These two boxers fought the coronavirus — and now they are fighting each other.
On Saturday night, in what could be dubbed the COVID-19 Classic, Manhattan-based Swede Otto Wallin and Pennsylvania native Travis Kauffman will face off against each other at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, where they’ve been sequestered with no outside contact.
Airing on Showtime, there will be no fans in attendance, only antibodies.
“They could have made a good COVID-19 reality show based on us,” Kauffman, 34, told The Post. “It could have been ads by Z-Pak,” he said, referring to the antibiotic. (He’s not so far off: Virus Vodka is one of his sponsors.)
Although now it’s easy to find humor in the situation, both contracted the virus in mid-March, as the pandemic began its path of devastation through the United States. Each was infected alongside a parent, but ultimately pushed through illness and lockdown restrictions to whip himself into fighting shape.
On March 15, Wallin, 29, started to experience a sore throat, mild fever and sneezing that lasted about five days. His mother, who had just flown from New York to Sweden, fell ill, as did her diabetic boyfriend, who had to be admitted to the hospital for five days. Both tested positive for the coronavirus and have since recovered, while Wallin later tested positive for antibodies.
He was never scared for his life, but it did make training difficult.
“I got better and then I lost my sense of smell and taste for five days,” Wallin told The Post. “I stayed at home and quarantined, and I began training before I even got my senses back. When I first started, [breathing] felt a little different. It was like I had smoked a pack of cigarettes.”
Unable to go to a gym because the Big Apple was on lockdown, the 6-foot-6 boxer turned his one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea into a training facility, adding a stationary bike, a weight bench and dumbbells, working out several times a day. While it didn’t exactly have the makings of a “Rocky”-caliber montage, it was incredibly resourceful.
Without a heavy bag, he began dishing out beatings to his decorative fireplace. But after “I started noticing some stones were falling off,” he switched surfaces. “I put on gloves and let loose on the wall. It has a little color from the gloves but it isn’t bashed in.” He eventually started to meet his trainer for boxing workouts in Central Park before moving to a private gym with his small team in mid-June.
Meanwhile, down in Reading, Penn., Kauffman woke up one mid-March day feeling like he “got hit by a train. I was like, ‘Holy s–t, something is wrong,’” said the father of four, who tested positive for COVID on March 21.
His fever shot up to 102.7 degrees, and he experienced body aches, a never-ending headache and diarrhea. After eight days, his symptoms started to wane, but he had passed it on to all of his children and his father: “It spread like wildfire.” All have since recovered, including the elder Kauffman, who had a nasty three-week battle with the disease.
Unlike Wallin, Kauffman hadn’t fought since 2018, when he weighed 229 pounds. When he got sick, he was 275 pounds and not training consistently, which he believes made his recovery harder. He eased himself back into a fitness routine by riding his bike for a few weeks.
“I felt like it may have taken my lungs a bit [longer] to get back [into shape]. Boxing is intense cardiovascular work,” he said.
Despite the shutdown, he was able to hit up his father’s boxing gym, while following a “clean” eating plan that cut out junk food and cut back on sodium.
“It’s portion control, really. I’ve been a big guy my whole life. The reality is, I am in shape now. I am good and ready to fight,” said 6-foot-3 Kauffman, who aims to be between 230 and 240 pounds.
“One thing I have dealt with my entire life is adversity. If I didn’t have it, it wouldn’t feel right,” Kauffman said.
For the past few weeks, the pugilists and their teams have been tested for the virus twice a week.
But the real test comes on Saturday night. Kauffman said he’s grateful to have boxing back. “I’m just trying to take care of business. This is how I provide for my kids.”
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