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Veteran thrills his fans

Winky Wright weighed in and left on a wave of supporters. Jeff Lacy hit the scales and was swept out by his posse. And Darrell Woods?

He got dressed in the back of the room, and quietly headed out for his car.

Who would have guessed the longtime St. Petersburg fighter would be the one turning in one of the most exciting performances of the night Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, as he stopped the younger and supposedly stronger Levan Easley in the second round.

Well, just about everybody who knows him, really.

"Darrell, we know he's going to put on a good fight," said Wright, who kept a promise he made a long time ago that when he returned to do a fight in Tampa, he'd make sure Woods got his chance.

"I'm going on," said a happy Woods, who had said at Friday's weigh-in that he would retire if he lost.

"I knew if I hit him, I'd take him out."

Now 39 and at the end of a boxing career that had its moments of brilliance and split second of hope, Woods was just happy to get a piece of Saturday's action. But his appearance on the card was bittersweet.

Once a promising amateur at the St. Pete Boxing Club, he shared long trips with Wright and David Santos to state and national tournaments. He shared a pro cards with Wright, both hoping to become world champions.

But while Wright took off, Woods only flirted with championships as a fringe contender.

Those who saw him in his prime admire the way he fought. You can say this about Woods - he always put on a good show.

Maybe too good. Former trainer Dan Birmingham saw Woods cut so badly in France in 1994 - they had to stop his fight against Patrice Mbeh Benle - that he told him to retire, or continue without him.

At the time, Woods was 7-1. But when Birmingham left, he was unable to find a trainer to nurse him through the patchy beginnings of his career.

"Winky had Dan Birmingham, Jeff had Dan Birmingham, David had Jim (McLoughlin) ... I had so many trainers, I can't count," Woods said.

For the fight, Woods trained at McLoughlin's 4th Street Boxing Club, with McLoughlin and someone he could only identify as Bo.

Dan and Mike Birmingham both left Woods because they feared for his safety. A slugger with a never-say-die ring attitude, Woods bears the scars of some nasty cuts. His eyebrows are scarred many times over, and his speech drips slowly from his mouth, trying to catch up with his thoughts.

"Guys that are tough are sometimes too tough," said Mike Birmingham. "But I still see championship material there. I could still see him upsetting someone. I'd put Darrell up against just about anyone based on toughness alone."

"He can fight," said Santos, a former world champion who works at the 4th Street Boxing Club in his spare time. "He was a contender once. He was good."

Judging by the fans' reaction, they wouldn't mind seeing if he can do it one more time.