By Thomas Gerbasi
So many come to New York seeking to make their dreams come true. An 18-year-old Peter Quillin was no different when he left a dead end existence in Grand Rapids, Michigan for an uncertain fresh start in the Big Apple.
“At that time, New York was the place because I had opportunity right in front of me,” he recalled. “I always told myself as a kid that if I ever had an opportunity to live in New York, I would take it. And I’m very glad that I made the decision to live there.”
Quillin, who now makes his home in Brooklyn, can say that now, as he’s an unbeaten former world middleweight champion with a chance to earn that crown once more on December 5th when he meets WBA titlist Daniel Jacobs at Barclays Center. But on his first day in his new surroundings, it would be more intimidating than anything he would face in the ring.
“My first day in New York was a culture shock,” he said. “I was looking around, I wasn’t sure what everything meant, where all these people were going. But I got through all those moments and now I’m part of those people.”
He is. Some might question if the upcoming “Battle of Brooklyn” is legit since Quillin is a Michigan native, but those in NYC typically accept anyone who can survive those early days and decide to stay anyway. It’s not easy, especially for a teenager with only a couple bucks in his pocket, but Quillin stood the course.
Fourteen years later, life is as settled as it’s going to be, with Quillin, a husband and father, among the upper tier of 160-pounders. But as a reminder that nothing is ever as settled as you would like it, Quillin brought his training camp for the biggest fight of his career to Miami and away from New York. In part it was to have everything in one place to prepare for Jacobs, but with the recent closing of one of the gyms he worked at in NYC, the Trinity Boxing Club, he also lost a key location at an inopportune time.
“I wanted the nice weather, the easy momentum with training,” he said. “Everything is close near me, and I think I was looking for that more than anything.”
Working with Eric Brown at the new location of the world famous 5th Street Gym, Quillin is happy in his new surroundings, and as a Cuban-American, it’s an added bonus to be training at a place that was once home to Cuban greats such as Luis Rodriguez, Jose Napoles, Sugar Ramos and Benny Paret.
“It’s part of the legacy and the history of where I’m at in my life to be able to acknowledge all these things and all these great moments I get to live out,” he said. “It’s important for me, to keep me humble most importantly. Some of the greats trained here and I’m just very thankful that I’ve made it this far in life to be able to live these moments out.”
Quillin is a lot more philosophical at 32 than he was at 18. Going through hell and back to reach this point can do that. Fatherhood plays a part as well. But the one thing that comes to mind immediately when discussing “Kid Chocolate” is his ability to thrive when anything or everything is going haywire around him. He credits his faith for that.
“My religion has kept me understanding why we go through struggles, and how to enjoy the good days when we do get to have them,” Quillin said. “I think all around I’m coming full circle into the man that God has sent me here to be. I handle all these things and try to be as humble as possible and keep God first.”
But would he be the same fighter if not for all these bumps in the road over the years?
“I think every situation can make something different happen,” he said. “Maybe it would have been a character clash where I would have different characteristics that weren’t fulfilling. But I think all around, I’m the way I am because it was meant for me to be this way.”
Now it’s all coming together at the perfect time. And while the talk over the next week will be about titles and Brooklyn and getting a win over his local rival, Quillin talks of it all being more than that.
“In this camp, what I’ve really learned is that it’s about the fighter life,” he said. “I want to find a way to be humble through any situation handed to me. Regardless of what the story reads, me coming out the victor or getting the belt back, the most important thing is how humble I can be and doing what I’m trained to do right now, which is fighting hard, working hard, and inspiring the world and impacting people in the most positive way that I can. I think that means more to me than anything else.”