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CBN.com Brent Cooper, 31, has a boyish charisma, male model good looks, and his 5,000-watt smile is almost always on. Born into a family of boxers (his father was an amateur boxer and his cousin fought professionally) in Nashville, Tenn., Brent naturally loved the sport from a young age.
“I boxed because I wanted to impress my dad,” Brent says.
Brent was also born into a family of zealous drinkers. “My dad always had a drinking problem but he always supported the family. He was a great man but he never could really beat drinking. So I smoked pot [for] the first time when I was in the 8th grade. The first time I ever drank I was three years old. When you see your dad doing this stuff, you just think it’s normal.”
His family never went to church, but Brent was the first to go. He was saved at age seven, and his mother got saved when he was age 10. They went to church together. His father only went on special occasions like Easter.
“I was a believer, but I didn’t have a deep, personal relationship with the Lord,” he says. Eventually Brent started drinking and stopped attending church regularly in his early teens.
“I started following in my father’s footsteps,” Brent explains.
In 1997 he fought 18 fights in 10 months for Don King. Cooper’s boxing career was going well. Then his mother died at age 43 from a seizure.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I’m so excited. I’ll get you a big house.’ She said, ‘Jesus has got a house waiting for me, a mansion.’ That was the last time I talked to her," he says.
Her death marked Brent’s turn from bad to worse. His boxing career fell apart, and he started experimenting with drugs like coke and ecstacy. His drug and alcohol use put his new marriage in jeopardy. Not wanting a divorce, his wife Leann started to pray.
“It was very difficult for a long time to keep it up, to keep at it, to keep believing, to keep praying,” she recalls. “But I loved God and I loved Brent. I knew that with his mother gone somebody had to stand up and pray for him. If it wasn’t me, it was nobody.”
“I got a DUI in 2002,” Brent says. “She was praying that night, ‘God, please make something happen that’s going to turn him around.’”
Little by little… Brent’s life began to turn.
“It was in baby steps. I started listening to Joel Osteen, reading my Bible, and seeking God,” he says. “I started changing.”
Eventually Brent quit drinking. He says God strategically placed people in his life to encourage him in his faith. Brent and Leann continued to read the Word and do Bible studies together like The Purpose Driven Life.
One day while sparring with a friend at the local gym, recruiters came in for a new unscripted drama The Contender offering a one-million-dollar grand prize. They asked him to audition.
“It was all God. I had only fought two times in the past five years! But they liked me, my story, and how I fought,” Brent says. He flew out to L.A. (along with almost 7,000 contenders) and made it down to the final cut of 16.
Even though Brent was eliminated in the sixth week of The Contender, he's becoming a "contender" in a much bigger battle.
"I’m just excited to see where He takes me. I don’t care. It could be boxing, or it could be whatever He wants. I’m just open to wherever God leads.
"It’s just been amazing. We’re already so excited to see what the Lord is doing with this opportunity, and that’s victory right there. I’m glad He never gave up on me..."
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