NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A man who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit is trading his prison cell for a boxing ring.

Dewey Bozella says when his world was caving in, boxing gave him hope.

“It was my freedom, if you really want to look at it like that. It was my escape from where I was at,” he said.

Bozella was up the Hudson River at Sing Sing, one of the nation’s most notorious prisons. Sent there for the 1977 murder of a 92-year-old woman in Poughkeepsie, maintained his innocence. There was no physical evidence but, once convicted, there also appeared to be little hope.

“When they said ’20 years to life’, I was like, you know, I’m a walking zombie. My name was 84A0172.”

Prosecutors gave him a chance to leave prison in 1990, but he would have to confess. Each time he refused, more time was added to his sentence.

“I said ‘I’d rather die in prison than tell you I did it’. And so it cost me 32 years of my life. And I lived with that. That was my decision,” Bozella said.

Eventually lawyers working pro bono got his case re-opened and thrown out. Finally, in 2009, Dewey Bozella walked out of court an innocent, free man.

Dewey had always wanted to be a professional fighter, but he was over 50. His time, had come and gone, but Dewey was determined to get a boxing license and climb into the ring.

Saturday night, he will face 30-year-old Larry Hopkins in Los Angeles, an opponent almost half his age. His story inspired many, including former champion Oscar de la Hoya.

“You start thinking, ‘Wow, is he going to be okay? This is serious business here, fighting against a younger guy who’s going to try to knock your head off.’ But then you start thinking, ‘Well, he spent so many years in jail and I don’t think there’s anything tougher than that’,” de la Hoya said.

Perhaps at one point, Bozella could have been a contender, but at age 52, all he had left is a dream: just one fight.

“I need to know what it feels like to be a pro. I need to know what it feels like to be able to say to myself, ‘I did it’, when everybody else said I couldn’t,” Bozella said.

What do you think of Bozella’s chances? Sound off in our comments section below…

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