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Former boxer and Rhode Island native Keith Kozlin had a brief amateur boxing career before turning professional in 2008. Keith defined himself as a fan friendly action fighter who was not afraid to brawl and left it all in the ring.

Although he began his boxing career late at the age of 24, he got out to an impressive start. Beginning with a unanimous decision against Borngod Washington on ESPN’s Friday night fights, he continuing to a 5-0 record with three knockouts, before experiencing his first loss in 2010 to North Carolina fighter Greg Mccoy.

Keith would bounce back from that loss with a third round TKO win in his next fight, only two months later, against Massachusetts native Eric Pinarreta. His career continued for two more years before an injury nudged him into retirement in 2012, following a unanimous decision over Reynaldo Rodriguez at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln Rhode Island.

Although he may not have reached great heights in boxing, finishing with a final record of 7-3-1, Keith’s story of perseverance, nevertheless interested me.

A couple of years after retiring from boxing, Keith used his self-described straight forward attacking style to pursue a career in acting. His love of acting began after he served as an extra in the Vinny Pazienza movie, 'Bleed for This'. He has since appeared in several television shows and movies, aggressively searching for any new auditions that become available. Most of his television and movie appearances have been non-speaking or limited dialogue roles, but it’s a start. However as of late, his acting career seems to be heating up, as he recently received minor roles in two big blockbuster movies starring Hollywood actors, Mark Wahlberg and Charlie Hunnam.

Keith and I have known each other for several years, having bonded over our love of boxing and sports in general. He is a very nice, unassuming guy, who is always smiling and happy to talk about upcoming boxing matches, possible acting gigs and more importantly his family. He and his wife Chandree have been together since he was 12 years old and they have three daughters, Kelsey, Kayla and Kellylyn. Chandree was ringside for all of Keith fights and now they both enjoy watching all three girls play basketball.

I wanted to know more about Keith’s boxing career and acting aspirations, so I scheduled a time to meet up with him at the Fight Factory Gym in West Warwick RI. He started training here a while back, both to keep in shape for possible acting roles as well to stay ready in case he decided to fight again. Retired boxers are always contemplating comebacks and Keith is no different. He would like to give his girls the opportunity to watch their dad box. He is 36 now and realistic about restarting a career at this age. If it happens he plans on taking it one fight at a time. Keith also enjoys sparring with some of the local fighters that train here, giving them some quality sparring while helping him to shake off the ring rust. Before we get into the questions, Keith is nice enough agree to carry me for a few rounds of sparring. I am happy that the gym was empty at the time so no one was witness to my pitiful attempt at boxing. After 5 rounds of intense work, Kozlin has gone easy enough on me that I feel I can muster up the strength to sit down and converse.

As we begin, I can see the passion reignite, and his eyes light up as he begins to talk about how he got into the sport he loves. “I did not start boxing until the age of 24 at RI Boxing”, Keith explains. “I had gone to see Peter Manfredo Jr fight Scott Pemberton at the Duncan Donuts Center (Providence RI), Peter was the local fighter and it just blew my mind. I had 15 amateur fights after that but amateurs was not my thing. Peter was a big influence and I was always a big Tyson fan. Also, Sugar Ray Leonard, who for me, was just the best”.

(Kozlin with his family)

The discussion about his boxing influences, turns towards memories of his own career and Keith gets excited when he recounts what is his highlight.

“My pro debut (8/29/08) was live on ESPN on Friday Night Fights. I was the swing bout. Matt Godfrey was fighting in the main event and he knocked his guy out early, so I went on after that. I got to have my first fight televised on ESPN and I won. What could be better than that”. When the conversation switches to possible low points and retirement, he is clearly more subdued. “I had had three loses in my career and two of them I still feel to this day that I won. So there really was not one particular low point but just those two robberies have stayed with me. As far as retiring, I was in training for a rematch of one of my earlier loses and I tore my bicep. That injury sidelined me for months and I kind of just drifted away from the sport after that”.

Keith loves to talk about the history of boxing and has been to the Boxing Hall of Fame several times. I ask him if he could fight any boxer, dead or alive, who would it be and why. He takes a moment to picture it in his mind and then smiling widely says,

“My style of fighting, I like a fan friendly action packed fight, so it would have to be a brawler. Locally, Mickey Ward would be great. Get in there and bang with him or maybe Jake Lamotta, that guy was an animal. Get the crowd excited, throw a ton of punches, bang on each other and eventually get knocked out. Ha Ha. That would be fun”

With his boxing career seemingly over, Keith is re-channeling all the focus he used to have for fighting into his newest passion, acting. We talk about how he got hooked and he explains,

“A couple of years back, they were filming the Vinny Paz movie and they were looking for extras at the Dunk (Duncan Donuts Center). So I sat in the audience watching them film the fight scenes and I just fell in love with it. I just knew that I had to do it. So I started to look out for acting roles or extras after that. As far as what actors I like, Tom Hardy is great, Leonardo DiCaprio, those guys don’t make bad movies. I have a lot of tattoos so I have mostly done prion or biker scenes in TV shows like, Gotham, Blacklist, Castlerock and Billions. I also recently filmed scenes in the movies, Wonderland with Mark Wahlberg as a boxer and Jungleland with Charlie Hunnam as a boxing trainer”

With that we wrap up the interview but we hang around to casually chat a few more minutes. Keith lights up whenever he talks about his family and is excited about the possibility of fighting again. We have attended a few fights together so we discuss our current favorites, GGG, Lomachenko and Canelo to name a few. We recently saw local favorite Demetrious Andrade win a title and he is a huge fan, having sparred with him a few times in the past. He explains how he was recently contacted by a promotor and if all goes well he may have a fight in just a few months. I mention to him that I find it very cool that his two passions, boxing and acting were both launched at the great RI Institution known simply as the DUNK. He says, that’s where his first comeback fight is planned for as well. Of course it is!

Shortly after this interview took place, Keith suffered an injury to his hand, thus putting any further plans of a comeback on hold. Then before I had a chance to complete the article and have it published, I received a call that Keith had suddenly passed away on April 1st. He had only recently turned 37 and his story had really only begun. It’s a testament to his character and how much he was loved that the line for his wake was so long that it wrapped around the outside of the building and stayed that way for nearly three hours. He will be sorely missed by all that knew him and especially by his loving wife and three daughters.

Rest in peace Champ

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