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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Willing to retire but not quite ready
Darrell Woods said he'd quit if he lost. Four bouts later, he's still going.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published July 13, 2007
A few fights past when people thought he should retire, 39-year-old St. Petersburg fighter Darrell Woods (right) will face Allan Green tonight in Tulsa, Okla.
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
Darrell Woods trains for tonight's fight. Since losing four of six bouts, the St. Petersburg boxer, 39, is unbeaten.
ST. PETERSBURG - Darrell Woods isn't ready to quit doing what he does best, but he will.
The moment he is defeated, knocked out, beaten up, he's finished.
"I'll find some work I can do and go do that, I guess."
The 39-year-old St. Petersburg fighter has been making that promise since 2005, when he was coming off four losses among six fights and decided to take one last fight against onetime prospect Emmitt Linton.
But Woods beat Linton by split decision.
And the two fights after that? Knocked both guys out in the second round.
March looked like as good a month as any to retire. Woods agreed to fight unbeaten 27-year-old knockout artist Samuel Miller, who had his next fight scheduled and needed a tuneup.
Woods knocked him out, too.
"Maybe I don't want to retire," he says and laughs.
Once again, here we are: Tonight in Tulsa, Okla., Woods will meet a younger, stronger, hometown fighter named Allan Green, a 27-year-old champ-in-waiting who has lost just once in 24 fights.
Woods 26-10, 18 knockouts isn't expected to last long.
Maybe a handful of rounds. Everyone will wait for him to hit the canvas, go night-night, collect his $17,000 and head back to St. Petersburg for the nearest shuffleboard court.
"Heard it all before," says his trainer, Bo Hill. "Everyone's ready to write Darrell off. Everybody but Darrell, that is."
Bright future marred by poor decisions
Woods was written off long ago, dumped by his original trainer who urged him to retire or dumped by Woods for doing him wrong, depending on whom you believe.
He was a basketball star at St. Petersburg High who never got the scholarship he hoped for and a fighter because at 23, he got tired of cleaning cars for a living.
He fought locally as an amateur, trained with Winky Wright, David Santos and the whole gang and, for a brief moment, had a future.
Then just like that, all he had was his past.
As a pro, Woods won his first five. Then the losses mounted. He got tied up in ill-advised fights, went through a handful of trainers and managers, lost his faith in people and tried to survive on his own.
That did not go well.
Woods took a fight with Bronco McKart on three days' notice (losing by technical knockout), another with Joachim Alcine on four days' notice (losing by decision). He fought both future champions in their hometowns. From there, he battled for chump change in a series of inconsequential fights.
"I took some bad fights," Woods said.
He committed boxing's cardinal sin because he knew no better: He went from being a fighter to languishing as an opponent.
"Call Darrell Woods, he'll fight anybody for nothing," Woods said, shaking his head as if slightly embarrassed. "That's not good. Not good at all."
He has not completely broken himself of the habit. After turning down tonight's fight several times, he finally caved and accepted the offer with three weeks to get ready.
"I could either fight the guy I was supposed to that (no one has heard of) for less money who can do nothing for me or this guy, who's third in the world," Woods said. "I guess I always feel that if I beat this guy, I can get in. That's why I take them chances."
A born-again soul and a reborn career
Woods still has thunder in his right hand, so he stands a fighting chance against Green.
And he has faith, a belief that maybe his recent run of good luck is the work of a higher power, giving him the chance to end his career with some dignity.
"Been born-again since 1993," Woods says proudly.
He was talked into going to church one night by a cousin who promised there would be attractive women there. Something happened.
"Can't describe it, really," Woods said. "But I had to go back to see if it was real."
It was real enough that he stood before the church and proclaimed himself a new man that day.
"He's a completely different guy," said his wife, Alicia.
She will pray for him tonight because she sees how his eyes go sad when he reminisces about his life and she yearns for his happiness.
Woods wears the battle scars of past fights gone bad across his brows, forehead and nose, and they remind him of the scars others can't see.
"It's a dog-eat-dog world," Alicia said. "He's been hurt. He's trying to prove something.
"He doesn't want to walk away from the sport and not be remembered."
Calm atmosphere envelops fighter
Woods has bounced from gym to gym, trainer to trainer, but has found a home at Tim McCahan's American Karate. It's clean, air-conditioned, quiet and void of the steady thumping of hip-hop and rap that rattles the walls at other gyms.
Woods and Hill, his trainer for the past four fights, circle each other, and the sound track is provided by Lee Williams and the Spiritual OCs.
Super middleweights: Darrell Woods (26-10, 18 knockouts) vs. Allan Green (23-1, 16 knockouts)
TV: 9 p.m., ESPN2
. Fast facts
Mixed Martial Arts
What: World Fighting Championships IV: Cage Wars
When/where: 8 tonight, Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall
Tickets: $60 for VIP seating, $25 for advance purchase general admission and $30 at the door. Parking is $5 for cars, $10 for RVs and buses. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets or by calling (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100.
About the event: The WFC, a Tampa company looking to become a big player in the Mixed Martial Arts world, holds its fourth event but first at the Fairgrounds because it needed a bigger arena to accommodate fans. The WFC has staged fights in a boxing ring, but tonight it will debut a 24- by 24-foot cage surrounded by a platform. Several local fighters are scheduled for the 11-bout card, including St. Petersburg's David Viera and Tampa's Chris Baten. Live music by Tampa Tony starts at 5 p.m.