Chris Colbert has been a star since before he was anything other than a youngster learning the sport of boxing. As a child, Colbert had a temper, the gift of gab, and a fearlessness about fighting, a trio of attributes that netted him plenty of opponents on the streets and in the schoolyard. All of the victories in the streets will net you nothing but a reputation and an eventual tragic outcome. But when he stepped into a boxing gym for the first time, trainer Aureliano Sosa saw something much different. He saw the second coming of Bernard Hopkins, and gave the 95-pound kid the nickname Lil B-Hop.
Everyone in the New York boxing scene knew about Lil B-Hop. He was a city celebrity in his early teens. When Bernard Hopkins fought Tavoris Cloud at Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2013, there was Colbert up on the press conference stage, doing a staredown with Hopkins for photographers. That day, Hopkins gave him the blessing to use the nickname in the pros.
“I never wanted to do that amateur sh!t,” Colbert told Ring Magazine in 2019.
The year after Hopkins anointed him, he was in the New York City Golden Gloves looking to pad his amateur resume that eventually included five national titles. While most of the other competitors wore the basic amateur boxing kits, blue or red, Colbert fought in custom faux fur camo trunks.
Colbert has always carried himself in a manner expected of someone beyond his level of experience and success, and has always ultimately backed it up. The phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” doesn’t apply to him, because he’s always believed what he was projecting, and has always found a way to make it.
On Saturday, Colbert scored the latest victory in his sparkling pro career by outpointing Olympic silver medalist Tugstsogt Nyambayar at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA in a bout that headlined a Showtime Championship Boxing telecast. Scores were 118-110 twice and 117-111.
In another circumstance, a bout between a 15-0 fighter and a 12-1 fighter would find itself in the middle of the card or perhaps a co-feature slot. But Colbert isn’t your typical 15-0 (now 16-0) fighter in terms of skill level, development or perhaps most importantly, aura. The fact that Colbert holds an interim version of the WBA’s 130-pound title certainly boosts his credibility on an optical level, but even without a belt slung over his shoulder, the uninitiated fan would see Colbert, resplendent in orange gladiator skirt-style trunks and matching hair (meant to amplify Multiple Sclerosis awareness), bouncing confidently to the ring and assume that they were looking at someone important, someone special.
Colbert’s skills in the ring would verify that. The 24-year old displayed electric hand speed, and in particular, an elite caliber jab that by and large was able to neutralize Nyambayar. Nyambayar was able to catch Colbert with some good shots, in particular a right hand some speculated hurt Colbert in the third round, but instead confirmed to Colbert that he “had a hell of a chin.” Mostly though, it was an entertaining affair with Colbert outlanding Nyambayar at effectively a 3-to-1 clip, rattling off three-plus punch combinations in the instances he did get touched.
“Nobody's ever gonna keep up with me," said Colbert at the post-fight press conference, before implying his right hand was less than 100% during the bout. "If I had two hands tonight it would have been 10-to-1."
Colbert doesn’t shy away from the fact that he is defensively conscious, if not defense-first. During his post-fight interview in the ring, Colbert offered the axiom “boxing is about hitting and not getting hit,” and said he “had to use my Muhammad Ali tactics and float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” But Colbert shows that it is possible to be both entertaining and defensively sound.
In Colbert’s case, it’s because his offense happens to be flashy and crisp as well, but also because his movements are fluid and athletic and his personality shines through all of his actions inside the ring. Though he’s changed his nickname to Prime Time now, Colbert has that in common with his former nickname-sake B-Hop. Hopkins, specifically later in his career, didn’t engage in trench warfare-type fights, but was never considered boring. There was always something compelling about his performances, even if he was simply neutralizing his opponent’s assets and landing just enough to win, and always plenty of Hopkins’ personality being overtly displayed. Colbert is no pure spoiler, though, as his past scintillating knockouts would show. He’s closer to a mid-to-late 90s Hopkins in terms of approach, mixed with the radiance of the fully-formed cocksure personality of Hopkins in his 40s.
In recent interviews, Colbert has said he has no interest in following in Hopkins’ footsteps with regards to fighting for decades, as he wants to retire by the age of 30. He’s already opened his own fried chicken restaurant, Prime Time Chicken, and his own free youth football team, the Primetime Soldiers, establishing both long-term income and social causes to focus on once his career is over.
Though that’s only a six-year window if he sticks to his promise, Colbert isn’t rushing into things professionally. Though he might carry himself like a superstar, he is disarmingly realistic when it comes to his current place in the sport. When asked by announcer Ray Flores at the post-fight press conference if he would like to headline a show at Barclays Center, Colbert suggested that there “better be a stacked undercard,” as he was unsure about his level of fan support. He rejected the idea of moving up to 135 pounds before it was even brought up. And when given the opportunity to address the reigning champions at 130, he neither counted himself as one (as other fighters who hold an interim title would), nor felt it would be worthwhile or realistic to fantasy book a fight with any of them.
“I'm not here to do all the talking about fights that I know might not happen, because I know a lot of these fights can't happen,” said Colbert. “Gervonta Davis, that's not a fight that's gonna happen because it don't make money right now. It's gotta make money to make sense, you know what I'm saying? Me and Gervonta Davis would definitely be a super fight in the future, and I would like that to happen.”
Self-confidence can easily transform into delusion, particularly when you’ve been treated like a star since childhood. But Colbert has shown that as much as he likes to entertain, he doesn’t need validation in order to be confident. He’s always had that. From the day he first walked into the gym and wanted a 60-fight amateur to fight him outside.
He’s always had “it.”