Boxer Peter Quillin put new son, dying uncle before money

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

The photo, of an older hand grasping a younger one, is amongst Peter Quillin's most cherished possessions.

Peter Quillin's son Joaquin rests near uncle Eric Munson. (Courtesy of Peter Quillin)
Peter Quillin's son Joaquin rests near uncle Eric Munson. (Courtesy of Peter Quillin)

And in a way, it explains very simply and precisely what seemed to be an inexplicable decision he made last year to vacate his WBO middleweight title and turn down a career-high seven-figure purse for an eminently winnable fight at home against Matt Korobov.

Quillin's decision to pass on the Korobov fight made little sense on the surface. He was accused of ducking Korobov by the hard-to-please boxing fans who couldn't begin to fathom what would lead him to say no to a $1.5 million purse and a near-certain win.

The decision to say no was, however, a no brainer, Quillin says, and it all goes back to that photo of the two hands coming together.

Quillin's first son, Joaquin Enriquez, was born on Aug. 23, 2014. It was a joyous moment for both Quillin and his wife, Allison.

At the same time, however, he was dealing with life's more unpleasant side. His 57-year-old uncle, Eric Munson, was on death's doorstep, suffering from pancreatic cancer. Munson was a father figure to Quillin, and the fighter speaks of him in near-reverential tones.

It was important to Quillin for Munson to meet his son. It was, to Quillin, the final rite of passage into manhood. Forget about winning a boxing world championship. The true test of a man, Quillin believes, is the way he raises his children.

"My eyes were opened so much when I had a kid," Quillin said. "You know, when you realize that someone else is dependent upon you – absolutely, totally helpless and depending on you to provide everything they need – it's a powerful emotion. It's a life-changer. It's an awesome responsibility and I knew I needed to step up."

Peter Quillin (R) punches Lukas Konecny during their WBO Middleweight World Champion boxing match last April. (AP)
Peter Quillin (R) punches Lukas Konecny during their WBO Middleweight World Champion boxing match last April. (AP)

Munson had done much of that for Quillin, who was born in Chicago and lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., for most of his life, but he's of Cuban descent. His father, Pedro, was born in Cuba but defected and hasn't been back in 35 years. Quillin still has family there, including a brother.

Munson was a father-figure to him, so Quillin felt it was critical that before he passed away, Munson got an opportunity to meet Joaquin.

Just before Joaquin was born, Quillin realized pretty quickly he couldn't go through with a fight. He needed to be there to see Joaquin born and to spend those precious first few days with him.

"I wasn't in a mental state of mind to go into a fight," Quillin said. "I had this great emotional uplifting event when my baby was born, but at the exact same time, I had to deal with the horribly bad emotions of knowing my uncle had cancer and that we were going to lose him. I still take that hard. It was so hard to witness someone who was so close struggling and passing away from an agonizing disease like pancreatic cancer. I wasn't in the right mindset to be getting ready for a fight.

"I had a lot on my plate, and I had to learn and understand everything. I was dealing with changes in my promotional company and my managers and there were all these things that happened."

That's where the picture comes in. Quillin had to bring his son to see his uncle, even though it meant taking a newborn baby onto a plane. His wife objected, but Quillin wasn't going to be denied.

"If there was a person, even with him being on his last legs, that I wanted my kid to meet and spend some time with, it was my uncle," Quillin said.

So Quillin brought Joaquin to see Munson in his hospital bed. One of his favorite photos is of Joaquin laying next to Munson, a slight smile creasing each of their faces, one life beginning just as the other was about to end.

The bond between new born baby and a great uncle. (Courtesy of Peter Quillin)
The bond between new born baby and a great uncle. (Courtesy of Peter Quillin)

But the photo of the hands is the one that signifies the moment. At one point, Munson extended his hand toward Joaquin, who reached out and put his tiny hand inside his great uncle's. Quillin happened to be in the right spot at the right time and snapped a photo, capturing what he called, "A shot I will never forget."

The baby holding hands with his beloved dying uncle, well, that is why he couldn't fight Matt Korobov. A crush of emotions hit him and he needed time to come to grips with what had gone on in his life.

"I learned how traumatic cancer can be to a family," Quillin said. "I fought with him until he had no fight left in him. I'm the emotional one in the family, and I'm not scared to cry. I'm not afraid to let people know how I feel. I saw he was in pain and he had lost a lot of weight, and that hurt me so bad. My family was telling me not to be going around him and crying and breaking down.

"But I did me. I got my one-on-one time with him, and I knew this would be it, and I got there and I got to tell him how I felt about him. I said what I felt and we cried. He'd accepted that he was going to pass and he told me how proud he was of me. He told me I was the role model in the family, and I told him how much I loved and appreciated him and how important it was to me to have someone like him."

Life, as it always does, moved on, and finally, Quillin is back in the gym.

He'll meet Andy Lee for the belt he surrendered as part of the Premier Boxing Champions card at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on NBC on April 11. Lee stopped Korobov in December to win the title that Quillin had given up, and now, Quillin will fight for the belt once again.

Some might say it's like things haven't changed, and on one level, it's true. But listen to Peter Quillin speak, listen to the emotion that floods his voice as he speaks of those few months, and you know that things are very, very different.

It will be a different man who makes the walk to the ring on April 11.

"This is the start of the next chapter in my life and in my career," Quillin said. "I am ready to go out there and get on with it and do what I have to do."

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