The Memory Bank: Part Twenty-Two
Bert Cooper, coming in at 232, outweighed the in-shape Richie Melito by thirteen pounds, an observation that did not escape me…
Cooper vs. Melito
“It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.”—W.C. Fields
“It’s déjà vu all over again.”—Yogi Berra
As best I could determine, none of heavyweight Richie “The Bull” Melito’s first nine opponents had ever won a fight. Finally, he fought unknown Chris Gingrow (who impersonated one Richard Perry) and who sported a 1-4 record. Gingrow-Perry was dispatched in one round. Richie then stepped up and fought limited journeyman Mike Dixon in Memphis, managing a TKO in four—his longest fight to date. Dixon (16-19) had been in with many top-level fighters, so maybe the Bull had a little something, but a quick look at his record revealed that he had fought an average of 1.6 rounds in his first 18 outings suggesting more flash than substance.
When Melito fought undefeated Bronx’s John “Johny Bombs” Carlo (12-0) in his 17th fight, it marked the first time he was matched against an opponent with a winning record. This fight was for the vacant New York State Heavyweight Title. Carlo’s only distinguishing accomplishment was a first-round KO over a completely shot Leon Spinks in 1994 in Carlo’s first professional fight. It was one of Spink’s last fights. Other than that, Johny Bombs had fought no-names with losing records. The Bull bombed Bombs by KO in the second round and “captured” the crown.
Clearly, the Bull’s 18-0 record had been overhyped by fighting seventeen opponents with a combined won-lost record of 60-138. Now being a betting man, though a circumspect one, I had done my due diligence and full research after which I was poised like a hawk waiting to swoop down on its prey (which in this case consisted of a host of loud and, more importantly, ill-informed fans from Flushing sporting geekish grins and apparently eager to depart with their hard-earned money).
As W.C. Fields once said, “Never give a sucker an even break,” and I wasn’t about to. This looked to be a profitable affair because, lo and behold, Melito’s opponent this night would not be the usual heavy bag; oh no, it would be menacing and seasoned “Smokin’” Bert Cooper. The fight would be for Melito’s New York State Heavyweight Crown or for the World Boxing Federation heavyweight title, depending on what source you chose to believe.
Smokin’ Bert, a Philly fighter, always came forward, throwing left hooks ala his idol Joe Frazier. Arguably, there have been few fighters who have fought a tougher schedule. Unlike Melito’s fans, it’s a good thing I knew about the qualitative nature of Bert’s record going into the MSG Theater that hot July evening in New York. Appearing on his resume were names like Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield (whom he came within a whisker of beating as he entered the fight a 32-1 underdog), George Foreman, the late Carl Williams, Ray Mercer (who’s jaw he broke), Orlin Norris, Riddick Bowe, Mike Weaver, Joe Hipp, the late Corrie Sanders, Joe Mesi, Fres Oquendo, Larry Donald, Jeremy Williams, Henry Tillman, Chris Byrd, Alexander Zolkin, and many other notables. Bert’s fight with Moorer rates as an all-time Pier Six right along with Lyle-Foreman and Nardico-Norkus.
Most telling to me, Cooper beat hot prospect Willie DeWitt in 1987 in Canada. DeWitt, a Canadian 1984 Olympic silver medalist, was undefeated (14-0-1) and highly touted, but was badly mauled and mugged by the compact Cooper, who put him down four times before taking him out in the second. DeWitt had been exposed—and I sensed déjà vu all over again.
Leading up to this bout, Cooper (33-17 coming in) had lost to Golota bite-victim Samson Po’uha by fourth-round TKO, and many thought he was shopworn, having one too many wars and having lost any semblance of enthusiasm. Fortunately, Melito’s camp and many of his fans thought so as well.
Cooper, coming in at 232, outweighed the in-shape Melito by thirteen pounds, an observation that also did not escape me. Bert also had an enormous reach advantage.
However, something did escape notice. Apparently there were rumors floating around alleging that that the outcome of the fight may have been predetermined. The rumors later proved false, though had I known about this, all bets would have been off. But ignorance is bliss, and my bets were in, having been eagerly swept up by the smiling middleman representing the unsuspecting Flushing “aficionados.”
