Travis Kauffman remembers the last time he spoke with Naazim Richardson.

Kauffman’s father, Marshall, went to visit a sick Richardson in the hospital in February. Brother Naazim wasn’t doing much talking, but he yelled, “Hey champ!” once he saw Kauffman on a video call.

It was those types of moments that described their relationship. Kauffman trained with Richardson from 2014-18, up until his last fight against Luis Ortiz.

Mr. Richardson passed away on July 24 at 55 years old. His death was felt by many in the boxing community.

“It broke my heart,” Kauffman said “I shed tears for days.”

Kauffman, a Reading, Pa., native, will be Richardson’s first fighter to step back into the ring since his passing. He’s taking on Otto Wallin (20-1, 13 KOS) Saturday on Showtime in a 12-round heavyweight bout on the Benavidez-Angulo undercard. Wallin is mostly known for his fight with Tyson Fury, when he damaged the heavyweight champion with a large gash in a close fight.

“It is about me going out there and being myself and taking care of Kauffman,” Wallin said. “He’s a good fighter, so I have to be alert at all times, but I feel like I am just a better fighter, so as long as I go out and perform, no one will be saying it is a fluke and that I am for real.”

Saturday will be Kauffman’s first fight since he lost to Luis Ortiz on Dec. 1, 2018. Ortiz recorded a knockout against Kauffman (32-3, 23 KOs) in the 10th and final round.

Kauffman called Ortiz the most skilled fighter he's ever went against.
Mark J. Terrill / AP
Kauffman called Ortiz the most skilled fighter he's ever went against.

But why now? He hasn’t fought for more than a year-and-a-half, and Kauffman will turn 35 in August.

In his mind, it’s “Why not now?” He feels good, and the timing is right. Wallin is a tough opponent with whom to step into the ring after a long layoff. Some even asked Kauffman why he didn’t take a tune-up fight first.

“To me, this is my tune-up fight.” Kauffman said. “Not underestimating him. I don’t believe he’s a walk-in-the-park, but I do believe I’m more skilled than anyone he’s ever fought since Tyson Fury.”

Boxing isn’t just a hobby for Kauffman. It’s his way to cope and provide. He’s a single father of six. When he’s not boxing, he’s not making money. Boxing and street hustling are the only ways Kauffman has made money, and he doesn’t want to go back to the latter. Boxing is his life.

“Between every fight, I gain weight so fast, and that’s when my depression kicks in,” Kauffman said. “I eat a lot of food and then when I get fat, I get more depressed. What people don’t understand about depression is no amount of money is going to make you happy. You can have a million people with you, and you’re always alone. That’s the hard part.”

As a boxer, it was even harder for Kauffman to deal with depression because of the alpha-male, masculine-type persona usually associated with boxers. Kauffman’s advice to others is to check on friends and family.

Kauffman also contracted COVID-19 in March. Kauffman, his kids, and his father all tested positive. He’s been tested twice a week for the last two months, and all results have been negative.

“The biggest thing I was worried about was my father, because my kids were good,” Kauffman said. “They had symptoms, but it wasn’t bad. I was scared for the people around me more than myself.”

Wallin is entering the fight as the favorite, according to Oddschecker. At 29, he’s younger, and he’s been in the ring more recently.

But don’t tell Kauffman any of that. He’s a classic fighter who will get in the ring with anyone at any time. He fought Ortiz on six week’s notice. And one thing that Richardson taught Kauffman was to always believe in himself. He’s doing just that.

The crowdless action at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., will be different. Kauffman jokingly said he’s been in many street fights with no one around, but he believes his 15 years of experience will give him an advantage in this environment over Wallin.

“I believe this is make it or break it,” Kauffman said. “I win this fight, the sky’s the limit. I lose this fight, I really think I’ll have to find another career.”