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Another 'last' shot to be world champ

After numerous chances, David Santos seeks first major title in tonight's IBF bout.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 1, 2003

David Santos, St. Petersburg's perpetual champion-in-waiting, could not help but notice Wednesday the odds board at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

When he fights Carlos Hernandez tonight for the IBF junior lightweight title on an HBO/PPV card, he will do so as a big underdog. (Bouts begin at 9.) If he could have, he would have placed a bet on himself to win. But with a contingent of about 100 fans and friends from St. Petersburg, he thinks at least someone will lay money down on him.

"Hopefully," he said, laughing.

Santos (42-5) again is fighting for a world championship. The resilient 31-year-old Gibbs High graduate is back for one more shot after it appeared he had used them all. Though he held fringe titles issued by NABF, IBA and USBA, he lost his first chance at a major belt (WBA) in 1999 when Joel Casamayor beat him. He lost to Steve Forbes a year later, and fought a few fights in Tampa and St. Petersburg before losing the rematch with Forbes in August.

But on his way to retirement, Santos got a few breaks. Forbes arrived so overweight for the rematch, he was stripped of his IBF title before the fight. Santos fought him anyway, at a 21-pound disadvantage, and lost a disputed split decision.

He protested, and the IBF decided since he had fought at a disadvantage and Forbes had acted unprofessionally, Santos would retain his No. 2 ranking and get another title fight.

And here he is, with Hernandez (37-3) in the way of a dream that won't die. Saying this is Santos' last chance is pure folly, as he has become a fighter with more lives than the proverbial cat.

"That's true," Santos said. "But the way I look at it, it still might be my last chance to win a world title. I'm not getting any younger."

Santos has fought in enough ballrooms across Florida he can smell the cigar smoke in his sleep. But this will be different -- his first fight in ritzy Las Vegas.

"It's the nicest place I have ever fought," he said.

Because of the charged atmosphere, and the change in altitude, Santos arrived a week earlier than normal.

He has been sparring with once-promising featherweight Robbie Peden, who mimics Hernandez's straight-ahead style. Santos said the sparring has been invaluable, and while he is always physically fit, he feels readier for this fight than he ever has.

"He's made to order for me," Santos said of Hernandez. "And Robbie, he fights a lot like Carlos, except he's better. He's gotten me nothing but ready for this guy. When I win this fight, it's going to be because of him."

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