NEW YORK CITY -- Whenever the men in Peter Quillin's old neighborhood needed someone to test a new combatant in one of their street boxing matches, they would go get "Petey."
They knew if a guy could hold his own against Petey, then he would more than likely survive against anyone. But typically Petey would blast the guy out and that would be the end of matters.
"I had more knockouts in my street fights than I've had as a pro," said Quillin, a promising young middleweight contender who is 18-0 with 14 KOs and now fights out of Brooklyn.
It was not the greatest classroom for a future world champion, but it was the perfect proving ground for Quillin, who would just as soon knock out an opponent than dance his way to a decision.
Quillin, who chose the nickname "Kid Chocolate" to honor his Cuban heritage (his father, Pedro, is Cuban), is climbing to the top of the middleweight division with many of the skills he learned on the streets of Grand Rapids, Mich., during some of those street skirmishes. With Colin Morgan as his trainer, Quillin is also learning that if he doesn't hone the other parts of his game, he won't be able to stay at the top for long.
Quillin hopes to continue his rise with a match against Dionisio Miranda (18-2-2, 17 KOs) at the Hard Rock Cafe in midtown Manhattan on ESPN's "Wednesday Night Fights."
In his last fight Quillin won a 10-round decision against veteran Antwun Echols. It was a confidence booster on two fronts for Quillin: He went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and he more than held his own against a tough veteran.
Quillin said he was worried about facing a veteran like Echols and whether his conditioning would hold for 10 rounds. He was so used to ending matters quickly that he didn't know what would happen if Echols found a way to extend the fight.
"Antwun had been in there with a lot of top guys," Quillin said. "When I was in there with him I felt like I was fighting all the other guys that he had ever been in the ring with because he had the experience of fighting them.
"I learned so much about myself and my conditioning from that fight. I learned how to pace myself and how to turn up the pressure at certain points of the fight and how to turn down the pressure. I also learned that with the right conditioning, 10 rounds ain't nothing."
Quillin usually trains for his fights at Trinity Boxing Club in lower Manhattan. But Morgan took Quillin to camp at Don King's training facility in rural Ohio, because Morgan is also training Miguel Rodriguez for a bout against Andre Berto on June 21. Quillin said it was the best move he could have made because he was able to hook up with conditioning coach Dudley Pierce, who also works with Antonio Tarver.
Quillin said Pierce has given him some pointers on his conditioning.
"I'm running eight miles a day and doing different interval training exercises," Quillin said. "I'm pushing my body to the limits for the first time ever. When I fought Echols I was in half the shape I'm in now. I was worried about whether I could go 10 rounds. Now it's not a concern."
Quillin's biggest concern while away at camp is finding someone to take care of his beloved animals in Brooklyn. He has Frankie, an African grey parrot; Miami, a bald python; Spike Lee, a bearded dragon; and his cat, May the 5th. He brought a ferret named Baby and an emerald scorpion named Timmy with him to camp.
"I've been a friend of animals all my life," Quillin said. "My dad, who was a butcher, used to bring home baby chicks and I'd make pets. My mother used to find snakes and salamanders in my room. She once found a rooster.
"Animals remind me of how our relationship with God should be. I love animals. After boxing I'm going to do something with animals. Maybe run an animal rescue, own a pet store or maybe be the security guard at the zoo."
The isolation of the training facility on the outskirts of Cleveland leaves Quillin with nothing but time to concentrate on boxing and conditioning. He said he doesn't even watch TV, and his cell phone reception is spotty. But his BlackBerry works just fine, so his fingers are in great shape.
Morgan thinks being away at camp is a blessing because he worries about Quillin getting the proper rest when he's training in New York City.
"It puts more pressure on him when he's in the city training for a fight," Morgan said. "There is always somebody to meet somewhere to do a photo shoot or an interview or just to hang out with his friends. He's not out drinking and partying, but he's not getting the proper rest. That part worries me."
Quillin and Morgan got together during one of the lowest points of Quillin's life in 2004. Quillin said one of his former managers convinced him to move to New York to pursue his dream of boxing professionally.
"I believe everything he told me about how he was going to be working for me," Quillin said. "When I got here I found out there were 10 other guys in front of me in the line. It was a bad situation for me and I decided that I'd rather go out and do things my way than get involved with the way he wanted to run things."
Quillin ended up sleeping on the floor of a friend's apartment in lower Manhattan and working two jobs -- at an IHOP restaurant and at a youth services organization in the Bronx -- just to survive. He heard about Morgan and showed up at Trinity Boxing Club to ask Morgan to train him.
Morgan ignored Quillin for the first two weeks before agreeing to work with him.
Morgan said he was coming to the end of his relationship with former cruiserweight champion Wayne Braithwaite and he didn't want to get involved with another boxer who would need so much of his time and energy to develop.
"I had never heard of this kid and I didn't know anything about him," Morgan said. "The experience I had had with Wayne was crazy and I didn't want to go through that again."
Morgan figured if Quillin wasn't serious, he'd go away shortly. But Quillin kept coming back and eventually Morgan invited him to climb into the ring and show him what he could do.
"He had a lot of athletic ability," Morgan said. "He had this kind of explosiveness."
It was enough for Morgan to think he could mold him into something special. It didn't matter that he had such a limited amateur background (just 15 amateur fights).
"I prefer the guy without the big amateur background because when you teach them [something new], they don't forget something that they already learned," Morgan said.
After four years of training and 18 pro fights, Morgan said Quillin is ready to test himself against the cream of the middleweight crop.
Cedric Kushner, Quillin's promoter, agrees with Morgan. After carefully matching Quillin for the last couple of years, Kushner is stepping up the level of competition for Quillin. Kushner is banking on Quillin being a star when he finally does arrive.
"The most important thing that he has is that his style is impressive," Kushner said. "He's a banger. Everybody loves a banger, but he can box too. He's got the proper physique for 160 pounds.
"After the Echols fight he realized that every fight is not going to be a knockout. Now he also realizes that he has to be diligent about training. I'm very happy that he's maturing and realizing how important training is."
Quillin seems to have the right mixture of confidence and maturity to make a big move.
"If I take a loss, I'll take a loss," he said. "At the end of the day it's me in the ring and I know what I have to do to be successful. I've got the strength of God on my side. My left hand is hurricane and my right hand is tornado. Nobody wants to get caught in this storm."
Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.