Stifling heat doesn’t stop female prizefighters like Melinda “La Maravilla” Cooper or Celina Salazar from preparing every day. Nor does an opponent’s record.
Former flyweight world champion Cooper (21-2, 11 KOs) faces San Antonio’s undefeated Salazar (4-0-2) on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Golden Boy Promotions is putting on the six round female sizzler.
“I’m very excited,” says Salazar.
Both girls have problems finding opponents, but after months and months of searching and hearing all of the excuses from other fighters such as, ‘I’m not ready for her,’ to ‘she’s too heavy,’ to ‘it’s not enough money,’ they finally discovered each other.
Cooper, who expects to fight at either junior bantamweight or bantamweight, was unable to find an opponent at the lower weights so she ended up fighting once again at junior featherweight. It’s really not her weight class. When she’s not fighting she weighs 122. While training she can dip down below 115.
“When I was an amateur I remember putting on heavy clothes and strapping weights under my clothes so I could fight against heavier girls,” said Cooper, with a slight giggle. “I remember being the only girl in the van with four boy boxers driving to California.”
A lot has changed in women’s boxing in the last decade. Where once it was difficult to find women with decent boxing skills, now the boxing game is beginning to see a plethora of talented female boxers.
No more crying
Promoter Bennie Georgino has seen the female boxing game change immensely. And he’s noticed the vast improvement over the years.
“One of the first times I saw a girl fight she cried in the ring,” says Georgino, who formerly trained and managed boxers like Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Alberto Davila, Jaime Garza and the great Salvador Sanchez. “They’ve improved a lot since then. They have the same skills as the guys now. Some of them are really good.”
Salazar also worked her way through the amateur program and discovered boxing accidentally.
“My mom wanted me to be into dancing. She was going to sign me up one day but she couldn’t take me that day so it was my dad who took me. I told him I didn’t want to be in dancing, I want to be in karate. So I became a fighter,” said Salazar. “The first day she told me ‘is that’s the sport you want to be in, then you’re going to stay in it. If you cry and get beat up you’re going to stay with it.”
After first training in karate, then kickboxing, her coach then told her he could not advance her schooling and recommended a boxing trainer. Soon she was entering amateur tournaments.
“As an amateur I went to Ringside (Tournament) in Kansas in 2006. I went to the PALs (Police Athletic League tournament) in 2007, I did ok there. I got bronze,” says Salazar, 23. “And I went one year to the national tournament.”
Soon potential fights evaporated for Salazar, who began to first experience other girl fighters not wanting to meet her in the ring.
“Pretty much nobody wanted to fight me in amateurs. I wasn’t getting fights. I thought, maybe I can get fights in pros. I was just interested. I wanted to try it to see if I can make it in the pros,” she said.
After six pro fights including wins and draws against fellow San Antonio female pugilist Christina Ruiz and Dallas boxer Lisa Lamb, she steps up into a higher category of prizefighter with Las Vegas boxer Cooper.
“I kind of read somewhere about Melinda that it was really hard for her to get some fights. I related to that’s story because it’s exactly the same as mine,” Salazar said. “I’ve seen some videos on her. She looks like she is a good boxer and a good brawler as well. I saw some stories on her and how she first started. I know she had won the IBA title belt.”
Cooper’s seen four potential bouts evaporate for one reason or another. Now she’s eager to fight in her hometown among people that have seen her as an amateur to a professional who attracts boxing lovers.
“I would love to fight in Las Vegas in front of a huge crowd,” says Cooper, who has fought in small venues in her hometown.
The petite Cooper works nights, often graveyard and then trains in the morning. Finding sparring would be difficult if she was solely working with females. Her trainer James Pena places male boxers in the ring with her. It’s something they’ve always done.
“I’ve been sparring guys ever since I was growing up. They had decent skills, they’re always better than me. I used to spar with Diego Magdaleno when I was younger. He’s doing pretty well and still undefeated. Antonio Hernandez is another,” says Cooper, 27, who sparred with a 6-feet tall middleweight last week. “I grew up with them and remember going on boxing trips with them.”
Over the years Cooper first fought in front of home crowds then was unable to find fights in her own state. She soon was fighting in California, Mexico and Costa Rica. Now, she’s back home again.
Throughout the years Cooper has built a reputation for fighting anyone placed in front of her. Anyone.
“I don’t really look at their records,” said Cooper, nonchalant. “Sometimes I don’t even know their names. I just fight who my trainer wants me to fight.”
While other girls look for beatable opponents, these two female prizefighters look for challenges. Each fight brings them something different to learn.
“I’m a professional, I’ve improved mentally,” says Cooper about learning the fight game. “I’m wiser and stronger and understand boxing more and what it takes to go in everyday.”
The Las Vegas fight crowd at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will be witnessing one of the best female fights in years.
“I’m getting pumped,” Salazar says.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV