. For me to give up boxing now and to try to find a regular job, with no experience, would be hard. I can’t take care of five kids working at McDonald’s. So what choice do I have except to keep pushing ahead?”

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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