Philadelphia, Liacouras Center, Saturday, Jan. 18: When I enter the locker room and say hello to Lil Bhopp, he is quick to remind me his new name is “Primetime.”
A few years ago, it was “The Goldenchild.”
Over the six years I have known him he has assumed other aliases including “The Black Mexican” and “El Negro Frijole” aka “The Black Bean.” Tonight, he is Primetime, and he is fighting on broadcast FOX, in prime-time, for the interim WBO super featherweight championship of the world.
I first met Christopher Colbert in 2015 in Spokane, Washington where I was filming the US National Championships/Olympic Trials Qualifiers for Netflix. At 15-years-old, Colbert was the most arrogant and pompous young man in the arena; he backed it up, dominating his opponent, earning himself a spot at the Olympic Trials. When he won, placing a TMT hat on top of his head, Colbert (below, backing up foe Corrales with a long jab) told me that he was the next Bernard Hopkins and everyone should call him “Lil Bhopp. “ He then told me I was wasting my time filming with the young fighter I had followed to Spokane, and that he was the best young fighter in the world. He challenged me. “The Olympics? And lose some brain cells for free?” Lol. “I’m turning pro. You should be following me, BHopp, the next great American Champion of the World.”
While brash and at times downright rude, there was something intriguing and even inspiring about the teenagers’ poker game. Insulted by a kid half my age, I just really liked him. Like Muhammad Ali said, “To be the best, you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.” Colbert, 113-3 as an amateur, wasn’t pretending. He has that je ne se quois, that social and emotional intelligence you can’t teach. He’s a street dog.
Months later I was with Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin in Santa Monica, where he was training to fight Andy Lee for the middleweight championship. Sparring partners rotated every few rounds. Lennox Allen, an undefeated southpaw from Brooklyn by way of Guyana, gave Quillin his best work. An indistinguishable, high pitched voice that I can only compare to that of a Brooklyn chihuaha barked orders that Allen executed. it was the tempestuous Colbert in Allen’s corner, Instructing him to throw an over hand left- that landed on Quillin with repeated success.
“Where is Allen’s real coach?” I wondered. Surely, the undefeated fighter had not entrusted his safety and strategy into the hands of a 15-year-old?
Allen and Colbert shared the same trainer, in Aureliano Sosa.
“Why aren’t you in school?” I asked Colbert.
“This is school,” he replied without hesitation.
The notion that Colbert was not only a talented young fighter, but that he was a student of the game and its history reinforced my instinct to include his story into my Netflix documentary, “Counterpunch.”
I’ve been in and out of boxing gyms my entire life. There are very few boxers who treat the sport as if they are getting a PhD. Most boxers are content to follow direction. Most direction comes at the hand of failed boxers turned trainers. To be truly great, one must have a brilliant trainer and a thirst for their knowledge, along with the intelligence necessary to be able to absorb it.
When we first met five years ago, Colbert was living in one of the most dangerous areas in the country. So perilous was the situation in Hunts Point, Bronx, NY, the police had stationed a mobile command unit in front of Colbert’s building as they explained to me, “This area is not safe for white people. Especially white people with expensive camera equipment.”
The Dominican gang in Colbert’s building was at war with the gang in the building across the street. The steps of his hallway were blood strewn from stabbings that took place the previous night. Nobody messed with Colbert. He kept his head down. Everyone knew Bhopp’s name. I could go on about the situation with his family inside his apartment, but I will just say that he shared a tiny bedroom with his two brothers and sister. His sneaker collection took up half the room.
His parents have yet to attend any of his fights. When his mother was unable to pay their storage unit fee, all of his many amateur trophies were lost. It’s poverty that propels him to prove to the world he is something, somebody.
Some days I would drive Colbert to school. Or rather, Colbert would insist on driving me to his school (with no license), where he would then walk in the front and out the back. Colbert would then ride the subway two hours in each direction, from the Bronx to Cops and Kids Gym in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It was at Cops and Kids that I met his trainer, Aureliano Sosa, and his manager, Pat Russo. I could go on about their abilities and how positive a program Cops and Kids is. Needless to say that it takes a program run by tough cops to keep Colbert coming.
Sosa is NYC’s current day Mr Miyagi. In addition to working a full time job at the National Grid, he raised a generation of successful amateur champions including Shu Shu Carrington, who just made the US Olympic team last month, Nikita Ababiy (8-0 as a pro), Reshat Mati (6-0), Lennox Allen (22-0-1). Along the way he picked up Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin and Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. But Colbert is his masterpiece.
