Cooper hopes to be extra busy in 2013, and looks to fight three times this year.
Driving through the rain from Southern California to Las Vegas is a drag.
After lengthy consideration we decided to take the risk and journey up the mountain pass toward the desert casino territory of Las Vegas, despite the constant drizzle and slippery roads. Junior welterweight slugger Lucas Matthysse fighting Mike Dallas Jr. and a large fight card filled with talented prospects seemed worth the danger.
Several years ago we nearly slid off a mountain cliff when snow flurries turned to ice and my car just kept sliding off the road. I vowed never to drive to Las Vegas and back when snow hits again.
Photographer Al Applerose and I began the trip on Friday toward the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino where Golden Boy Promotions and Goossen-Tutor Promotions had their junior welterweights Matthysse and Dallas facing each other.
As we motored near Ft. Irwin an SUV had toppled and turned over and was upside down alongside the highway. Slippery roads and cars cutting in and out were at fault.
During most of the drive the conversation focused on boxing and what we expected to see on Saturday when Argentina’s knockout artist Matthysse opposed speedy Dallas. Three hours later we arrived in Las Vegas under some drizzle. Nothing serious.
After checking in we drove to a casino on the Las Vegas strip where we met with boxing trainer James Pena and the talented and beautiful female boxer Melinda “La Maravilla” Cooper. We ordered margaritas and some burgers as we discussed –what else? – boxing!
Pena has been training Cooper for more than a decade. Though only in her late 20s the petite prizefighter with blinding punches and knockout power has become one of the most skilled veteran women boxers on the planet. Plus, she doesn’t look as if she has ever been hit.
Cooper walked into the restaurant wearing a dark blue Indianapolis Colt’s football jersey with number 12. Applerose asked her if she was a fan of quarterback Andrew Luck. She answered that she didn’t know who he was. No matter, she liked the jersey.
We talked about Cooper’s present and future status as a professional boxer. For a while it was difficult for her to find opponent’s willing to compete. That has changed. The Las Vegas native who kind of resembles the UFC poster girl Arianny Celeste has been told she will be fighting at least twice in 2013 and possibly three times.
Pena has guided her from amateurs to pros and sees that his protégé has evolved from a shy killing machine to a more confident world class prizefighter who can also carry that confidence into conversations with the media. He also discussed how early in Cooper’s career UFC president Dana White played an important role in obtaining a world title fight for the brunette Las Vegas boxer with the flying fists, back in 2005.
“Dana White was a big help,” said Pena about Cooper’s WIBA flyweight world championship win that came against Anissa Zamarron at Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage.
White attended one of her fights in November 2011 to show support.
Now Team Cooper has aligned with a California-based management group called Arqangel Promotions and will be targeting another world title bid as a bantamweight. In the past Cooper had been fighting at 122 pounds though she really is a super flyweight. Sometimes you have to fight whoever is willing to fight you. Cooper says she can easily fight at 115 pounds to 118 pounds. “No problem,” she said.
Cooper’s manager Bill Bamish said, “We’re going to get her going this year.”
Two hours flew by as we conversed with Cooper and Pena. It went quick. The burgers were good and the margaritas excellent.
The Pink Taco
Next we headed for the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to see who remained from the weigh-ins that took place a little earlier. A couple of media friends had texted us to say they were heading to the Pink Taco so we walked into the small eatery to see if they were already inside. Turns out Golden Boy’s team was inside and gathered for a little leisure. We were greeted by Eric Gomez the matchmaker and several others from the company. We talked a little shop and about some of their excursions in other countries such as Argentina and Mexico. Golden Boy Promotions is heavily involved in Latin America. We were introduced to one of their friends, David Berganio, a former Arizona Wildcat golfer who was an important member of their National Championship title team in 1992. After a couple of quick beers we all departed.
Inside the casino we ran into Francisco Espinoza the manager and assistant trainer for Jesus Soto Karass who had a tough assignment against Turkish powerhouse Selcuk Aydin on the Golden Boy card. He tapped me on the shoulder and we caught up on conversation about the past. I’ve known Espinoza for close to 21 years. He formerly worked with Antonio Margarito, Shibata Flores, and Cecilio Espino to name a few.
Standing alongside Espinoza was Eddie Sanchez, the tall now retired boxer famous for winning the vacant GBU America’s junior middleweight title against J.C. Candelo back in 2004. Sanchez was about to munch on a sandwich when the promoter at Pechanga Resort and Casino tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he would consider fighting Candelo. The opponent had dropped out and they needed someone for the main event. ESPN was showing the fight live. Sanchez accepted.
Only one day before the weigh-in Sanchez needed to lose 10 pounds to make the 154-pound limit. He’s a skinny guy for his 6-foot, 1-inch frame but 10 pounds is still 10 pounds. He made the weight but was weakened severely by the sacrifice. One other thing: he hadn’t been training.
On Friday, August 13, Sanchez entered the ring against Colombia’s Candelo and won by unanimous decision. The crowd was aware of Sanchez last-minute inclusion but were shocked at his ability to fight 12 strong rounds against a contender like Candelo. It was one of the most sensational performances that year.
After an hour of boxing talk, including the main event of Dallas and Matthysse, we departed and headed in different directions. All of us were eager to discover who would win and who would lose the next day.
Pt. 2 The Fight at the Hard Rock coming tomorrow