Upon observing Melinda ?La Maravilla? Cooper in a room full of people in Las Vegas the petite brunette catches the eye of most men she passes by who are unaware that if she chose she could probably deck most of them with a single blow if necessary.
Inside the boxing ring almost all know about Cooper.
The Las Vegas prizefighter has become almost an urban legend with exploits of boxing perfection that began as an 11-year-old phenomenon and continue today as an undefeated boxer.
Few choose to fight the quiet spoken woman.
On Saturday, the undefeated Cooper (20-0, 11 KOs) enters the boxing ring in Guasave, Mexico against native Miriam Avila (3-3, 2 KOs) in a rematch of their fight of a year ago. That fight ended in a unanimous decision for Cooper.
?She?s a very sweet person,? said James Pena, who?s trained her since she first put on boxing gloves that were nearly the size of her head. ?She can beat anybody you put against her.?
It?s that dichotomy that scares off the opposition who can?t quite grasp how some one so seemingly kind and gentle can suddenly become this force of contained fury inside the ropes.
The first time I saw the Mexican-American boxer Cooper fight was 2002 when she entered the ring against Elizabeth Cervantes of Durango, Mexico. That instance she climbed through the ropes with these glazed eyes as if tuning out the rest of the world before demolishing the Mexican girl. After the two-round destruction she returned to the shy 17-year-old girl who became the youngest woman to ever become a professional in Nevada.
?I?m a lot stronger, more experienced and I understand boxing a lot better,? says Cooper, 25, who is no longer as painfully shy as in 2002. ?I was very young.?
Even as an amateur Cooper?s exploits traveled throughout the country as most aspiring female boxers were always compared to the wisp of a girl with the pretty face and flashing combinations.
As a professional it suddenly became apparent that with the smaller gloves and no head gear the Las Vegas female fighter also packed power in both hands. In many ways a knock out in boxing is like a slam dunk in basketball. Usually only the men can perform those feats of finality. Cooper has knockout power.
?I train her specifically to hit with power,? says Pena, who works with Cooper in his garage where a make-shift boxing gym has been erected. ?She has power in either hand.?
One of her most memorable contests took place in 2004 against the formidable Jeri Sitzes in a six round bout. The bell had barely sounded to begin the fight when Cooper came racing across with blinding combinations that had the Muy Thai champion on her heels. Though battered badly the first two rounds Sitzes rallied with Cooper in the final pair of rounds to give the crowd at Orleans Hotel and Casino a taste of female prizefighting on the highest level. The crowd could not stop talking about the female fight.
At the age of 19 Cooper dropped down in weight to fight for the vacant WIBA flyweight title in Palm Springs. On January 2005 she completely dominated a willing and unafraid Anissa Zamaron for nine rounds forcing the referee to halt the fight when Cooper turned on the power.
After capturing the flyweight world championship Cooper moved back to the bantamweight division with the intent to add another world title to her resume. It never happened. In the past five years Cooper has only found six girls willing to lace up against her.
Donna Biggers, who has fought seven world champions in the past five years including Cooper, said she had no doubts of who was the best.
?Melinda Cooper was so fast and hit so hard she definitely was the best I ever fought,? said Biggers last year and she had the cuts and bruises to prove it.
Now Cooper returns to Mexico once more to face a native girl and the wrath of Mexican fans.
?It?s tougher to fight anyone in their own country,? Cooper says after experiencing fighting in foreign soil on two occasions. ?No dangers?this time she is going to meet a Mexican-American well-prepared.?
Maybe she can create yet another urban legend in Mexico?
?I will be a world champion by the end of this year,? Cooper says.
That?s not a myth.
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