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Cook making pro debut Saturday in Connecticut

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MASSENA - Six months ago, Michelle Cook of Massena was training for the Olympics, where she hoped to compete in the 119-pound weight class.

Ms. Cook, who had been designated as an Olympic hopeful, was coming off of a victory in USA Boxing’s Northeast Regional Tournament and a fourth-place finish in USA Boxing’s National Championship Tournament, all with less than three years of experience in the sport.

However, after being informed by USA Boxing that her weight class, 119 pounds, was not going to be included in the 2016 Summer Games, Ms. Cook decided to give up her amateur status. She will be making her professional debut on Saturday at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.

“It was disappointing,” Ms. Cook said of having to give up on her Olympic dream, “But now we’ve moved on and are going pro.”

While her first opponent isn’t coming into the ring with much professional experience, Marcia Agripino is undefeated (1-0) after winning her professional debut earlier this year,and is trained by Peter Manfredo, whose son, Peter Manfredo Jr., is middleweight contender, even appearing on the aptly named ESPN Series, “The Contender.”

“She has one pro fight against a girl that we wanted to fight,” said Ms. Cook’s trainer and fiance, Atsiaktonkie a.k.a. “Doogie.” “She had seven fights and Marcia beat her, so she has to be good.”

Responding to a message sent to Ms. Agripino through Facebook, her manager, Jay Jodoin said he’s looking forward to a good fight.

“Our goal is to uplift womens boxings as a whole,” he said.“Exciting fighters make exciting fights, and we feel this will be an exciting fight,possibly fight of the night.”

When asked if he was nervous heading into Ms. Cook’s first professional bout, Doogie replied, “I don’t have time to be nervous about the fight. What I’m nervous about is a baby-sitter (for the couple’s daughter, who is almost 2) and making weight. She has to hit 118.”

Doogie said that the majority of Ms. Cook’s recent fights were fought at 125 pounds.

“She’s in wicked good shape, so there isn’t a lot of weight there to lose,” he said, adding Michelle is most of the way there and currently weighs between 120 and 121 pounds.

Most importantly though, Doogie said Ms. Cook hasn’t lost her power.

“She’s still hitting hard,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to get hit by her without headgear on.”

And that’s where the nerves come into play for Ms. Cook.

One of the major difference between amateur and professional boxing is the absence of headgear.

“I’m worried about getting knocked out,” she said.

Doogie though had an interesting take on the matter.

“Once she gets hit in the face, it will be OK,” he said.

The way professional boxing is scored also caters more to power punchers, like Ms. Cook.

“It’s more about quality than quantity,” said Johnny Pepe, who is the head coach at the Watertown Area Boxing Club and will be joining Doogie in Ms. Cook’s corner on Saturday. “Michelle’s more of a power puncher. From the beginning of her amateur career, she was destined to go pro.”

One thing that won’t change is the length of the fight.

“She’s been fighting four, two-minute rounds and this fight will be the same,” Doogie said.

Although she will be fighting in front of what will easily be the largest crowd she’s ever faced, Ms. Cook said the crowd is unlikely to phase her.

“I don’t really pay attention to the crowd,” she said. “I’ve never fought in front of a big crowd before, but it will probably just be louder screaming.”

And it’s a good thing she’s not worried about the crowd, as the fight will be happening in Ms. Agripino’s backyard, just 15 minutes from her New London, Conn., home.

When asked if she was worried about the judges, Ms. Cook said, “I don’t really worry about the scoring,” adding she will be going for a knockout.

“I have this one combo I’ve been thinking about in my head. If it comes it comes, but I don’t want to rush into it,” Ms. Cook said.

While Doogie didn’t say he was worried about the judges, he did say it would be important for Ms. Cook to stay aggressive, words of advice also given to her by legendary women’s champion Christy Martin at this past summer’s Carmen Bassilio Quest for Champions in Watertown.

“I talked to her before and after the fight,” Ms. Cook said, to which Doogie added, “She wants to keep in touch.”

Ms. Martin rose to prominence in the 1990s and became the face of the women’s fight game, often fighting on the undercards of such fighters as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Felix Trinidad and Julio Cesar Chavez.

And while neither Mr. Pepe or Doogie compared Ms. Cook to these boxing legends, both men said they’re looking forward to watching her professional career unfold.

“She’s very exciting,” Mr. Pepe said. “She has all the skills of a boxer and a puncher. She’s very exciting to watch.”

Doogie said that’s something he’s known from the beginning.

“I’ve been saying since I first met her she was going to be a world champion.”

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