Before boxing was his profession, a teenage Travis Reeves would take the metro from Owings Mills, Md., to Broadway Street near Johns Hopkins Hospital, and then walk to the Baltimore Boxing Club in Fells Point.
Reeves won his first amateur match in 1997 at age 17, after only three weeks in the gym. But even as he moved on from college to a career as an electrical engineer, boxing remained a part of his conditioning. Reeves trained wherever life took him, but his current gym, Honeycomb Boxing Gym in Baltimore, is different than any other he has been in. In this gym, Reeves has made a comeback, and in this gym, Reeves is referred to as "The Champ."
Reeves, 36, who did not begin his professional boxing career until age 32, says the timing was perfect and "I'm glad I didn't turn pro" earlier.
In 2004, following a loss in the amateur Maryland State Golden Gloves championship, Reeves decided to turn professional but nothing came to fruition. He signed a contract to a fight in Philadelphia that fell through, his camp started to break down and his boxing career was finished, at least for a while.
"It was not an easy decision, because there was no guarantee I could come back," the now United States Boxing Organization's light heavyweight champion said.
Later that year, Reeves graduated from Morgan State University, five miles from his old boxing gym. He began working as an electrical engineer for Phoenix International, a marine services contractor, and eventually became their top electrical engineer. Reeves now does the same job for the U.S. Coast Guard.
But unfinished business of his other career haunted Reeves. Buying real estate and other ventures could not fill the gap.
"OK, you're a great engineer now. You proved that you can do that," Reeves said to himself. "Now go back to your original plan to be the best fighter in the world."
Reeves credits his second run at boxing and the accompanying success to the group surrounding him, both in the gym and outside of it.
"You can always play with those [what if] scenarios, but honestly, I'm excited I waited, only because I wanted to be in contact with the people I'm in contact with now," Reeves said. "When I was 21, I did not have [these] people around me."
Those include the Shabazz Brothers and Shawstyle Productions, which have put professional boxing on display in Baltimore. Reeves won the United States Boxing Organizations' light heavyweight championship at their sixth Baltimore Boxing Renaissance event in November at DuBurns Arena against a previously undefeated Aaron Quattrocchi. Also, the Maryland State cruiserweight champion, Reeves has not lost a fight since July 2013 and boasts a 13-2-2 professional record.
"The local fighters now have a format and a place in which they can perform, otherwise the only place you can have them is out of town," Reeves' friend and business partner Richard Swartz said. "[Imagine] if the Ravens only ever had away games, [this] gets everybody involved."
Not only does Reeves now have a hometown team by his side, he has the trainer he always longed for. A former professional boxer himself, Vernon Mason is the voice in Reeves' ear every day at Honeycomb Boxing Gym, owned by Lamont Farmer, who also travels to all of Reeves' fights.
"I realized [Mason] was the missing ingredient that I needed to go pro 10 years ago," Reeves said. "When I was younger, I was so athletic, so skillful, so raw. I fought with a lot of heart, but he took me to another level."
Mason, who finished with a 22-8-4 career record in the late 1960s to the mid-1970s in the welterweight division, first saw Reeves fight in 2010 when Reeves knocked out a professional in a sparring session.
"He reminded me of me. I saw the devious mind," Mason said.
Mason and Farmer take great pride in their boxers being analytical, and praise Reeves for being able to learn and be responsive to direction. Farmer said he prefers fighters to have instincts rather than emotions and claims Reeves possesses those instincts.
"Emotions are the enemy of the fighter," Farmer said. "If you won a fight on an emotional high, you got lucky, that is what the amateur does."
Mason echoed a similar sentiment regarding Reeves' will and character as a person.
"If he were defeated, he would not sulk [in] defeat," Mason said. "He would not mope like I see some guys do. He would analyze what caused the defeat. We know that because we instilled that in him -- to be analytical."
Even after Reeves started training with Mason in late 2010, he did not turn pro immediately. But when he started to see he had the right camp around him, he saw an opportunity. He wanted to be the best he could be in whatever he did, engineering or boxing, and now both were a possibility.
"Timing is everything," Mason said. "We have a lot of guys that could be great, but the timing and the combination of things just aren't there. You have to recognize when it is the time, and a lot of that comes from the people around you being able to teach you."
Although more professional boxing is being brought into Baltimore, Reeves said the stars must still align for a young fighter to make it out of a tough environment like Baltimore. But those who make it out, can make it out of anywhere.
"Who is teaching these guys? Do they have the right support cast? Are they really dedicated? Is their heart really into it?" Reeves said. "There are all these different variables."
Reeves' next fight will be in Australia with the IBF International light heavyweight title on the line. A victory against Trent Broadhurst would be the biggest of his career and would put Reeves closer to obtaining a chance at one of professional boxing's four light heavyweight world championship titles.
The fight will be live streamed on the Shawstyle Productions Facebook page March 18 at a time to be announced.
"He never gave up faith in who he was. He never gave up faith that he could be somebody significant in the game," Farmer said. "He is on the precipice of greatness right now."
Issue 229: January 2017