A taste of Kid Chocolate

Mark Butcher
14/04/2015 11:00pm

Peter Quillin has dodged bullets so many times he probably shouldn’t be here. His life experiences would have laid waste to most ordinary people. But Peter Quillin isn’t the average person.

There is an inner steel within the former WBO middleweight champion and a driving sense of purpose that has delivered him from the adversity of near death experiences and sleeping on a dirty mattress he found in a dumpster to the pinnacle of boxing. The determination and intensity that resonates within Quillin’s voice hints at his incredible journey and his vision beyond.

Boxing Monthly spoke to the compelling Quillin, 31-0 (22 KOs), two hours before he relinquished his WBO title rather than meet No.1 contender Matt Korobov whose merit as a mandatory challenger was questionable at best.

Roc Nation Sports, the boxing promotional arm of celebrated rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z, had won the purse bid to stage the mandatory defence against Korobov in Quillin’s adopted hometown of Brooklyn on 1 November. The bout would have guaranteed the WBO champion $1.4 million before deductions, more than three times his biggest purse, but Quillin opted not to sign for a career high pay day and chose to relinquish his hard-earned title.

At first sight, it might seem a purely political situation driven by the interests of rival promotional factions, but with Quillin the decision goes far deeper. He refuses to be dictated to and, given what he’s experienced on the streets, he’s probably earned that right. Becoming a first-time father in August has also reshaped his perspective.

“I just had a kid. For me to just jump right back into training right away when they knew I had a kid on the way - how is this a plan, bro?” Quillin told BM over the phone from his adopted hometown of Brooklyn. “I [previously] picked boxing over my family and it almost cost my [relationship]. I don’t need that happening with my kid in the picture. My name and record stays intact. Korobov will never be considered the champion because he did not beat me. If I want to fight one time a year, I’m able to do that because I’m my own boss. I‘m not going to say anything bad about the WBO. I thank them for letting me be their champion. So be it. It’s out of my hands. The undefeated record does not go anywhere.”

For now, Quillin is concentrating on fatherhood. Joaquin Enriquez Qullin weighed in at 8lbs 2ozs in August and his new child is the immediate focus for the unbeaten Cuban-American. The birth of a son to Quillin and TV producer wife Allison Berger, a two-time Emmy winner, feels like another world title.

“It makes the title look like nothing to me. Compared to my baby,” reflected ‘Kid Chocolate’. “When I look at my kid, I see me in there and the common interest my wife and I have for our child. Anyone who wants to see a special moment in life must watch their kid being born. It’s the best thing that ever motivated me. I can’t even find the right words to describe how I feel. My wife has a good job. It puts my kid in a way better situation than I could ever imagine. He doesn’t have to struggle and go through the things I went through in life.”

Quillin’s ascent to the world title seemed wildly improbable when he was a street kid picked on for having dirty clothes and forced to toughen up after numerous beatings in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The young Quillin fought back so fiercely until he won. Soon he was the man to be feared on the streets. Survival elevated him to a place beyond realistic expectation. Driven by a raw, animal hunger to succeed, the struggles of the past give him a vivid appreciation of the present.

“That’s why I have so much gratitude. All the struggles and things that didn’t defeat me, gave me the courage I have today. I’m thankful. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. Any of the bad things I went through. The crazy, funny thing is my dad always knew it. He always thought I was destined for something great,” said Quillin, whose Cuban father Pedro was on the second-to-last last boat seeking freedom in the U.S. as depicted in the movie Scarface and later incarcerated for money laundering. “I’m chosen. Not just to be a champion, but to do god’s work, man. Do you know how much bull**** I have to deal with on an everyday basis? That’s why I’m allowed to be a champion because I’m the person who can handle it and not lose track of who I am. I’ve got tonnes of money, I’m around tonnes of girls and people others want to be around and yet it doesn’t matter to me. I’m doing god’s work right now.”

For young street kids who feel as if their only option is selling drugs and running with gangs, Quillin has the following advice. “They are not a product of their environment,” he said. “I’ve been told that all my life - that I was a product of my environment. No, you’re not. You’re not a product of anything. Your environment, especially if you’ve come from where I’ve come from, should only inspire you to want more. Every kid’s dream in the projects is to get out of the projects. The ones who do get out of the projects stick to their plan and work behind that dream. Never be scared to dream, and most importantly work behind your dream, because that’s how you make them come true.”

Echoes of his troubled past ran through Quillin’s mind when he floored gutsy Cameroonian champion Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam six times before winning the WBO crown on points in October 2012. Memories of a tough upbringing and the realisation of an unlikely dream brought tears to the new champion’s eyes as the decision was announced.

“Oh man, all the hard work and the sacrifices that I had put upon myself had paid off for me. The stuff I worked so hard for came alive. I had a hard road. It gets harder when you have the title I’ve learned, but that was one of the most special moments of my life,” said the man nicknamed after the legendary Cuban Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo, the original ‘Kid Chocolate’ and that great boxing nation’s first ever world champion. “It was a big challenge. It was a fight that was well-earned. Believe it or not, I still don’t get credit for winning a fight like that.”

The 31-year-old subsequently defended his WBO title three times against Fernando Guerrero (TKO7), Gabriel Rosado (TKO10) and Lukas Konecny (W12). Perhaps it was harder to find motivation against the likes of Korobov and last opponent Konecny, unglamorous Eastern Europeans rather than the marquee opponents Quillin would prefer at this stage of his career. Having negotiated a lifetime of trials and tribulations, the politics of boxing clearly vexes Quillin.

“People sell their souls for money,” said the former WBO champion, who is trained by Eric Brown. “People think cars are a motivation. Yeah, that can be a motivation to a certain extent. But when you’re in a fight you realize it’s not that important. I’m not going to have regrets in life. I’ve been through everything. I’ve been molested as a kid. I’ve been homeless. I was at the bottom. Do you know what it’s like being homeless? Having nothing? Not having a home to sleep at – that’s scary, bro.”

Unlike hard-hitting rival Gennady Golovkin, a decorated amateur and Olympic silver medallist, Quillin only engaged in 15 unpaid bouts. His formative fighting years took place outside the confines of a ring. The proud Cuban-American claims to have registered most of his knockouts on the streets of Grand Rapids before moving to Brooklyn aged 18 with only a few dollars and a dream. Funds were so tight the young boxer spent time living in a homeless shelter and sleeping on a mattress he found discarded in the trash. Understandably, a boxing ring is a serene place in comparison.

“Golovkin has been on the world scene where he fought a bunch of amateur fights and that’s all great and dandy. I’m thankful that I’m in the same game with someone like that who has had so much diversity in his career. But I’ve only had 15 amateur fights. How special is that!” said Quillin, who gave a special ‘shout-out’ to his fans in the UK. “My experience came in the streets. That’s how I learned how to box. From the street to the gym, that’s how I became the champion of the world. If I retired right now that’s more than people thought I was going to achieve in the first place.

“I guarantee you no-one can go to college and learn what I did on the streets,” he continued. “I’ve been picked on all my life and had to defend myself over and over again until I got the reputation of being the guy not to fool around with. I’m a strong believer that you’ve got to fight for something strong and that’s why I fight with the emotions I have. It’s only because of what I’ve been taught in the streets.

“The most dangerous street fight? The one where you are scared for your life. When a guy pulls out a weapon. I’ve been in a lot of those where you fear for your life and guns come out. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be here to speak to you today. Because where I’m from they say the good die young and, if that’s the case, I should have been dead and gone. The mission is bigger than boxing. Kid Chocolate fights for a lot of reasons, but most importantly I fight for the people.”