By Mariano A. Agmi
Photos by “Big” Joe Miranda
Peter Quillin (27-0, 20 KOs) was not a happy boxer when he left New York City in 2010. At the time, “Kid Chocolate” was a young, talented and unsigned prospect in desperate need of exposure as well as a new trainer and promoter.
The native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, left his life in Brooklyn to start anew once again, relocating to Hollywood, California to train at the Wild Card gym, where he began working with Freddie Roach and signed deals with boxing powerhouses Al Haymon and Golden Boy Promotions.
Armed with new representation and arguably the best trainer on the planet, Quillin reeled off quality wins with increasingly high profile bouts over Jesse Brinkley (TKO 3), Craig McEwan (TKO 6) and future hall-of-famer Winky Wright (W10).
This Saturday, the Cuban-American returns to Brooklyn to inaugurate the Barclay’s Center alongside New York fan favorites Paulie Malignaggi, Luis Collazo, Dmitriy Salita and Danny Jacobs when he challenges undefeated Frenchman Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (27-0, 17 KOs) for the WBO middleweight title.
FightNews caught up with Quillin to discuss his career since moving to California, his Cuban roots, and his huge homecoming this Saturday at the newly minted Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
How have life and your career changed since signing with Golden Boy and linking up with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card?
I’m good, I’m blessed and working hard. I’m going to be a champion. It’s harder work since I moved here. More BS to fight through. More motivation, more negative but more positive. It’s more of everything now.
Why do you say more negative?
Well, because a lot of people are negative boxing fans. They run boxing too, they sit behind their computers and they say what I can’t do and they don’t know where I come from, so I learned that I have to take all of that as fuel when someone says something and at the same time, not get distracted by what people who don’t know me say about me.
And on the positive end?
Now I have more people who want to see me do well. Before it was just friends who wanted me to do well. It went from just friends to people I don’t know. Like, the other day a fan from New Jersey named Mike sent a boxing glove to me at the Wild Card together with a sealed letter that made me drop and shed a tear to think that someone would take time out of their day to reach out to me like that. I signed the boxing glove and sent it back and told him that it’s boxing fans like him that drive me in this sport.
One thing I remember about you from back in the day is that you used to hand out chocolates to fans after each of your fights. I saw you do that at a Miguel Cotto fight at Madison Square Garden and that always stuck with me about Kid Chocolate.
That gesture made me remember you and keep track of your progress as a professional and learn about your progress from New York where you had to sleep at friends places and hold several jobs while you trained to making the move to California to join the Wild Card gym where you gained first class training and signed a deal with Golden Boy, who immediately started making moves for you and you began appearing on TV. Life has changed a lot, hasn’t it?
Yea, I’ve got Al Haymon backing me as well. I’ve got a big superstar cast of people working with me that believe in me man, so not only do I not want to let myself down but I don’t want to let those people. That’s why I put my best foot forward and I put my best effort in gear.
How did it come about that you moved out to California? Did you make a deal while you were still in New York, or did you just move out there to see if there were any opportunities?
I was kind of complacent in New York. My manager wanted to see a change in my career, especially with him and my trainers having problems. It was more about my trainers and what they were saying about me. There was a fight between my manager and my trainers about who wasn’t coming to the table, so I felt like I did need a change. So California was something new to me, and whenever there is something new in your life you have to conquer it, so that’s what I did. I went to California and start the whole struggle again. No one out there knew me so I had to prove myself and set a reputation for myself.
I have two trainers. I work with Eric Brown for the most part. I get time with Freddie, but Freddie is such a busy guy that I don’t have much time with him. I’m happy about the time I do get with him, but working with Eric Brown is a blessing. I’m trying to take it to the next level and working really hard. Freddie Roach is putting all he can into his fighters and all his time working with all of these guys who are full time fighters and when they lose, they blame Freddie Roach, but when they win, they take all the glory for themselves and forget Freddie Roach. You’ve got to give Freddie some credit. A guy like me tells Freddie ‘I’m thrilled to work with you and Eric Brown because I learn things from both of you guys and when I step into that ring, I enter it with all the things I learned from you, Eric and from myself.’ I believe that every fighter is a reflection of his trainer and every trainer is a reflection of his fighter. When I walk in there, I’m only making Freddie and Eric look good.
You’ve now had some great exposure, and you’ve reeled off a couple of impressive performances against Jesse Brinkley, Craig McEwan and Winky Wright. Do you feel that your fight against N’Jikam is a proving ground between you and another undefeated young champion where the winner gets the big names of the division?
