Peter Quillin’s talking about a fight, as fighters do. But this one is different.
“It was a real fight,” Peter Quillin says, the emotion in his voice rising like the tide approaching shore. “He got hit with something unexpectedly.”
Quillin’s speaking of an uncle, a father figure when his father couldn’t be there, a sounding board, a family mediator who had a knack for getting everybody that one gift they really wanted for Christmas.
Eric Munson was all those things, right up until he passed away in February at age 57 after succumbing to pancreatic cancer.
This is the fight that Quillin’s talking about.
The real one.
Quillin’s preparing for a battle of his own, in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday against Andy Lee in a fight airing live on NBC, but when he enters the ring that night, he won’t be the same man he was when last laced up his gloves for a fight one year ago.
Since then, Quillin lost a cherished family member, but he gained perspective—the kind of perspective that his uncle was determined to instill in him.
“For me, it was like, what fight can equal up to that?” Quillin says, reflecting on how deeply his uncle’s struggles with cancer affected him. “When I saw my uncle fighting for his life, it made me realize how hard I can fight in boxing.”
If it wasn’t for Munson, Quillin might not even be a position to be speaking of his boxing career. He might not have one.
It was his uncle who served as a mentor, a voice of reason, an endless source of advice for Quillin as he was growing up in some of the more rugged stretches of Grand Rapids, Michigan, his words helping to shape the man that Quillin’s since become.
“When you call somebody and it’s like they have all the right words to say to you—that was him, that’s who he was,” Quillin says. “I was going through something just recently with my older brother, and the first person I would call would be [my uncle]. And I forgot he wasn’t there anymore.”
And so Quillin has taken it upon himself to now serve the role for his family that his uncle once did.
He speaks warmly of getting one of his nephews an iPad for Christmas, of how thrilled it made him.
Now all the kids in the family are looking forward to presents from Uncle Pete.
Quillin’s voice brightens as he recollects this last anecdote.
It’s as if he realizes that he’s become the kind of man he grew up admiring.
And so come Saturday night, when Quillin fights for the first time with his uncle no longer with him, his heart might be as heavy as his hands, if only for a moment.
And then the opening bell will ring, and life will go on—for Quillin, and, in a way, for his uncle, as well.
“I get emotional, but I’m able to say that my uncle will always live through me,” he says. “A part of me is always going to be inspired to be the man that he was.”
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