It was fight time. The boxers were given their instructions by the late, great referee Wayne Kelly, the staredown was won by Bert over a seemingly frightened Melito who kept his eyes closed, the bell rang, and, before you could say “déjà vu,” it was all over in just 1:51.
Cooper immediately hurt the Bull with body shots and then dropped him with a gut cruncher that momentarily knocked the wind out of the Flushing fighter. Burt then annihilated Melito with a short debilitating left hook upstairs that put Richie down and out, allowing Kelly to dispense with the count and attend to Melito. The squat Bull had been exposed! But then, anyone who knew anything about boxing knew he would be.
As we left the MSG Theater and headed for cocktails and an expensive steak dinner in one of Manhattan’s better restaurants, I lit my cigar, this time a sixty-ring Madura Gloria Series 7. And as I counted my considerable winnings, I looked over to my friends, winked, and said, “Hey, this one is on me tonight.”
To Richie Melito’s great credit he carried on, later duking with much better opposition (at least on paper). He won nine straight, eight by way of stoppage. In fact, he won the vacant IBF/USBA Northeastern Regional Heavyweight Title in April 1999 by beating experienced Don “The Man of Steel” Steele (45-6) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in what probably was the best win of his career. Steele had been victorious in his first 41 fights before losing to Brian Nielsen in Denmark in 1997. Melito’s last fight was a DQ win against Damon Reed (41-11) in 2001. His final slate was a fine 27-1 with 25 KOs.
“It’s tough…He had the fight of his life, then all this [stuff] comes out. He’s down. I try to tell him that this will all blow over. I wouldn’t be able to face my son if I fixed a fight. It wouldn’t be fair to my son. He’s taking it pretty hard. It’s unfair, it’s really unfair.”—Richie Melito Sr. (Anthony Bosco, TIMES Ledger)
“I got myself hooked up with the wrong Williams (“Top Dawg”) at first. But it’s a happy ending. I got the right one now.”—George Peterson, former manager of Paul “The Punisher” Williams
Unfortunately, a serious scandal later reared its ugly head when Melito’s second-from- last opponent, Thomas “Top Dawg” Williams, became the first defendant successfully prosecuted for fixing a fight in the State of Nevada. Williams was sentenced to 15 months in prison, three years of probation, and 100 hours of community service for allegedly being paid to throw a number of fights, including one against Melito on August 12, 2000, on the undercard of the Evander Holyfield vs. John Ruiz title bout at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Top Dawg (28-17), fighting out of South Carolina, was muzzled by the Bull in the first round. Here is the relevant link: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nv/news/2004/11082004.html
Both Melito and his father-manager, Richie Melito Sr., vehemently denied knowing the Williams fight had been fixed. In this connection, unless and until someone proves otherwise, I clearly have to agree with them—but the Bull’s record had become tainted. See: http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2001/35/20010830-archive807.html
Bert Cooper would totally lose his zest for boxing and go 4-8-before finally retiring in 2002 (he had “retired” twice before) with a 38-25 record. He too would have his own post-career issues perhaps suggesting why he needed to extend his career, but that’s not what this article is about.
Meanwhile, the 2012 Beltway Boxing Prospect of the Year was a light heavyweight by the name of Thomas “Top Dog” Williams Jr. (13-0 with 6 KOs in a row). His father, Top Dawg Sr., is his biggest fan.
For another perspective on fixing fights, Kevin Iole wrote a poignant and compelling piece on Yahoo! Sports dated June 10, 2007, titled “Tale of two Williamses.” The link is http://sports.yahoo.com/box/news?slug=ki-williams071007
The Memory Bank: Part One
The Memory Bank: Part Two
The Memory Bank: Part Three
The Memory Bank: Part Four
The Memory Bank: Part Five
The Memory Bank: Part Six
The Memory Bank: Part Seven
The Memory Bank: Part Eight
The Memory Bank: Part Nine
The Memory Bank: Part Ten
The Memory Bank: Part Eleven
The Memory Bank: Part Twelve
The Memory Bank: Part Thirteen
The Memory Bank: Part Fourteen
The Memory Bank: Part Fifteen
The Memory Bank: Part Sixteen
The Memory Bank: Part Seventeen
The Memory Bank: Part Eighteen
The Memory Bank: Part Nineteen
The Memory Bank: Part Twenty
The Memory Bank: Part Twenty-One
The Memory Bank: Part Twenty-Two