When super middleweight prospect Jerson Ravelo stepped into the ring for the first time in 17 months at the Manhattan Center Ballroom in New York on March 9, he felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of his broad shoulders.

Little did it matter that the opponent, Raynard Darden of Detroit, was 9-12 (4 KOs) going in and was expected to pose little threat to him. The 28-year-old Ravelo took all of his frustrations out on the hapless Darden and stopped him in the very first round to raise his record to 15-1 (10 KOs).

More than anything else, Ravelo, whose dual citizenship with the United States and the Dominican Republic enabled him to represent the latter at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, was glad to once again be doing what he does best.

“It’s been a tough couple of years,” said Ravelo, who has endured back-to-back hand surgeries as well as a bulging disc in his back.

It was those injuries, coupled with a surprising ninth round TKO loss to spoiler David Lopez in Tucson in April 2004, that compelled his former manager, Gary Gittlesohn, to release him from his contract.

Now a free agent, Ravelo will soon be discussing a promotional deal with Lou DiBella, who promoted the March 9 show, as well as with Golden Boy Promotions and other entities who have expressed an interest.

The fight against Darden was arranged by Jon Baron, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical representative who has dabbled in boxing over the years. Among the fighters he has advised at one time or another are Shannon Briggs, Bobby Czyz and Maurice Harris. He sees a bright future ahead for the always hardworking Ravelo.

“He’s a good guy who deserves to be on top,” said Baron. “He certainly has the skills and the power to be there. He’s been sidetracked a bit, but hopefully all of that is behind him.”

Ravelo, who turned pro amid much fanfare after the Olympics, where he failed to garner a medal, has experienced enough frustration and disappointment for several careers. He was once viewed as one the sport’s brightest prospects, especially after recording an impressive decision victory over George Walton on ShoBox in October 2002.

Because he fought so frequently, and very often on the road, ShoBox commentator Steve Farhood described him as being one of the better Olympic prospects from the class of 2000.

Unfortunately his career began to crumble after he incurred the aforementioned injuries. Promoters started to view him as if he was a broken man who could never be put back together.

“I was on an emotional rollercoaster,” said the articulate, intelligent and refreshingly humble Ravelo. “There were many times I was ready to pack it in and just get a job. I took a lot of [civil service] tests and thought about becoming a cop. I just needed to make some money to pay my rent and pay the bills.”

Ravelo, who has his own floor in a home that he shares with his parents Cecelia and Zacharias, sister Martha, and beloved 7-year-old son, who is also named Jerson, says it was only the financial and emotional support of his tight-knit family that kept him in the game.

“My family believes in me so much,” said Ravelo, whose entire purse from the Darden fight was spent on bills within three days of earning it. “There were times my mother thought it might be best for me to hang it up. It’s got to be hard for a mother to see her son go through so much.”

Why it is so difficult for Ravelo to get fights is anyone’s guess. While working as a sparring partner for both Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver, he gave them all that they could handle. Hopkins, who is aligned with Golden Boy, assured him that he would try to land him a promotional contract but so far that has not occurred.

Ravelo says that some promoters, figuring he was damaged goods, believed that he would accept any deal that was offered to him. Some, he says, were downright insulting.

“If I didn’t accept those offers back then, why would I do it now?” he pondered. “I know that I could win a title if I could get the right people behind me. It’s frustrating to see so much happening in my weight division and me not being involved.”

The tall and rangy Ravelo, who fought Jeff Lacy three times as an amateur, said that he accurately predicted that WBO titlist Joe Calzaghe would outbox the heavily favored Lacy to also win the IBF crown. 

“Unless Lacy caught Joe with a good shot, I knew Joe would beat him,” said Ravelo. “Lacy could only win by knockout. When I fought Jeff, I saw how frustrated he gets if someone moves and jabs on him.”

Although he has never seen WBA champ Mikkel Kessler of Denmark, Ravelo, who fought an abundance of Europeans during a stellar amateur career in which he compiled a 96-15 record, believes the whole myth about those fighters not being as talented as their American counterparts was debunked by Calzaghe’s surprisingly easy victory over Lacy.

“I always thought Joe was the best fighter in the division,” said Ravelo. “I hear Kessler and [WBC champion] Markus Beyer [of Germany] are pretty good too. But I feel that I have a very good chance of beating all of those guys. I need four or five fights on a consistent basis, maybe in about a year’s time, and I’ll be ready to face anyone. I need to face a few durable opponents who will give me the rounds I need to shake the rust out.”

For now Ravelo keeps training and continues waiting. He has learned not to get too excited about rumors, lest the disappointment be too great if they don’t happen. He’s sick and tired of living fight to fight and check to check, especially because he believes he still has so much to offer the game.

Ravelo has never been a quitter, so he won’t quit now. He knows that good things come to good people who not only wait, but also never stop believing in their ability to make their dreams come true.

“I’ve been up and I’ve been down,” he said. “The way the last few years have been, there is no way to go but up. I still believe in myself, and my family still believes in me. What kind of example am I going to set for my son if I walk away now, when the going is tough? With everything that has happened, it will only make winning a title all the more sweeter.”