- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Peter Quillin was just 18 and four years away from his professional debut when he saw then-middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins knock out his favorite fighter, Felix Trinidad, to become the undisputed 160-pound king in 2001.
Quillin eventually became a Hopkins fan, just like Gabriel Rosado, who was an unknown 8-2 fighter two years into his pro career trying to make his way in a tough sport when he met Hopkins in 2008. Hopkins eventually took Rosado under his wing and tried to help the fellow Philadelphia fighter.
Now, Quillin and Rosado, both with massive respect for Hopkins, will do battle on Hopkins' undercard Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT; preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme begin at 7 ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
New York's Quillin, nicknamed "Kid Chocolate," will be defending his middleweight title for the second time when he faces Rosado, whose previous shot at a middleweight belt ended in a pool of blood at the hands of Gennady Golovkin, who ripped up his face in a one-sided seventh-round knockout in January.
Quillin-Rosado will come in the fight before the main event in which the legendary 48-year-old Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs) makes the first defense of his light heavyweight belt against mandatory challenger Karo Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs) of Germany.
In the televised opener of the tripleheader, Tuscaloosa, Ala., heavyweight hopeful Deontay Wilder (29-0, 29 KOs), the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, faces journeyman Nicolai Firtha (21-10-1, 8 KOs) of Akron, Ohio, in a scheduled 10-round fight.
Quillin (29-0, 21 KOs), 30, hopes to follow in Hopkins' footsteps and unify the middleweight division someday. For now, he is honored to appear on his card.
"It's very legendary, man," Quillin said. "Bernard Hopkins, I've just been a big fan of his. Even when he fought my favorite fighter, Felix Trinidad, and he beat him the way he did, I was like you can't get mad at something like that when a guy puts out greatness like that. So just being part of this whole card is just like magical and I'm very blessed.
"Bernard has been there and done that and I think I've learned so much from him from when he speaks to me and gives me knowledge, and this is just a great card to be part of and I'm glad to be part of it."
The 27-year-old Rosado (21-6, 13 KOs) has been mentored by Hopkins and views him as family. He's also excited to share a card with him.
"I never thought that would happen," Rosado said. "I remember when Bernard fought [Joe] Calzaghe [in 2008], that's when I first started being around Bernard, and at that time they were calling him old, and so I thought by the time I get there to that level, Bernard will be retired. The fact that he's still fighting at the age of 48, and he's a world champion, is amazing. I don't think that will ever be done again.
"So, you know, the fact that I'm opening up with 'Kid [Chocolate]' and Bernard is the main event is just something special. Bernard has definitely been a big influence in my career. He's taught me a lot and I think my different approach to my career, the approach I'm taking now, has a lot to do with what Bernard has taught me mentally and how to live your life outside of the ring, and I take those things to heart because he's a great champion. It means a lot being on the same card with Bernard Hopkins. I think it's made me a better fighter being around him. It's just a blessing, man. I think I wouldn't have gotten this far without Bernard mentoring me."
Rosado would seem to have an uphill battle against Quillin, however. Quillin has been most impressive in his recent fights. He's been a knockdown machine, scoring 11 knockdowns in his past three fights.
"No matter how many times they get up, I'm going to keep knocking them down," Quillin said.
In the bout before he fought for a world title, Quillin dropped the typically iron-chinned Winky Wright and sent the former undisputed junior middleweight champ into retirement. Last October, he challenged Hassan N'Dam for his title and dropped him six times in an exciting unanimous decision victory. Quillin made his first defense in April, dropping Fernando Guerrero (who owns a 2009 win over Rosado) four times en route to a seventh-round knockout.
"[Rosado] says the fight is going to a knockout and he's not going to the scorecard," Quillin said. "I really, honestly, see that, but I don't believe it's going to be me that's going to be the one that's taking defeat, knocked out. I just know that I've been training very, very hard for this fight. I know what I'm able to do.
"Everyone I touch they have a different approach, and once I touch them it's not the same, and I'm praying for Gabe that's he's able to go up there and put his best foot forward because that's all he can do, and when that's not enough he's just going to have to shake hands and going to have to accept defeat because that's what I'm going to deliver."
After Rosado lost to Golovkin, he faced Floyd Mayweather Jr. protege J'Leon Love in May on the undercard of Mayweather-Robert Guerrero. Love was awarded a controversial split decision, but the result was changed to a no-decision when Love tested positive for a banned diuretic.
Now Rosado finds himself back in a world title fight.
"I think with the [Golovkin] fight it was a hard loss and it hurt, but I think the fans they just respect that," Rosado said. "I think they respect the fact that even though I was pretty much fighting the fight blind [due to severe cuts around his eye], I think they admire the fact that I didn't quit. Then with the J'Leon Love fight, everyone knows that I won that fight. I'm glad that Showtime and Golden Boy and 'Kid Chocolate' are giving me the chance to fight because they saw that I did win the last fight even though they didn't give me the fight that night."
Clearly the underdog, Rosado said he will be going for the knockout.
"I'm the underdog, so I definitely have to win every round," he said. "I can't give up rounds in this fight. I have to fight hard at a big pace to be victorious. No disrespect to 'Kid' but this fight isn't going to go 12 rounds because I'm training for a knockout. I'm really not tripping off of the judges, whatever is going to happen, because it isn't going to go to the scorecards."
Knockout or decision, Quillin just expects to win and then hopes to move on to trying to unify the division, a goal that will be difficult to achieve because while Quillin is a Showtime fighter, lineal champion Sergio Martinez and Golovkin are both HBO fighters, and even titlist Darren Barker won his title on HBO in August.
Still, Quillin is hopeful.
"I would place myself second behind Sergio Martinez [at 160]," Quillin said. "I've been calling Sergio Martinez out from day one when everybody didn't think I was a serious fighter. I would place myself No. 2 only because I was willing to fight all the guys that Gennady Golovkin is fighting. I was willing to fight Gennady Golovkin, but a lot of things and a lot of business hold back a lot of these things.
"I just know that I'm going to fight hard whatever place I am to be No. 1, be the No. 1 middleweight in the United States and be No. 1 in the world. It's one of my dreams, to be a unified champion, and I reconstructed my goals after I won the title to say that that's the next mission -- that there'd be a unified champion."
Just like Hopkins, the future Hall of Famer whom Quillin and Rosado revere.