How good do you have to be to have a Commissioner tell you to go Pro? After watching Melissa Bopp’s first Professional Muay Thai fight at the Capitale in NYC I can see his point. Her fight against Casey Bohrman was riveting. From the opening bell you can tell Bohrman has some serious skills. Even though I knew the outcome I was still a little nervous for Bopp. Her taller longer opponent kept Melissa at a distance and threw some nice kicks and combos. Undaunted, Bopp moved forward the entire time, controlling the ring and pushing the pace. She never let Borhman breathe. You could see that her aggressive style was wearing on Bohrman and in the second round a few exchanges in, Bopp picked her moment and dropped Borhmann with a Mirko Crocop style kick to the head. I probably replayed the moment five times, cringing each time I heard the thwack of appendage to cranium.
This is not the only fight of Melissa’s I have seen. Frighteningly, she has improved from “really good” to “Holy cow!” Her record stands at 3 wins and 1 loss. She is also a veteran of the WCL, competing with the Tiger Schulmann New Jersey Tigers fight team. I had the opportunity to review her videos, and she is constantly moving forward, fearless, with an incredible chin and a Warrior’s ferocity. Her stamina is both taxing, and spirit breaking to her opponents. You can almost see the moment in her fights when the overwhelming realization comes to her opponents that Bopp is not going to stop. She is not even going to slow her pace, making punches in bunches an understatement.
I met Melissa at a NAGA tournament and noted that they were having a dickens of a time finding her an opponent skilled enough to have a match with. Her intensity is palpable and she was ready to roll. Finally a suitable opponent was located. I saw the match and was impressed by both her level of skill and by her grace in victory. She is not a show boater she is a respectful competitor and a generous mentor. Melissa began training in the Tiger Schulmann system in 1991 at 16. She is now a third degree black belt. She and her Husband Fernando Echeverria run Tiger Schulmann East Hanover, NJ. One of my favorite moments of our conversation came when Bopp revealed she had met her husband, now business partner and fellow instructor, when he showed up to take her class several years ago. She still keeps a regular teaching schedule Mon through Friday 2:30-10pm, Sat 9-4. She teaches then she trains, going to Headquarters in Elmwood Park NJ Mon through Friday 10-1pm, and Sunday 10-4 adding cardio for 8 weeks prior to a fight. She spends 30 hours leading class, close to 30 hours training. Bopp also runs the business side of her school. I find that determination, discipline and drive to be the best, most impressive.
At the NAGA tournament Melissa was surrounded by the other women from TSMMA, who had about a dozen women competing. They swept entire divisions. Obviously TSMMA has figured out how to get women on the mat and medaling. I was struck by my own jealousy seeing so many women from the same schools cheering one another on. As with many of the ladies I speak with, I am the only woman at my school. I asked Melissa why she thought TSMMA had had such good fortune recruiting women. She thought that many of the women initially came in for Cardio, trying to get into shape and after a few classes wanted to move to the next level, which is possible in the Tiger Schulmann system. They were of varying ages and weight classes. TSMMA took first place in both adult and kids and teens team results. Melissa the instructor is as much a part of those results as Melissa the competitor. It’s funny I never asked Melissa if She cried in the gym (my signature question), having seen her amongst the competitors from the TSMMA, a sorority in the best sense of the word, I assumed she had not.
How can you make a Pro career happen when there are not many events in your area, you have a business to run and a marriage to keep happy? Unfortunately, the opportunities for a woman on the East Coast to fight MMA professionally are not plentiful. Traveling to the West Coast may be her best option. Friday Night fights in Las Vegas are giving women opportunities to showcase their talent. I made several attempts to Google Women’s Events in our area and “Ladies Night Out” came up. Promoters don’t what they are missing. She could be the face of East Coast MMA.