Standing behind a busy counter of a plush Las Vegas casino nightclub, Melinda Cooper looks like any jet-setting 21-year-old working hard as a bartender on a crazy Saturday night sliding around serving drinks.

Little do her customers know, she’s one of the best female prizefighters on the planet.

“Once in a while someone will come up to me and say you’re Melinda Cooper the boxer,” says Cooper (16-0, 9 KOs).

In a few days Cooper will travel to Paris, France then commute to nearby Luce where she’ll perhaps battle Germany’s Daniela Graf (3-4-1) in a six-round fight promoted by Round One Entertainment on Saturday June 10.

“I’m excited about going to Paris,” said Cooper, who’s lived in Las Vegas her entire life. “We’re going to be there for about five days.”

Before checking out the sites, Cooper will enter the ring with a growing reputation that began many years ago as a child amateur star who wowed people with her quick hands and feet. She also surprised many with her killer instinct.

“She’s always been that way,” said James Pena her trainer and manager. “Melinda is very serious about her fighting.”

Gabriel Gaide, a former prizefighter, sparred a few rounds with Cooper to give her some live work.

“She hurt my ribs,” Gaide said pointing to the left side of his abdomen. “She hits very hard.”

Though she captured a world title at flyweight a year ago, Cooper feels she’s barely hitting her stride.

“I can be 100 times better,” she says emphatically. “I learn something every time I get in the ring.”

In her last two fights she captured wins against Lina Ramirez, a tall and sturdy fighter accustomed to engaging featherweights and junior lightweights. Though the Mexican born fighter out of Tijuana endured all four rounds, she was never close to winning the fight.

“I can be a boxer or puncher,” says Cooper who has nine knockouts on her resume, a large number of knockouts for a female prizefighter.

In her world title fight, Cooper used a blend of speed and power to bludgeon the crafty but slightly overmatched Anisa Zamarron of Texas for the IBA title. Finally after nine rounds, referee David Mendoza stopped the bout as Cooper rained punches from all angles on Zamarron.

Despite winning a world title at 19, she has bigger goals.

“I want to win titles at 115, 118, and 122 pounds,” said Cooper. “I want all of the belts.”

Jean Paul Mendy

Also on the fight card in France will be Jean Paul Mendy, a ranking super middleweight who is also promoted by Gaide’s Round One Entertainment. Mendy (20-0) meets Great Britain’s tough Matthew Barney (21-6-1) for the European EBU super middleweight title in the main event.

“We offered to fight Joe Calzaghe but nobody wants to fight Jean Paul,” Gaide said.

Bolo vs. Yankee Diaz in California Heavyweight Clash

Damian “Bolo” Wills (19-0-1, 15 KOs) defends his California heavyweight championship against Cuba’s Yamplier “Yankee Diaz” Azcuy (13-3) at the Henry Fonda Theater on Thursday June 8, 2006 in Hollywood, California. Wills is attempting to jump into the next level and has improved in each of his fights the last year. It’s the California-based heavyweight’s biggest test yet. Azcuy has fought several top contenders including Sam Peter and Kirk Johnson. He’s the only fighter who can claim a victory over Juan Carlos Gomez. He surprised Gomez with a first round knockout in 2004. But he’s looking for his first win in almost two years. Azcuy had two no-decisions in 2005. Wills, who is trained and managed by Riverside’s Terry Claybon, finally gets a big test on Thursday. If he passes it, perhaps a showdown against Riverside’s Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola could follow. That would be a pretty good sell for Southern California fight fans. For tickets and information call (323) 525-0120.

More Jose Luis Castillo

After Jose Luis Castillo failed to make the designated 135 pound weight limit, his promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank was livid. Even before the second weigh-in attempt, Arum was saying he did not want the opponent Diego Corrales to accept a fight with Castillo. “It’s disgraceful for boxing,” Arum said. “I don’t think he (Castillo) deserves to fight.”

Corrales broke down momentarily after realizing he would not be getting a $1.1 million dollar check. Castillo was to make $900,000. But his promoter Gary Shaw advised him against giving the almost five-pound weight advantage once again to Castillo. Even Castillo’s promoter Arum felt it was “unfair and not professional” of his fighter to come in heavy once again.

Showtime executives said Corrales would be given another televised bout either in July or August. Castillo, they added, would never be given an opportunity to fight in their televised shows again.

Ice skater’s cousin slips

Michele Kwan’s cousin Christina Kwan must have slipped on the ice when she was knocked out by Florida’s Valerie Rix (4-0) in the first round. It was a battle of strawweights that immediately showed Kwan (0-1), though willing, in her pro debut, is not a professional prizefighter. Not yet.

The fight was not shown on television and was the final bout of the fight card at Thomas and Mack Center last Saturday. During the first exchange Rix landed a combination that visibly stunned Kwan. But she returned to engage once again and was flattened by another combination at 48 seconds of the initial round.

Though Kwan was beaten soundly, it was against a sound boxer in Rix. Kwan had a lot more style and skill than another ice skater Tonya Harding.


Hard-hitting Jose “Bazuquita” Magallon (5-0, 2 KOs) met an eager opponent in Monterrey. Mexico’s Alex Esquivel (3-1) in a four-round junior lightweight bout. Both entered the ring undefeated and somebody’s O had to go. It was the southpaw Esquivel who took the loss. Magallon, 20, has been a regular fixture in his hometown Las Vegas, and finally met someone with a winning record. From the first bell both exchanged blows in furious fashion with neither giving ground. Finally, after more than 100 blasts were traded, Magallon’s better technique began to show and he slowly took away Esquivel’s weapons one by one. It was a good display of learning quickly during the heat of battle for the Las Vegas boxer. I’ve seen him fight four times and he does have speed and power. The minor glitches in his attack: he tends to hit after the bell repeatedly and behind the head. It could lead to a disqualification sometime in the future when a lot of chips are on the table.

Vic Darchinyan

The IBF flyweight champion known as the “Raging Bull” wants action not talk. “Jorge Arce must be chicken if he doesn’t want to fight me,” said Darchinyan after beating down the rock chin of Luis Maldonado. The Armenian boxer doesn’t fight like most Armenians, who box in the European style. Darchinyan fights more like an Aussie and has the chin to go with it. A fight between Jorge Arce would be explosive as both have heavy hands and high pressure tenacity. “I want 12 belts to go on my wall,” Darchinyan said, adding that he’s partial to moving up in several weight divisions including bantamweight and featherweight. “I want unification.”