The wait is interminable. It stretches into forever. The nerves are piling on — nerves on top of nerves on top of nerves. And yet still you wait. And wait. And wait.

Every fight fan sees the main event men, marching into the ring, entourage intact. Those modern day gladiators know exactly what time they will fight. Everything is down to the minute, almost to the second.

Not so for the poor undercard fighters.

David Rodriguez knows the story, knows it all too well. Young, articulate, with movie star looks, Rodriguez has had wait after wait after wait. He is big at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds or so. He has thunder in those gloves. His record is 19-0 with 18 knockouts, and 17 of those jawbreakers have been in the very first round.

Rodriguez is, quite simply, a prospect.

When you are a prospect, they like to hold you back, save you for the final fight, keep as much of the crowd in place as possible. And we all know this nation’s love affair with heavyweights. It is something similar to watching NASCAR. Everyone is waiting for the wreck, counting the moments until the crash, until one of the big boys eats enough leather to greet the canvas with his mug.

“It’s horrible,” Rodriguez said simply. “You have to be there at 4:30 in the afternoon or you will get fined. Most of the time, I don’t fight until 9:30 or 10. Your nerves just really kick in. You warm up, you cool down, you warm up, you cool down. Sometimes they will come in there and say, 10 minutes. You start warming up more, get gloved up and they come back and say it’s been moved back 30 minutes. You take the gloves back off. It’s agonizing. You try to lie down, try to relax. But you know you’re going to be fighting within the hour. Hopefully. It really takes a lot of energy; it drains you.”

Rodriguez has been in all sorts of settings in his career. He made his debut in Houston back on Dec. 3, 1998. It took him all of 74 seconds to knock out James Martin, giving himself an early Christmas present — after, of course, a long wait.

“I fought in the El Paso County Coliseum once and the locker room was small and there were several fighters in there and the ventilation wasn’t good,” Rodriguez said. “I had to keep going outside every 15 or 20 minutes, just to get some fresh air. My craziest one, though, was when I fought in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I was back there in the locker room for three hours — with the guy I was fighting. It was crazy.”

Did they talk?

“No way,” Rodriguez said. “You can’t even say hi. The other guy might be a nice guy, but you start to find that out and you lose your edge. You can’t do that.”

And so Rodriguez and Mike Parker finally made their way out to the ring … which was in a bull ring.

“There was dust blowing everywhere,” he said, laughing. “It was the smallest ring you ever saw. It was like fighting in a phone booth. There was nowhere he could go. There was nowhere I could go. I just decided to throw. It was like a Tough Man contest.”

Rodriguez knocked Parker out in the first round. Then they talked a bit.

Laughing again, Rodriguez said, “My dad said I need to get my head checked for doing this. Seriously, though, I can’t describe all the anxiety of all that waiting. It’s horrible. You are dying a thousand deaths back there.”

Rodriguez has had something of a rollercoaster career — despite the sparkling record, despite all that waiting.

He had no amateur fights. He broke his left hand and had surgery. He was out from May 1999 until June 2001. Because of that, manager Bob Spagnola  and trainer Louie Burke have been bringing Rodriguez along slowly. They recognize his enormous potential and …

“I understand the process,” Rodriguez said. “Being a heavyweight is not like fighting in the lighter weights. One punch can ruin your career. We’ve never let anyone pressure us into rushing things, into anything. Bigger fights are on the way.”

But not without another setback, not without another delay.

“I broke my left hand again last summer,” he said. “Same hand. I had surgery again. But it wasn’t nearly as bad this time. I’m cleared by the doctors and I’ve been back training for a week now. I’m so sore it’s not even funny.”

Rodriguez is training in southern California right now. But, before that — being 28 and single and a ladies-magnet — he took a little vacation.

Laughing, he said, “I cant’ say I didn’t like the time off. I didn’t even talk to my trainer. I knew he would tell me I should be out running eight miles a day. Naw, I would just rather watch some TV. I’m actually weighing less. I’m at 235 right now. I went on a liquid diet. I don’t know why everybody talks bad about beer. I was just on a beer diet and it’s worked for me. Of course, it sure is hard right now, getting back in shape.”

Rodriguez will fight again in late November, early December. They are taking it slow, just focusing on conditioning and working his right hand. The left hand will reenter the mix again soon.

He has sparred with all sorts of heavyweights along the way — Tony Tubbs, Audley Harrison, Hasim Rahman, Travis Walker.

And he truly believes his wait is almost over.

“I firmly believe it is my time, these next four years,” Rodriguez said.

He was recently ranked No. 9 by as a heavyweight under 30 who could make a difference in the coming years.

If that happens, if he moves onto television, into main events, his waiting days might truly be over.

“All the waiting has been so hard,” he said. “Sometimes I think if I weren’t so far along in my career, I would give it up. But I’m almost there. People seem to be paying attention now. And we will be stepping up in competition.”

One day soon, perhaps David Rodriguez can fight a fight without a three to five hour wait.

Laughing yet again, he said, “Sometimes I think I should have picked up a tennis racket. But this is my career and I believe in myself … believe that I can get somewhere.”

And then, finally, all the waiting will be over.