The demands of boxing took precedent. School was not for Colbert. In 2015, he placed all his marbles in one basket, and he turned professional with Al Haymon and the PBC.
Things did not move as rapidly as he would have hoped. Having forsaken the Olympic Trials, he did not receive the same attention that Shakur Stevenson and some other Olympians would see. There was no hefty signing bonus. He fought 1-2 times a year for several years against tough competition. He persevered against some of PBCs best young prospects on tiny cards, in empty arenas in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Seemingly, he went unnoticed by the PBC brass. He was not babied. He was not carried to the promised land, padding his record with bouts against lesser opponents. His foes have a combined record of 172-55, for the record. All the while, Colbert turned down offers from the competition for more money and opportunity. He never questioned his trainer in Sosa, or his advisor Haymon, who began to take notice.
He networked, obtained sponsors including The Modell family and their retail chain. He gained some attention from our film on Netflix. He had a son, “Prince.” He got a car. He moved to the suburbs of New Jersey. He changed his hair color every fight.
He stuck it out.
He seized the day when he was put on Fox, dismantling Austin Dulay, one of PBCs most promising talents.
Despite lacking in power, he then knocked out a durable Miguel Beltran Jr. on primetime television.
Over the course of the last five years, I have followed Colbert to 14-0, and I’m proud to call him my family. I don’t think of him as a younger brother, but more like the youngest big brother I’ve ever had.
I’ve grown fond of saying that if Colbert wasn’t a fighter, he would have been a skillful bank robber.
He holds his cards close to his chest. He is quick witted, sharp, and has a real penchant for collecting powerful people. If you have been in boxing, you have seen him in locker rooms over the last decade, observing, absorbing, and strategizing. He doesn’t think small. He sees the big picture. He plans at length. He loves danger. He’s not afraid of taking risks.
And so here we are in this locker room in Philly. 23-years-old, and five years after we stood on top of his roof in Hunts Point, staring down at the police sirens, the crime scene, as Colbert predicted the future: undefeated, he said, fighting for a world championship.
“Primetime” may be his name, but it was not so long ago that he was Lil Bhopp. It is then fitting that Bernard Hopkins, the OG Bhop, is here to wish him luck. Colbert always referred to Hopkins as “the mold.” Hopkins fought until he was almost 52, somehow retained his faculties, and he has seen success in business working with Golden Boy. “I’m Primetime now, but I’m gonna do Bhop,” Colbert tells Hopkins. Hopkins shakes Colbert’s hand. “Good luck, my son.”
Literally fit for a king, the 6 foot long purple velvet, fur-lined cape presents an optical illusion. From behind him, Colbert appears not 5”5 but 6”6. All of his brothers are here. Coach Sosa, his adopted father, is here. “I’m different!” Colbert screams, beating his chest. “What time is it?!”
“Primetime!” his younger brothers cheer.
Colbert makes his way to the ring, and for me, there is no question he will win.
The only question is how.
Jezreel Corrales, 23-3, is a tough, versatile Panamian southpaw, he is no slouch. The ex WBA super feather champ, however, is no match for Colbert. I won’t bore you with round by round. The truth is that the first 10 rounds are lacking in excitement. In short, Colbert switches from southpaw to orthodox several times until deciding to stay orthodox. He wins the jab war, but realizes Corrales will never be the aggressor. Colbert hesitates to throw more than a shot or two at a time. Long, 30 second to 1 minute long periods of parity- two men dancing without throwing a punch. The Philly fans are unimpressed and boo during and after many of the first 10 rounds. All the while, Colbert is trying different things, winning most every round by a narrow margin. In round 6, Corrales lands a combo. Most every round, Colbert lands at least one more shot than does Corrales. In round 9, out of the peekaboo stance, Colbert walks him down. In round 10, Colbert drops the Panamanian with a left hook. Over the course of the championship rounds Colbert comes close to stopping Corrales.
Colbert wins a unanimous decision. He raises his son Prince’s hands for him, putting back on his purple poncho.
Shades of BHopp, The Black Mexican, and Primetime present themselves in the post fight interview.
In the locker room, Primetime is quick to remind us he wasn’t hurt, that he’s champion now. That he will now set his sights on a major belt. Of the people booing tonight- “Well, they didn’t cash no check.”
Colbert then calls a number on FaceTime. It’s Deion “Primetime” Sanders, sitting in his living room. Sanders is proud of Colbert.
“You looked good, champ.”
“I’m carrying on your name,” Primetime tells Primetime.