Quiet and unassuming, Melinda “La Maravilla” Cooper has been an underground boxing legend of such proportions on the streets of Las Vegas that even men like UFC’s Dana White, who are in the business of professional fighting, know her talent.
“I met her back in the boxing days when she used to train out of one of the big boxing gyms that Kirk Kerkorian used to fund, Nevada Partners,” said White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship. “I met her over there when she was a little girl.”
Now 26, Cooper has emerged as one of the top female fighters in the world pound for pound. Back then, even MMA magnate White recognized her talent.
“Back in the old days when all of the gyms were packed, Melinda Cooper was the stand-out big time,” says White of a time when he was still involved in boxing. “Melinda was very talented at a young age. She used to train as hard as the guys.”
Today, Cooper (21-1, 11 KOs) stands poised to win another world title when she meets IBF super bantamweight titleholder Ada Velez (19-3-3, 6 KOs) on Sunday, Nov. 20, at Texas Station Casino in Las Vegas. It will be televised on various networks nationally and abroad.
Despite Cooper’s obvious talent, the pixie-ish prizefighter with flashing fists has yet to win another world title. It was 2005 when she first fought and won a world title in the flyweight division against Anissa Zamarron at the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, California.
She was a force of determination in that fight and stopped Zamarron in the ninth round.
What many do not know is that it was through White’s assistance that enabled Cooper to fight for the world title. Otherwise, she would still have been avoided.
“Dana White helped Melinda a lot. He paid for the sanctioning fees and the belt,” said James Pena, who has trained Cooper throughout her boxing career. “Melinda thinks a lot of Dana White.”
Even while training Cooper wears the familiar UFC garb, top and bottom.
White doesn’t claim much on his part but vividly remembers Cooper’s biggest win.
“There was a time I helped her and her coach out because I liked Melinda. And I loved how hard she worked,” said White, whose UFC 139 takes place tonight (Nov. 19) in San Jose, California.
Lack of financing and willing opponents had kept Cooper fighting in other countries where she was at the mercy of hostile foreign judges. Her only loss took place in Costa Rica where she seemingly handled Velez, but a biased decision ruled the outcome for the Puerto Rican boxer. Though she doesn’t deny Velez is a talented boxer the loss was befuddling to the Las Vegas prizefighter.
Cooper was shocked and crushed by the loss and considered retiring altogether. But her passion for the sport took over, especially when learning that a rematch was planned to take place in Las Vegas. Now it has.
“I am very excited! I have wanted to fight in Vegas again for so long and now I am, and for a world title,” says Cooper, adding that it’s been nearly six years since she fought in her hometown and friends and family can finally see her in the boxing ring. “They are super excited. They have been waiting to see me fight for so long and now they finally can.”
White hasn’t seen Cooper fight since her last bout in Las Vegas but knows why she has flourished in the sport.
“I think she just loves the sport. I think she’s passionate about it,” says White. “And she’s tough, man. She’s tough as nails. Since she was a little girl she’s been like that.”
Cooper had dreams of retiring undefeated. Poor judging robbed her of that dream but she plans to rectify that error in the ring on Sunday afternoon.
“The advice that James (Pena) has given me is forget about it and take full advantage of the second chance, which I will 100 percent!” exclaims Cooper, who wants to thank her sponsors Silver Nugget, Lucky Club, Opera House, and Genesispure.com. “Although I can never get my record back, I can set my mind at ease once I beat Ada.”
Doors open at 2:30 p.m. with the first fight beginning at 3 p.m. For more information go to the web site www.texasstation.com