It’s difficult for a layperson to look at a boxer, a physically dominant athlete who is one of the most fearsome fighting machines in the world, and see vulnerability.
In almost every case, the vulnerabilities are bubbling just beneath the surface, but they’re frequently missed. Boxers are humans, and like every other person, they have their own fears and insecurities and drama in their personal lives. They simply do a better job of hiding them than most.
Peter Quillin, the former middleweight champion, finally decided he could no longer keep things hidden inside. His issues had grown so bad he considered jumping from the window of his penthouse apartment and ending it all.
Quillin was wise enough to get the help he needed from a mental health counselor. He’s fought only once since his devastating first-round knockout loss to Daniel Jacobs on Dec. 5, 2015, as he has dealt with his issues.
On Saturday in Long Island, he’ll return in a big way when he meets perennial contender J’Leon Love in a 10-round super middleweight match on Fox.
Quillin lived a tumultuous life and eventually, it caught up to him. After losing to Jacobs, he needed to worry about his life, and his relationships, much more than he did boxing.
“I needed to renew who I was as a person,” Quillin said. “That’s not to say I lost myself fully, but after the post-fight mess of family and people. … The craziest thing is, I was so fearless as a kid. But when you start having enough time to think about stuff and think of where you are, you lose a little bit of that fearlessness. I think I lost it because I was letting people get the best of me by giving me bad advice. Nothing was attached to that.
“I basically had to remove myself and find out what kind of a man I was and what kind of husband I wanted to be, what kind of father I wanted to be to my children. My wife moved out of the house.”
The decision to break up, even temporarily, is an intensely personal one for a couple, and there’s almost always more to it than meets the eye.
But when his wife left, Quillin instantly understood. He looked around at a home filled with people and yet he was all alone.
“I told myself throughout my whole career in boxing I would never have an entourage,” Quillin said. “And then, the next thing you know, there was an entourage. I didn’t know where they came from and I didn’t know how to get rid of them.”
His life was spiraling out of control in many ways. From a boxing standpoint, the match with Jacobs was the pinnacle of his career and a win would have set him up for potential big-money bouts against the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
But at the public workout the week of the fight with Jacobs, his trainers nearly got into a fight. He wasn’t happy with his conditioning coach. And while he doesn’t use any of that as a reason for his loss, none of it helped prepare him to fight one of the best in the world.
It wasn’t only boxing issues. When his son, Joaquin Enriquez, was born, he learned that his uncle, who had been a father figure to him, was dying of pancreatic cancer. He brought his infant son to meet his uncle, and the two shared a tender moment.
When his uncle died, Quillin readily paid for the funeral, but he did not attend. He was preparing for a fight and his uncle told him to box. That left him in a dispute with family members.
So much was swirling and Quillin was in desperate need of help.
“To be brutally honest with you, I started to see these dark moments in my life and I started to think what would be the easiest way to deal with this,” Quillin said. “I would say, ‘Man, you know what? Jumping out the window.’ I was living on the 42nd floor, the penthouse floor, and I was thinking of jumping.
“I never had these thoughts before and I never would have thought these types of thoughts would come into my mind. I hated to be around people and I felt there was no one I could relate to: Family, friends, I just felt everyone was against me. … I was in so many dark places.”
He saw a therapist who helped him. The therapist gave him a line – “The battle is real, but so is the victory” – that resonated with him. Thinking of that brought him closer to God, and has allowed him to overcome many of his issues.
He came from what he called a “broken home” and said he never saw his parents embrace. He said his mother never said, “I love you,” to him when he was a child.
“Since the beginning of this whole ride, people have heard bits of my story and have said to me, ‘Peter, you should write a book,’” Quillin said. “There are certain things, dark things, that happened to me by family members that shouldn’t happen to any kid. I overcame those things. I was dealing with those thoughts. I tried to make it look like that never happened to me, but it did.
“Hopefully, maybe I can partner up with someone one day and write a book and it can help people who struggle with the things I struggle with.”
He believes he’s come to grips with his personal issues and has rebuilt his life by solving his problems one at a time. He’s doing it, he says, just like a fight. You can’t fight the third before you fight the second, and so he’s systematically eliminating problem after problem.
It’s renewed his love of the sport and his passion for life and he aims to show that on Saturday in his bout with Love.
“I want to be an example of someone who faced a lot and who didn’t always have the right answer, but I found a way to get it done,” he said. “I share my story in the hope that it resonates with someone else and it helps them. If they watch my fight and I can motivate them to keep fighting in their lives, that makes me feel better than anything, better than a championship. That’s what it is about.”
If you or someone you know are struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
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