LOS ANGELES -- Peter Quillin is making progress on a fruit plate at Nat's Thai Food, a closet-sized restaurant in the same horseshoe-shaped strip mall as the Wild Card Boxing Club here in Hollywood, when a teenager with a buzz cut and braces works up the nerve to approach him.
"Are you ... " the boy starts, balking. "You're Kid Chocolate?"
The outgoing 28-year-old middleweight flashes his magnetic grin and confirms, yes, he is Kid Chocolate. Not
Quillin instead is an undefeated 160-pound prospect who can move to the front of the line for a title shot Saturday with a win over Scotland's Craig McEwan in the co-feature of the Alfredo Angulo-James Kirkland show in Cancun, Mexico (10:15 p.m. ET/PT, HBO).
"It's no additional pressure," said Quillin (25-0, 19 KOs) of his HBO debut, "but I know there's probably going to be more people that follow my career off of this one fight than I've had in my whole career."
Not until he's outside walking past the mob of well-wishers and overzealous fans waiting around the clock for Manny Pacquiao does it becomes clear: the semi-anonymity Quillin enjoys now might not last for long.
It hasn't always come so easy for Quillin, who was born on the west side of Chicago before relocating to Grand Rapids, Mich., where his Cuban refugee father went to state prison for selling drugs. A wayward teen, he took refuge in boxing after first walking into the Michigan Golden Gloves Gym at age 15. It was there an onlooker first told him he looked like Kid Chocolate.
"He told me, 'You should look that name up,'" Quillin recalls. "I never did, but I started calling myself Kid Cocoa."
Only while thumbing through a boxing encyclopedia years later did Quillin recognize the parallels between himself and the beloved "Cuban Bon Bon": Each sprung from strong Cuban roots and each came to New York City to make a name for himself.
Thus a new Kid Chocolate -- an overt nod to Quillin's heritage -- was born. He moved to Brooklyn, turned pro after a 15-bout amateur career and quickly built a following on his one-punch knockout power (15 KOs in his first 17 outings) and showmanship (he still tosses Hershey's Kisses into the crowd after fights).
Quillin's first appearance on HBO should have happened three years ago, but the scheduled event fell apart when a lingering right hand injury required surgery that sidelined him for four months. Then came fractured a orbital bone suffered while sparring with WBA cruiserweight champion Guillermo Jones. (When asked why a 160-pounder was in with a cruiserweight who had at least 40 pounds on him, Quillin sheepishly credits the "poor judgment" of his previous handlers.)
Most harrowing was an emergency appendectomy that left Quillin adrift with a pristine win-loss record but 17 months of inactivity and negative momentum.
With his career in need of a jump start after outpointing Fernando Zuniga to end his year-and-a-half layoff in February 2010, Quillin relocated to Los Angeles, signed a contract with Golden Boy Promotions and made his way to the Wild Card -- where he caught the attention of the five-time Trainer of the Year who owns the place. The results thus far have been encouraging: Quillin has recorded four straight knockouts since entering Freddie Roach's fold.
Critics say Quillin's résumé lacks recognizable names: only victories over three-time title challenger Antwun Echols and former
"I'm confident but I'm not cocky," Quillin said. "I'd never had the confidence to look at a guy in the ring because the eyes tell so much. I used to never look at a guy before the fight. Now I know there should be nothing I fear. When I look at a guy I want to see him [feel] all the pain I've been through."
Quillin spent the first three weeks of his camp for Saturday's fight at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Roach has been working as a consultant for a USA Boxing program that's hit rock bottom over the past decade. There, Quillin was able to train against the unfamiliar amateur style, and get precious one-on-one tutelage from Roach.
But with Pacquiao's fight with Juan Manuel Marquez rapidly approaching on Nov. 12, Roach is unavailable to work Quillin's corner Saturday in Cancun. Stepping up instead is Eric Brown, a Detroit native who's worked with Quillin since he arrived at the Wild Card last year.
"Peter and everybody in the world knows Manny is the priority at this point and his fight is too close to Peter's," Roach said. "But Peter is well-prepared. I work with him every day, me, him and Eric. He's in great shape and we have a great game plan for this fight, so he's in good hands."
Brown is confident Quillin's physical superiority will carry the day, regardless of McEwan's determination to avoid a second consecutive loss, and move Quillin closer to a shot against one of the division's alphabet titleholders, among them Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Felix Sturm or Sergio Martinez (currently rated at No. 3 in SI.com's pound-for-pound list).
"I expect him to try and outbox Peter and see if he can win on points, because I really don't think he's strong enough to hurt Peter," Brown said. "It's going to be up to McEwan to be able to hold up and not run out of gas, which he's known for."
Quillin said he's worked on the three punches that are going to work against McEwan, a southpaw coming off the first and only defeat of his career: a 10th-round TKO loss to Andy Lee in March that saw him fade down the stretch.
"You['ve] got a rat surrounded back to the wall, of course he's going to fight back," Quillin said. "but that doesn't mean he's going to win."
Quillin went for a final sweat at the Wild Card before Wednesday's early-morning flight to Mexico, shadowboxing and jumping rope for a half hour. He looked smooth and relaxed in the ring, listening to music on headphones while uncoiling textbook straights and hooks, contemplating Saturday's move from prospect to contender.
"We're both going in there as lions," he said, "but one of us going to leave out of there a gazelle."