It was July 29, 1997 at the Theater in Madison Square Gardens and my friends and I had great seats. It was time to see what this so called "contender" had......and because I had done my homework, I had serious doubts that he had anything. Right out of the professional gate, he had won 18 in a row, 11 coming by way of first round KO. Only one of his fights went the distance and that was a 4 rounder against the immortal Edgar Turpin (0-6). In all he had fought 29 rounds in 18 fights or 1.6 rounds per fight. "He" was Richie Melito and he was nicknamed "The Bull." He was from Flushing but unlike another fighter from that part of the city, I sensed he was more flash in the pan than flash.
As best I could determine, none of his first 11 opponents had even won a fight. Finally, he fought unknown Chris Gingrow who sported a 1-7 record and dispatched him in one round. He then stepped up and fought tough journeyman Mike Dixon in Memphis and did manage a TKO in 4, his longest fight to date. Dixon, 16-30, had been in with may top level fighters so maybe "The Bull" had a little something after all.
When he fought John Carlo in his 17th fight, it incredibly marked the first time he fought an opponent with a winning record. This fight was for the vacant New York State Heavyweight Title. Carlo's record was 14-2 with his only distinguishing accomplishment being a first round KO over a completely shot Leon Spinks in 1994. It was one of Spink's last fights. Other than that, he had fought no-names with losing records. In fact, Carlo's most recent fight leading up to July 29, 1997 had been against Eddie Curry (13-27-2), out of South Carolina, whom he beat by a TKO in the third round. Tellingly, Curry had lost 17 fights inside of three. Completing the circle, he had even lost to Leon Spinks by DQ in 1994. Prior to"The Bull," Carlo had been defeated by one Derek Amos (14-22) and Crawford Grimsley, both by first round knockout. Grimsley's claim to immortality would be a 13 second knockout at the hands of Jimmy "From Down Under" Thunder! At any rate, "The Bull" beat Carlo by KO in the second round and "captured" the crown.
Clearly, Richie "The Bull" Melito's 18-0 record had been over-hyped by fighting 17opponents with losing records....and most had never even won a professional fight. Their combined won-lost record was 60-138. Now being a betting man, I had done my due diligence....my research. I was poised like a hawk waiting to swoop down on its prey (which in this case consisted of several ill-mannered and, more importantly, ill-informed "fans" from Flushing eager to depart with their money. As W. C. Fields once said, "never give a sucker an even break" and I wasn't's about to. This looked to be a profitable affair because lo and behold, Richie's opponent this night would not be the usual warm body; oh no, it would be tough and seasoned Bert Cooper. The fight would be for Melito's New York State Heavyweight Crown.
Smokin' Bert, a Philadelphia fighter always coming forward and throwing left hooks, had literally fought just about all the name opponents you could come up with. 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 his record going into the MSG Theater that hot July evening in New York. Appearing on Coopers resume were names like Moorer, Holyfield, Tillman, Foreman, Carl Williams, Mercer, Orlin Norris, Bowe, Weaver, Joe Hipp, Corrie Sanders, Larry Donald, Jeremy Williams, Chris Byrd, and many more. Interestingly, he beat prospect Willie DeWitt in 1987 in Regina, SK, Canada. DeWitt, a Canadian 1984 Olympic silver medalist was undefeated (14-0-1)and highly touted, but was badly beaten by the rugged Cooper who put him down four times before taking him out in the second. DeWitt had been exposed. I smelled deja vu all over again.
Leading up to this bout, Cooper had lost to Samson Po'uha by 4 round TKO and many thought he was washed up as a competitive fighter having fought too many wars. Fortunately for me, Melito's camp and many of his fans thought so as well. Bert outweighed the short and not-so-ripped Melito by 13 pounds coming in at 232, an observation that also did not escape me. However, something did pass by me and these were rumors allegedly circulating that the "fix" may have been in but the rumors later proved to be false. But false or not, had I known this, all bets would have been off.
But ignorance is bliss and my bets were in. It was fight time.The boxers were given their instructions by Referee Wayne Kelly, the bell rang, and before you could say "deja vu," it was all over in just one minute and fifty one seconds. Cooper had annihilated Melito with a number of brutal shots finishing him off with a debilitating blow to the body that put him down and out. The squat Bull had been exposed! But then, I already 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 lighted up my cigar, this time a 60 ring maduro Gloria. As I collected and counted my winnings. I looked over to my friends, winked and said, "hey, this one is on me tonight."
To Richie Melito's credit, he later fought against much better competition and 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 Don Steele (45-6) in Myrtle Beach, SC. His last fight, according to my research, was a win against Damon Reed (41-11) in 2001. I don't know whether he plans to fight again.
Bert Cooper would go on to lose five of his last seven bouts before closing out his career in a TKO loss to Darroll "Doing Damage" Wilson in 2002. He would finish with a 36 (30-KO)-22 record.
"It's morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money." W.C. Fields
Ted Sares is a syndicated writer and boxing historian who can be reached at [email protected]
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