Yes, this is my journey. This is not about the guy who I’m fighting because he fought almost exclusively in France and did well, but he didn’t go through what I did. I’ve been fighting all over the United States, in other people’s backyard and I’m still undefeated. I’ve been the underdog since day one. I’ve had to learn and conquer everything, so now he’s coming to my backyard. I think he’s thinking that at this point in his career he’s able to defend his title abroad, but I’m going to show him that it’s not going to happen. He’s coming here, and I’m taking the belt that he borrowed, that’s all.
What do you know about Hassan N’Jikam style wise?
He’s African from Cameroon, which means that maybe he’s fighting with a little struggle in his heart, but I don’t know if he’s that dude. I’m not taking anything away and trying to question who he is as a fighter. I just saying that he better have a good reason for fighting me, because I have all the good reasons for wanting to be a champion. What is he trying to do with his story? What is he trying to do with his career? Me picking these types of fights away from home says a lot about my character and a lot about where I’m trying to be at, so this fight at the Barclays Center is the first step towards the ladder of where I want to go.
He’s got a good left and he’s got good feet, that’s all. What about when that’s not working and it’s no longer good enough? I just don’t understand what makes him want to pick a fight against a guy in his backyard unless he’s trying to challenge himself like I do. I just know that this guy is in a whole lot of trouble and I don’t know if he’s aware of that. What he’s doing was good enough to get to the title, but it’s not enough when he runs into me, Kid Chocolate.
How does it feel to be fighting for a world title in your hometown? Did you ever think it would come to this, and can you dream of a better world title situation for yourself than at home in front of your people?
It’s great; I have all the support there for me. This is what I thrive on, with that said; I’m just blessed to have New York behind me. How many fighters do you know that go to the biggest city in the world and make a name for themselves? That’s crazy man. People that are from New York can’t even make a name for themselves in New York.
Did you ever think that you would go all the way to California only to come back for a title shot? This is the perfect set up; you’re not only coming home to New York but to Brooklyn, kicking off this brand new venue.
I live like eight blocks from there, so I never would have thought that this would be something Golden Boy was working towards. I have to give myself credit, because I was ready for these types of things to happen to me. All I know is that things happen in boxing that you have to be prepared for and this is one of those things. I fought in the Garden five or six times, but to fight in Brooklyn for the title in a new arena is crazy!
Tell me about your Cuban roots and your time in Cuba
My dad was born and raised in Santiago de Cuba. My dad was a political refugee who came here in 1980 on the second to last boat at the age of 45. He’s in his mid-70′s now. He’s the biggest inspiration of my life, and he’s what I think about when I think about hard work, he’s an inspiration because he inspired me and my brothers so much. And without even being in Cuba for over 30 years, he is still an inspiration to all of my family there. When I went to Cuba, I thought my brothers may not take to me, because of me being abroad and having so much time with my pops, but they accepted me like they knew me all of my life, and I’m planning on going back again and I dream that maybe my wife could be from Cuba. It taught me a lot about who I am as a person, a lot of why I am the way I am the way I am is because of my Cuban roots.
Did you feel that maybe their impression of you was that you had an easier life, but they probably weren’t aware of your struggles and challenges coming up in Grand Rapids and later in Brooklyn?
No it wasn’t easy. No matter what you do in life, you can never make anyone happy. What I learned is that when I tried to make everyone happy is when I started to become unhappy. They don’t have a lot, but I learned that they have a lot of love for us. I do what I can when I can, you know what I’m saying? When I was growing up, my Dad went to prison just like he did when he was in Cuba. He spent a lot of years out of my life and I grew up struggling and not having a lot of things, and I thought I might as well have grown up in Cuba, but at least I would have had some family, because when I grew up, it was just me and my brother having to deal with the struggle. I think I’m blessed that I even got through that stuff man. It was hard but that’s why I thank my Dad. When he got out of prison, my Dad could have gone back to his illegal businesses, but instead he taught us about roofing, he taught us about plumbing, he taught us a lot of things that a man well should show his young kids that are turning into men.
How long was he in prison for and how old were you?
He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in Cuba, but when he did his last bid he did 6 ½ years in a federal penitentiary in Michigan, the same prison where John Gotti was. I was 6 years old. He moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan now because he has a girlfriend.
What do you think of the middleweight division?
It’s deep: you’ve got guys like Sergio Martinez, you have Gennady Golovkin, you’ve got Hassan N’Jikam, and you’ve got Daniel Geale from Australia. A lot of guys, so it’s pretty deep and there are a lot of fights out there and a lot of money to be made, so you have to capitalize on the opportunities one fight at a time.
Is your plan to target Sergio Martinez if all goes well?
Yes, he’s the big cash cow right now in the middleweight division. I’ve been ready. I’m prepared for anything. I’ll be ready for anyone my team brings me. I used to call people out all the time but I learned that it doesn’t mean anything. What means something is that you’re prepared for what your business people bring you and make sure you capitalize on that so that everyone makes money. That’s what it’s about.