I set out for Brooklyn on the A train from 125th Street, only to find Gleason’s swathed in burgundy velvet curtains, heavy bags askew on the floor, and nary a trainer in sight. “TV shoot,” came the explanation. “Three days.”
I about-faced to Manhattan, emerged at Penn Station and walked to Crunch Gym on 38th Street. Luckily, I ran into trainer Colin Morgan just as he was arriving.
I met Colin over ten years ago when he joined forces with trainer Reggie Ford. Colin’s youthful face and trim body belie his age; the silver wisps that border his brow are the only physical hint that he is older than his fighters. He considers his charges as his “kids” with whom he shares his advice, philosophy, and merciless teasing.
Colin began his training career working with amateurs and over the years he imported and developed a number of Guyanese fighters, most notably cruiserweight Wayne Braithwaite. From a humble beginning, Morgan is now a known entity to the Don King organization and has run the boxing program at Crunch on 38th Street for two years.
He walked me past the check-in counter, and I headed for the third floor. The ring and heavy bags are surrounded by cardio equipment, and ceiling fans and techno music are always on. This is hardly a traditional boxing environment. But in spite of the purple, red and yellow décor, Morgan trains his fighters in “black and white.”
Along with amateurs and fitness buffs, Morgan works with pros including welterweight Chris “The Mechanic” Smith (20-2-1), and light-heavyweight Elvir Muriqi (30-3), known as “The Kosovo Kid” in the U.S., aka “The Kosova Kid” in his native Albania.
One of Morgan’s recent additions is middleweight Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin, (3-0, 3 KOs). Peter adopted his ring name from the late “Cuban Bon Bon” in reference to his father’s heritage. He is a long-limbed middleweight with enough meat on his thighs and upper torso to put some weight behind his punches. His legs can get him in and out of range quickly, but he is not a hit-and-run type boxer. And in spite of being high-waisted, Quillin is agile enough to dip and roll.
Several years ago, Quillin left home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for New York. His plan was to make an impression in a few big tournaments and then turn pro. Peter made it to the quarter finals of the Golden Gloves but he fell out with his trainer, and then endured the “New York welcome” of seeking refuge on friends’ couches.
“I was trying to be a jack-of-all-trades: boxing, modeling, acting, business; but I was master of none.” Quillin attributed the turbulence in his life to a lack of focus. “As soon as I put boxing the center, everything came together. Now everything I do branches off of boxing.”
Currently, he teaches at an after-school boxing program and trains clients at Trinity Boxing Gym in lower Manhattan. Peter joined forces with Morgan about two years ago and turned pro last summer with his mom and family in the audience. He no longer has to wonder about the roof over his head and his brother has joined him in his Brooklyn digs.
All of Quillin’s fights have been on a televised series in Manhattan, where his fourth test is scheduled tomorrow. His skillfully executed KOs have impressed the tough New York audience, and fight-goers scramble to catch the eponymous treats Kid Chocolate tosses from the ring post-fight.
I stood ringside as Quillin worked with Chris Smith, and despite the difference in size and experience, both got in quality work under the Morgan’s watch. Smith spent the majority of the session fighting out of a crouch, and as his moniker suggests, was busy the entire time. Quillin circled and countered, while Morgan called for him to shift at the waist and mix up his targets.
Occasionally, Quillin’s eyes lit up and he threw a few hard shots, but he was quickly reigned in by his trainer. The fighters spent the entirety of one round working on the inside, where Smith was very much at home. Quillin heeded Morgan’s instructions to adjust his shoulder position, shift his head, spin his partner and follow up with punches.
“Those aren’t moves I want him to use in a four-rounder,” Morgan later explained. “But what I am teaching him now, he will put to use when we get to six, eight, ten-rounders. I’m not waiting until we get there to start teaching him.”
In contrast to this controlled laboratory session, two days later Quillin got in some intense rounds with middleweight Juan Cabrera, (4-0, 3 KOs), a Dominican also fighting on the same card.
Cabrera works with the trainer best known as “Diablo,” a short gentleman with salt & pepper hair and goatee. We met in the mid-90s at the late-110th Pct PAL boxing gym in Queens, where Diablo was a volunteer coach. He has a deep, throaty voice and enjoys a good laugh. When he worked our corners, Diablo hurled himself into the ring the moment the hammer hit the bell and immediately fired a water-mister straight up in the air as his fighter headed home. By the time the fighter was seated, gravity had pulled the cool refreshing cloud down on their head, and Diablo was already rubbing and reviving limbs.
Both Quillin and Cabrera were tightlipped as their trainers gloved and greased them in opposite corners while quietly delivering instructions. The session began with headhunting. Quillin used his speed and reflexes to fire four and five punch combinations when he saw openings, while Cabrera applied constant pressure coming forward with hard hooks. Cabrera’s style suited his solid musculature of round shoulders and biceps, and well-developed legs.
Quillin used Cabrera’s momentum to practice countering, and both fighters landed hard shots. While Cabrera favored hooks to the body and head, Quillin found success with his one-two. Occasionally, they intertwined in a clinch, but worked out cleanly.
Each man evoked the focus appropriate for a week from game day. There was no playing around, showboating or trash-talking. Whenever Cabrera was tagged, his eyes lit up, he grinned as if to show off his mouthpiece, and he proceeded forward again.
The fighters’ intensity grew with each round, and it transferred to their corners. Both trainers began the session audible to only their charges, but their voices grew louder and louder. By the fourth interval, Peter began spending more time against the ropes covering, rolling, and slipping. Perhaps he was waiting for Cabrera to punch himself out, but Morgan was not taken with this tactic. He yelled for his fighter to punch back and circle out. Once respectfully silent observers, Quillin’s teammates sensed the door had opened for their input. “Use the jab, Petey! Stop waiting! That’s it! See?” they cried.
After the fifth or sixth, Diablo glanced across the ring and with a rhetorical half statement, half question asked “One more?” to which Morgan’s automatic and expected reply came, “One more.” These were respectful, matter-of-fact “one more”s, not taunting, sarcastic, or daring “One more??”s. Roughly translated, their exchange meant “We know our boys’ are almost pushed to their limit, but we can get one more decent round out of them before this sparring session becomes pointless.”
The fighters went at it knowing this was the last round. Both wanted to finish strong, but began to miss with wide swings. They maintained their focus and output, however, and as the session closed, the half dozen boxers ringside acknowledged the solid work they just witnessed. The gear came off, and Cabrera closed out by skipping. Quillin did a few rounds on the heavy bag before he cooled down and headed for the shower.
Post-workout, Quillin told me that greatest aspiration is to “minister to young people and people who may not feel they have anything going for them – to give them hope.” His trainer’s vision, however, is far more tangible. Morgan has his eye on getting Quillin to 10-0 this year, 18-0 by next year, then set for a title shot. He agrees that Quillin is talented, but adds “Petey’s strengths are his hunger and that he listens.”
Quillin won’t make any bold predictions about his performance tomorrow night, except that he “look[s] forward to putting on a great show and entertaining the New York crowd.” Morgan, more succinctly, says he wants Kid Chocolate to “get it over with as quickly as possible so we can get back in the gym and get ready for the next one.”
When Morgan and Quillin do head back to their uber-trendy training venue, the workout is guaranteed to be “classic.”