Training came to a halt last week at Mendez boxing gym on West 26th Street as a crowd gathered to watch a boxer some thought might never fight again.
Edgar (The Kid) Santana, once a highly touted welterweight also known as the Pride of Spanish Harlem, was preparing to return to the ring after a three-year absence and a stint in jail.
In the summer of 2008, Mr. Santana was a rising contender with a 24-3 record. But two weeks before a nationally televised bout with Ali (The Hurricane) Oubaali was to take place, a federal task force arrested him on charges of playing a small role in a cocaine trafficking ring.
The fight was canceled, and after a long trek through the justice system, Mr. Santana, 31, wound up serving four months at Rikers and was released in January of this year.
Thursday night, he is to make his return against Robert (Wolf) Jones, a 33-year-old journeyman with a record of 8-8-1, in an eight-round bout at the Paradise Theater in the Bronx.
“There was a time I was worried that people weren’t giving me an opportunity,” Mr. Santana said last week at Santana’s Cut Men, the barbershop he owns on East 106th Street. “Some people in my career turned their backs on me, but I’m very optimistic. I’m not a person who gives up if he’s hurt.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Mr. Santana grew up in a rough patch of Spanish Harlem. He remembers the words Mickey Rosario, a trainer at a small gym on 112th street, told him and his friends when they first showed up to his gym and were horsing around. “He told us, ‘You got to take life more seriously, because a lot of you won’t make it to 18,’ ” Mr. Santana said.
Mr. Rosario’s pronouncement came true, Mr. Santana said. “A lot of people around here don’t get to see anyone do positive,” he said. “This is a concrete jungle.”
Mr. Santana, for his part, prefers not to talk about his past. “For me, that’s done and swept under the rug,” he said. “Going through things like that only makes me better.” He was originally charged with sale of a controlled substance and conspiracy and later pleaded guilty to third-degree sale of a controlled substance.
“Santana’s biggest crime was being loyal to old friends in the neighborhood,” said his lawyer, Daniel J. Ollen. “He’s a sharp, disciplined guy, but he let his guard down this one time.”
Mr. Santana’s legal problems and quest for redemption have not tarnished his reputation among some of his supporters in the neighborhood. “He’s a voice for a lot of people, said James De La Vega, an artist and a friend of Mr. Santana. “There’s a lot who look up to him.”
Mr. Santana looked sharp and relaxed during a workout as his trainers, Leon Taylor and Emmanuel (Spider) Brugam, shouted advice. “The boxing world can be a dark place, a nightmare or a good dream,” Mr. Brugam said. “If it’s a bad dream, you have to fight through it.”