I daresay there are few folks who will be rooting harder for Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin to win his most notable step-up fight, against Winky Wright on Saturday night in California, than his nieces and nephew. That's because the 28-year-old Michigan-born New Yorker has assured them that he will be paying for an all-expenses-paid trek to Disney if he beats Wright at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
Go, Uncle Peter!
It's easy to root for Quillin (28-0, 20 KOs) -- who is coming off a November TKO win over Craig McEwan -- even if you're not related to him, because he is a fun interview and, oh yeah, he's got skills. American fight fans who would like to see a local guy -- and by that, I mean an American -- rise to the top of the ranks at 160 pounds are hoping Quillin is too young, strong and quick for Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs). You can watch the bout on Showtime.
Wright, 40, a future Hall of Famer, longtime junior middleweight titlist and holder of two wins over Shane Mosley and one over Felix Trinidad, has been working on his golf game much more than he has on his fight game in the past few years. He has lost his previous two fights, to Bernard Hopkins (2007) and Paul Williams (2009), and hasn't shown a consistent desire to go through the physical and mental grind the sport requests.
"I want to be the middleweight champion," Quillin told me. "The hunger is there. It's a different hunger, not having had the title. Winky, you already won, you had your shot. There's a new sheriff in town. I got two .44s. I have to prove to him I'm the new sheriff. I want to be the next star."
If and when Quillin beats Wright, and the kids get to do Disney, he does regret that he won't be attending with them. Not because he gets queasy on rides or has an irrational fear of men in mouse suits, but because Quillin wants to get that win and get back to the grind, get back to the hustle.
Quillin takes pride in telling me he will be working on his birthday, June 22, at a sports expo, and will keep on teaching boxing classes no matter how high his star flies.
"I got to keep my head in the sport," he said. "The world I'm living in is about hard work."
Quillin regularly teaches boxing classes at the Trinity Boxing Club downtown. He charges low rates because he wants to be as inclusive as possible. (That's another reason he's someone to root for. Quillin admits that it will be nice to get superstar paydays, but he understands that most folks cut and scratch to stay afloat.)
Most pundits see the younger lion as the favorite in this one, viewing Wright as being too far past his prime. But Quillin is damned close to a title shot, and I do believe he isn't looking past Winky, at one of the belt holders at 160. I asked if he sees himself as the favorite or the challenger.
"Winky requested I come in as the challenger, that he come to the ring second," Quillin said. "I agreed. I put myself as the challenger. He wants to feel on top. At the end of the day, I don't know how worried he should be about who's coming in first. You need to be worried about all those punches on your ass."
Check back later for Part II, in which I chat with Quillin about the recent mini-flap about drug testing ahead of the Wright showdown, and why he has certain criteria for heading to Long Island ... or not.