Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Former world champ Peter Quillin returns to the boxing ring a renewed man

On Dec. 5, 2015, Peter Quillin was an unbeaten middleweight champion.

He was a prototypical underdog story, born in Chicago, bred in Grand Rapids and built in the boxing ring.

And by the end of the night, he was also derailed.

Knocked out less than 90 seconds into a Showtime title fight vs. “Miracle Man” Daniel Jacobs, Quillin saw his unblemished 32-0-1 record take a deafening hit. He stumbled, disoriented, in front of almost 8,500 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Before long, the man known as “Kid Chocolate,” a nickname derived from a 1930s boxing phenom who shares Quillin’s Cuban ancestry, lapsed into a hiatus of almost two years.

***

It’s 2018 now, and J’Leon Love is looking for his second victory in less than three months.

The former Olympic-trials power puncher fights under the Mayweather Promotions banner, and the rest of his brand aligns with that — he’s modeled with Kate Moss, he’s an aspiring actor, and he lives in Las Vegas, training at the Mayweather Boxing Club. After a win at Mississippi’s Beau Rivage Resort in May, he’s due to take the ring again on Saturday under the prime-time lights at NYCB LIVE, home of the New York Islanders.

His opponent? Peter Quillin.

Saturday’s 10-round bout, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX and FOX Deportes, is anticipated for its name recognition. But for Quillin, now 35, there’s also a name to redeem.

This, as the boxing community would call it, is a “crossroads.” Quillin made his official return in September 2017, beating veteran Dashon Johnson by unanimous decision in Vegas. Yet he hasn’t won back-to-back fights in four years, and how he fares against the 30-year-old Love (24-1-1) could “make or break” his comeback, as his own publicist put it. Realistically speaking, it’s now or never for a middleweight revival.

Thankfully for Quillin, however, he’s already redeemed his name in another sense. What he found during his break from boxing, it turns out, wasn’t a new punch as much as it was a new self.

“Me winning so much, I was forgetting that it was possible to lose,” he said in a phone interview. “I was feeling very stagnant.”

The veteran has never lost sight of his early motivations. His first fights helped support a mother and three brothers who were left to fend for themselves after his father was imprisoned for money laundering. After moving to New York City at 18, he worked three jobs, including at IHOP and a butcher shop, while training for more. But while the pro career that followed, starting in 2005 and peaking with world titles in 2012-2014, confirmed his story as a success, it still left him feeling empty.

Especially after that fateful blow on Dec. 5, 2015.

“Nothing’s satisfying in life,” he realized in his time off. “We eat for a moment, then we’re full, and then we’re hungry again. I was looking to fulfill something that is never fulfilled.”

In his 21 months without a fight, Quillin sought counsel and training from Virgil Hunter, who’s best known for “what he did with Andre Ward,” the undefeated light heavyweight champion and 2004 Olympic gold medalist. Most important to Quillin, however, he also sought counsel and training from a God he had long ignored.

“I learned it was for me to take some time to fully rely on Him,” he said. “It was a time for me to learn how to be a better husband to my wife, a better son to my mother, a better father to my kids … I went back to all the moments and dark times in my life — as a kid, I could’ve lost my life, could’ve been doing a lot of time in jail — and it was flashing before my eyes, and I was thanking God for each and every one of those moments He had His hands on.”

By the time Quillin returned to the ring in September 2017, he was praying he didn’t lose his big-picture mindset.

“Because this mindset,” he said, “is I’m totally at peace with myself.”

No longer was his record — unblemished or not — the measurement of his value. And no longer now is Saturday’s supposedly make-or-break showdown with J’Leon Love “make or break” in the most important sense.

“What if I tell you that the will of me winning in this fight is not as important as God being in me?” he asks.

The promises of Christ — salvation through belief amid a world lacking in both — have quenched his “spiritual thirst” and have him seeking God over glory.

It’s a paradoxical attitude for a man whose career can falter with more than a couple defeats and is charged on pretty much the opposite of nonchalance. After all, when’s the last time you heard of a boxer trying to make a hard-hitting comeback while simultaneously championing peace, faith and family?

Quillin, of course, hasn’t completely removed himself from the edginess of his sport. Though he respects Love’s talent and has personal connections to the Mayweather name, at one point almost enlisting Floyd Sr. as his trainer and drawing childhood aspirations of going pro from Floyd Jr., who once spoke at Quillin’s Grand Rapids school, he’s quick to throw a few light jabs in advance of Saturday’s brawl.

“Let me ask you a question,” Quillin said. “You say J’Leon is a big name, but why is he a big name? That’s coming through Floyd. All of his moments come under the umbrella of Floyd Mayweather. Mine are because of nobody else.”

And yet, win or lose against Love, Quillin rests easy in the knowledge that he’s no longer fighting just for himself. He’s realized, in fact, that he’s lived a lifelong fight — a fight to help his mom, a fight to be like Floyd, a fight that made him a champion and a fight to find worth after those titles faded.

And that’s a fight he can no longer describe without mentioning his faith.

“If you bring up God, some people will think maybe you’re a Jesus freak,” he said. “But I will lift up all the glory in the name of Jesus … I’m on a platform where it’s so easy to criticize me, but do you know what I’ve been through? I’m a good example to kids that you can overcome things, and if that comes through God, so be it.”

***

When Quillin wins a fight, he often tosses chocolates to the crowd. It’s a play on the “Kid Chocolate” nickname, although that name now refers to a “Kid” who’s 35. There’s even a New York candy company, he says, that’s working on sponsoring the chocolates.

No one knows if he’ll toss them on Saturday night. Love would prefer if he doesn’t.

Whatever the case, it’s safe to say Quillin now carries something sweeter: A faith worth fighting for.

RELATED STORIES:
— Boxer Austin Trout says Jesus saved him and has him here for a purpose
Mission Accomplished: Andre Ward announces retirement from boxing