Like every up-and-coming mixed martial arts fighter, Travis Demko dreamed of one day making it to the pinnacle of his sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
Until he let his hands go.
"Once I started boxing," Demko said, "it took over. I liked the boxing a lot more."
Four months after his final MMA fight as an amateur, the Stoughton, Mass., native traded in his 4-ounce gloves for a much bigger set and stepped out of the confines of the cage and into the squared circle, making his professional boxing debut in May of 2014.
Now 4-0 as a pro, Demko returns to the ring Friday, Feb. 19th, 2016 on the undercard of CES Boxing's season debut at Twin River Casino, where he'll face New Jersey's Malik Jackson (3-7-4, 2 KOs) in a 4-round welterweight bout, Demko's second fight under the guidance of CES.
Initially, Demko took up boxing at the age of 13 to "get my hands better for MMA," working with former Stoughton pro Eddie Bishop, who had a small a space downstairs from where Demko originally practiced taekwondo.
His passion for boxing continued to grow, but he still competed in both sports. In his final year as an amateur, he took an MMA fight just one week after wrapping up his Southern New England Golden Gloves championship, but there was something about the sweet science that eventually lured him out of the cage for good.
"MMA, I love, but it was just a sport where I was good at grappling, but I didn't like being on the ground. I love being on my feet," he said. "I like the fact you wear shoes in boxing and you have a better grip on the mat. In MMA, you're always hurting your joints or your knee or elbow or something. When I boxed, I never got hurt.
"The only thing I'd get is a black eye."
Demko's not the first MMA fighter to try his hand at boxing, and he certainly won't be the last, but he's achieved a level of success unheard of among those who've crossed over to the squared circle. He and fellow Massachusetts native Matt Doherty, who is 3-2 in MMA and 4-1-1 as a boxer, are among the few to excel at both, and Demko credits his persistence in making the seamless transition.
"I took the time and put the time into it," Demko said. "It's not like I just started doing boxing and had one or two fights. I had 30, 35 amateur fights, I was sparring with a lot of good guys around this area for a while. I put the time into it."
Demko always knew he wanted to fight in some capacity, but wasn't sure which way he'd lean until he started boxing professionally. A year and a half later, it's now a full-time job.
"This is the only thing I want to do," he says. "I think I can take it all the way to the top. I want to be the best in the world."
Though he's focused solely on Friday's opponent, a tough journeyman who recently went the distance with unbeaten junior welterweight Mikkel LesPierre, Demko still has unfinished business with his previous opponent, Mohamad Allam, whom he beat on CES' Sept. 19th show at Twin River.
Allam, a Holyoke, Mass., native, will also be on Friday's undercard in a 4-round bout against Brockton, Mass., vet Lionel Young (1-2, 1 KO), but has made it clear he wants another shot at Demko.
"He's soft," Demko said of Allam. "I don't know what he's thinking. I watched the fight a million times. I think I won the fight hands down. I don't think it was a razor-blade, close match like he thinks it was. I think he's a sore loser.
"If I lost the fight, I would've taken it like a man. He's being a bitch about it, to tell you the truth, putting videos online, putting it on Facebook. The fight's going to happen and when he loses a second time, he's not going to be able to say anything. I hope he doesn't come up with another excuse."
"I take every fight as a championship fight," he continued. "I read the article on Allam saying he went into [our] fight 60 percent. I don't know what you're thinking. How are you going to be a professional boxer coming into a fight 60 percent? Go do something else. Go play checkers or something. I don't know why you'd come to fight 60 percent. That makes no sense. I'll call him out and I'll call Julio Perez out. Julio Perez won't want to fight me because he's scared, but Allam is stupid enough to take the fight and he'll take another loss."
Whether or not he gets another shot at Allam - or his new stable mate, Perez - Demko is poised for a breakthrough 2016, starting with anyone in the region who chooses to cross his path. Cage or ring, it doesn't matter. Demko's simply ready to fight.
"In the beginning, it was all about MMA," he said. "My dream was to go to the UFC, but once I got into boxing, I wanted to be the best in boxing."
Tickets for CES Boxing's Feb. 19th season debut are priced at $40, $75 and $125 (VIP) and are available for purchase online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club.
Unbeaten Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight Khiary Gray (11-0, 9 KOs) fights for the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) Youth Title in the 8-round main event while Female middleweight Kali Reis (7-5-1, 3 KOs) of Providence returns home for the first time in more than three years to face New Mexico's Victoria Cisneros (12-18-2, 5 KOs) in a 10-round bout for the vacant UBF World Middleweight Title.
Feb. 19th also features the return of unbeaten Worcester native Freddy Sanchez (7-0, 5 KO) and Framingham featherweight Timmy Ramos (2-0-1, 2 KOs), plus a 4-round bout between Alaskan middleweight Fatlum Zhuta (2-0-1, 2 KOs) and Greg McCoy (3-5-1, 2 KOs) of New Haven, Conn.
Perez (3-0), fighting out of Marlborough, Mass., faces Maine's Josh Parker (0-1-1) in a 4-round junior welterweight bout while Sanchez battles Brockton's Antonio Fernandes (7-25-3, 2 KOs). Ramos faces pro debut featherweight Tanner Dodd of Robinson, Tex., in a 4-round bout.
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