Doubt, they say, is the privilege of those who’ve lived a long time. At 21, Chris Colbert hasn’t earned that right yet. However, age may do nothing to blunt his hubris.
“In boxing you have to stay focused, stay humble and stay ready. I’m still working on the humble part,” Chris Colbert laughs.
His trash talking may offend some, but it’s hard to stay humble when your talent has you feeling like Cassius Clay in Olympic Village.
“I’m a ‘lights, camera, action guy,” he boasts. “I love the lights, I love the camera, and I’m definitely all about that action.”
Colbert (7-0, 2 KOs) has backed up his bravado so far. The undefeated featherweight prospect will make his television debut on FS1 and FOX Deportes against Austin Dulay at the Armory in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Friday.
Some will watch hoping the cocksure kid gets knocked off. But Colbert is already a winner, no matter what happens going forward. His isn’t a story of one who did it the right way. It’s a tale of one who did it his way.
Colbert was born and raised in the harsh Flatbush area of Brooklyn. He, his mother, and nine siblings lived together under an ever-changing roof that included two stints in the local shelter.
“My family really wasn’t that close,” Colbert says. “I was the middle child, the independent one. So, I was always by myself, going out and being in the streets alone.”
Colbert was a good student growing up. But by the time he finished middle school, he was spending most of his time on corners, where his diminutive size made him an easy mark.
“I didn’t run from those fights,” he recalls. “I guess in a way, I took out my frustrations on others through street fighting. But that’s where it ended. I never got arrested or caught up with drugs and stuff. I knew what came after that and no matter what, I always believed my future would be bright.”
Colbert got his first taste of boxing at age 13, when he became hooked on the build-up for the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight.
“I saw how much money Floyd makes fighting and I told myself, ‘I fight in the streets every day. Why don’t I get paid for it?’”
The universe agreed. Shortly after, Colbert got into an argument with a friend. The friend suggested they settle it in the ring at Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Gym. Atlas is a Brooklyn landmark, a mentoring center for neighborhood children started by retired New York police officer Pat Russo and former boxing trainer Teddy Atlas.
“I knew I was home soon as I walked in,” Colbert says. “I kept looking around, seeing the culture there, and I remembered watching Mayweather at the gym. I walked up to a coach and said, ‘I’m going to be the best fighter you got in this gym.’ He thought I was joking. I came every day for three years straight.
“Once I started going to the gym, my life was all about boxing. I used to go to school and I wasn’t focused, not doing the work. But I told the teachers, ‘I’m good. I’m going to be a boxer.’ They all told me that I wasn’t going to make it.”
Colbert would meet future trainer and father-figure Aureliano Sosa at Atlas. It was Sosa who christened him “Lil’ B-Hop.”
“They called me that because they said I fought like Bernard Hopkins; the way he taunts people and all that stuff,” Colbert says. “Then one day I’m at a press conference and someone shouted my nickname. Hopkins turned around thinking they were calling him. That’s how we met. We’ve been close ever since.”
Hopkins advises his namesake, sharing insights on the game and warning him of the pitfalls ahead. “Lil B-Hop” immersed himself in boxing, studying Mayweather, Pernell Whitaker and Andre Ward to incorporate parts of their style into his own. Colbert possesses fast hands and feet, and is comfortable fighting either orthodox or southpaw. He’s registered only two stoppages but believes that will change once he acquires “grown man strength.”
However, Colbert’s newfound love didn’t alter fortunes at home. Just as the U.S. Nationals were about to begin, he and his family were evicted.
“I was really going through it,” he says. “Like damn, I never wanted people to know my business. That’s how I am with everything. I always kept things to myself. Being in the shelter again, trying to get ready to compete in a fight was one of the hardest things I had to go through.”
Colbert went on to win that 2015 Nationals championship. He became the No. 3-ranked fighter nationally at 114 pounds and No. 1 at 123, earning an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.
But “the politics of the game” and perhaps the allure of making money convinced him to turn pro at 18. It appears he made the right decision. Last November, he fought in his first eight-rounder, outpointing Titus Williams in a battle of undefeated Big Apple prospects.
On paper, Dulay is the toughest opponent of his career. Following an amateur career that included over 120 wins, the Tennessee native is 11-0 with 8 KOs as a pro.
“These aren’t fights they’re giving me,” Colbert says. “This is what I’m asking for. A lot of these world champions came up taking the easy route. They’ll be 27-0 and haven’t fought an undefeated fighter. I’m only 7-0 and I’m up to my third undefeated fighter. And I plan to keep wiping them out.”
Along with this early crossroads fight, his long-time girlfriend is pregnant with his first child, a son. Colbert’s approaching both the fight and parenting with the same confidence that got him to this point.
“After I turned pro, I said to my teachers, ‘I told y’all.’ Right now, I’m doing this to better myself, better my community and to give my son the kind of life I didn’t have. I’m just waiting on my turn to shine. You could hate it or love it, but no matter what, stay tuned.”
Article written by Kenneth Bouhairie courtesy of Premier Boxing Champions
Header photo by Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing