Article first published by Christina Kwan (Kwan International) as Cooper Comes Back to the World Stage at Home in Las Vegas on Technorati.
An unfamiliar journey began the night of March 31, 2011 in San Jose, Costa Rica. An international stage was set for the second world championship of undefeated boxer Melinda Cooper. Amassing a record of 21-0 and stepping up to the 122-pound weight division, Melinda traveled across continents to challenge Ada Velez of Puerto Rico for the vacant title. What many thought would be a clear outcome was not meant to be. Losing a controversial split decision, Melinda’s grasp on the world title had slipped away after coming so close. Her fate was decided by three judges. In the moment of an announcement her undefeated record was gone. Also gone, was her opportunity at the world title.
Fast forward to eight months later and the setting is now in Las Vegas, the city of lights where twenty-six year old Melinda was born, raised, educated, and most importantly, where she met James Pena, her longtime boxing trainer and mentor. The formidable duo met when Melinda was just 11 years old. In a crowd of boys at the Nevada Partners community center stood Melinda, yet she stood out particularly for her skills.
“I knew she would be a champion,” said Pena. Together, they reigned on the national amateur scene for years. Melinda, a national champion many times over turned professional at the age of 17 – the youngest female boxer to ever join the professional ranks in the state of Nevada. Nine years into her pro career, Melinda remained undefeated, that was, until she faced Velez earlier in the year.
Now chartering unfamiliar territory, Melinda and James not only navigate through the depths of suffering a loss, but within the team, to find the inspiration to reface the same challenge once again. This Sunday, Melinda gets another opportunity to claim her second world title, she and Velez will rematch in Las Vegas on Sampson Boxing’s fight card at the Texas Station Hotel and Casino. An establishment co-owned by the prominent Fertitta family, who also own the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization, Melinda is truly happy to be back on familiar ground – her home, the fight capital of the world.
Surrounded by familial, team, and community support, perhaps no one understands her journey more than James. Dedicating the past 15 years to assuring Melinda’s wellbeing and future, James continues to not only commit to her full time training schedule, but he does so while reporting to two jobs that push his average weekly work schedule to well over 40 hours. “I work seven days a week, but I do what I have to do,” James said. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to ever be the world champion of anything and Melinda has this second opportunity to capture her second world title. This is special. It’s the opportunity of a life time. It’s a must win.”
While on familiar Las Vegas terrain, Cooper most recently sparred with 126-pound title challenger Dahaina Santana of Dominican Republic who also challenges for a world title in another rematch in the same event. In a most unique setting, punches were traded at Kwan International Marketing and Media’s Racing and Motorsports facility at the Speedway Commerce Center which resides at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Watching sternly in the corner and commenting every step of the way, James leaves nothing on the table. For him, when Melinda fights, he fights.
Through enjoying the highs of an undefeated career, they both now enter an arena where they have something to prove. A rematch and a win over Velez would nullify the one single defeat on her record, yet its significance spans much more than just rectifying a number. This is Melinda’s future. This is James’ future. “Starting at the first world title Melinda won at 111 pounds, our goal was to win multiple world championships at multiple weights,” said James. “This was the vision all along.”
Perhaps overcoming adversity is the greatest triumph of all. Avenging a loss, a misfortune, and missed opportunity can either distinguish or fuel the fire. For this team, the fire burns while their self-induced pressure mounts. “We didn’t lose that fight in Costa Rica, but it is what it is,” affirmed Pena. What the duo has now is another opportunity at the world stage to claim a victory that they felt always belonged to them.
In a sport where there are both objective and subjective decisions, it is the hands of Melinda with which the outcome will be determined. “It’s been a journey coming back after the last fight but with the generous support of Genesis Pure Sports, Silver Nugget, Lucky Club, and Opera House, I am able to fully concentrate on the fight,” said Cooper. “I’m ready for this fight.”
The challenge of the past eight months has been to look past the one number on her record that represents her sole defeat. Cooper looks ahead to center stage this coming Sunday with a renewed purpose, a renewed spark. It can become the moment when she can regain the momentum that stalled back in March. Through the larger journey called life, not everything happens as it’s supposed to, yet in the end, as James said, “It is what it is.” That’s true, but there is a flip side to that coin. It is what it is, but it will be what they make it.