BRAINTREE — Billy Traft had unfinished business. In 2007, he had pretty well retired from amateur boxing and was focusing on his career as a Boston police officer.
He was enjoying his evenings coaching kids at TNT gym and was helping his cousin, Billy, prepare for the Golden Gloves. Because his cousin lacked sparring partners, Traft became one of them. That’s when he decided to get back into the ring in competitive fashion.
“I just got the bug,’’ said Traft, a native of Dorchester who works in the police department’s gang unit. “From there, I had three or four more amateur fights and I was helping out with the Junior Olympic team. I thought, ‘If I’m going to [turn professional], I need to do it now because I’m not getting any younger.’ I turned pro, I’m 2-0 and having a lot of fun.’’
Traft, a super middleweight, will put his undefeated record on the line Saturday night at TD Garden when he steps into the ring against Joe Powers in one of the featured matchups during the Night at the Fights.
Tim Stanton, his trainer with Marty McDonough, said when he talked to Traft about his decision, he could tell that he still had the fire.
“He felt, ‘What if I didn’t turn pro? Would I regret it if I didn’t throw my hat into the ring?’ ’’ said Stanton, a former boxer who is a Boston police detective in Roxbury. “He wanted to throw his hat into the ring as a professional. He’s very dedicated to the sport, he’s a great ambassador.’’
Traft’s first pro fight was last year at the Dorchester Armory on May 19. His second was on Aug. 12 at Gillette Stadium, and this one is at the Garden. He said it’s hard to wrap his head around the venues in which he’s been fortunate enough to fight.
“Honest to God, it’s surreal. I’m humbled and honored,’’ said Traft. “I’m very proud to represent my family and Dorchester and TNT boxing.’’
He said fighting at the home of the Patriots was thrilling, and being in the same place where the Bruins and Celtics have raised championship banners will be a rush.
“You go from a kid who sat in the stands watching the Celtics and watching the old boxing matches in there, absolutely it’s surreal,’’ said Traft, who is 33. “Every day, I say, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ I had a lot of fun in my amateur career and here we are in my third pro fight, fighting at the Garden.’’
Traft, who won the Golden Gloves in 2004 and ’05, didn’t spend much time at Gillette because the fight was over quickly. He earned a technical knockout against Dan Bonnell in the opening round.
“I’ll take every one of them like that,’’ said Traft with a laugh. “Our pro debut, we were in a dogfight. [Luis Felix] fought his heart out.’’
In addition to training kids, Traft tries to influence others in the neighborhood where he grew up. He joined the Boston Police Cadets right out of Don Bosco High School and set his sights on making a difference.
“I’m a sworn officer for eight years,’’ he said. “Five of those last eight years, I’ve spent in the gang unit. I love it. I work with one of my best friends, who is a former pro fighter himself — Tony Lamonica from Southie – he’s my partner at work.’’
‘Every day, I say, “I can’t believe this is happening.’’ ’
Traft works the day shift and said growing up in Dorchester helped prepare him for police work.
“I think a lot of the kids on the street can see through fake people,’’ said Traft. “I think I can relate to them a little bit. Not that I grew up any harder than anybody else, but I think I can relate. Growing up in the same area where I’m policing now, I think that does carry some weight with the youth of Dorchester.’’
Traft has mixed his boxing life with his police work. He helped run a boxing program out of the Murphy Community Center in Dorchester and said the kids really took to the sport.
“We’re a proactive unit,’’ he said. “We go out and police the hot areas of Dorchester, the areas plagued by gang violence. On the other side, we are involved in the community. The area I work in is the area I love.’’
Although mixed-martial arts has become very popular with young people, Traft said there is still a strong interest in boxing in Boston.
“I remember as a kid, you’d watch the older kids box in the [Golden] Gloves or they’d have an amateur fight. You’d see the respect they got and little kids say, ‘I want to do that.’ Definitely in Dorchester and Southie, boxing still has a big heartbeat.’’
“MMA has kind of taken the forefront now, but slowly but surely, we’re bringing boxing back into the spotlight,’’ said Stanton. “I think you’re going to start to see a resurgence.’’
There has been a great deal of publicity regarding head injuries in the NFL and NHL, but Traft said he has a strong support system who have his best interests at heart. His wife, Shannon, is a nurse. His sister and mother are also nurses. Team Traft also includes his brothers Matty and Bobby, Lamonica, and another former fighter — Matty Ryan, who is a Boston police officer.
“Has it entered my head? Yes, I’ve thought about it,’’ said Traft. “I don’t see any signs of that in me.’’
Traft has the blessing of the BPD and many of his colleagues in blue will don “Team Traft’’ shirts for the Garden fight, maybe even the top boss.
“Commissioner Ed Davis has been to almost every one of Billy’s fights,’’ said Stanton. “He said he’s coming to this one as well, so we’re pretty impressed.’’
Stanton said Traft, who was supposed to fight in the postponed Dec. 14 card at the Garden — headliner Danny O’Connor was injured during a sparring session — is ready.
“This is the best shape he’s been in,’’ said Stanton. “He’s very confident and has performed extremely well in sparring.’’
As for how long Traft plans to fight, he said he will know when it’s time to stop just as he knew in his gut that turning pro was right for him.
“We’re going to ride the train as long as it goes,’’ said Traft.
“I just don’t want to become that weathered boxer. I really respect the sport. I don’t feel old. I don’t feel slow. I feel like I felt when I was 22 or 23 years old. We’re going to ride it as long as it goes.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.