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Mikaela Mayer was breaking down doors long before she became a champion

Photo by Mikey Williams/ Top Rank
17
Jun

There are a lot of places into which Mikaela Mayer fought her way in, and many of them ahead of her time.  

She got a gig in a band before even learning to tune her electric bass, and only months later made her debut at the legendary Whisky A Go-Go. She decided to become a boxer, and only a few months later she was training in Michigan with one of the most decorated amateur boxing trainers in the country.  

Fast-forward a few years later, and she became the first female fighter to be signed by Top Rank, grabbing a world title in her 14th pro bout. And right after that, she reached a place that many of her counterparts have tried to reach for years of undivided attention to their craft, far from the distractions of playing in an all-girl hard rock band: the mythical pound-for-pound ranking of The Ring magazine.  

There was no shortage of people who said that Mayer was rushed into this position. But for her, the accolade didn’t come a minute too soon.  



“Yes, I did notice you have me at No. 10, thank you, I love that,” she said, during a halt in her training prior to her attempt to defend her WBO junior lightweight title against Argentina’s Erica Farias (26-4, 10 KOs) in Las Vegas this coming Saturday, June 19th. “A lot of people see only how many fights you had, but I think what separates me from the rest is my technique in the ring. I am really sound when it comes to the technical stuff. That’s part of the evolution in boxing. It’s not only important just to win, but it is also important to show skills, and that we belong and that we are now equal.”  

Being equal to the “fellas” is something that Mayer never had a problem with. In her earlier days as an aspiring fighter, she had to spar with men and train in an all-male environment, as women’s boxing had all but disappeared from public scrutiny for quite a few years and the new boxing establishment was not ready to reopen its doors to girls who wanted to fight.  

It was all a matter of taking the first step.  

“I always had to have my own path,” she said. “Coming up in this sport, there wasn’t a ton of people to look up to, female-wise. There was that era when Mia St. John and Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe and everything, but that was decades ago, really! Then it died off, for a period of time. And when I stepped into boxing, we weren’t allowed to compete in the Olympics, and promoters were no longer signing women. And so there wasn’t really a path for me to follow, or someone to look up to, and I just really had to dig deep, and I love the sport so much that my passion sort of drove me in the right direction. But we’re changing that, you know? Me and Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor and a lot of these top girls around the world right now who are paving the way in the sport, and hopefully change that and create a blueprint for the younger generations to follow.” 

Following Mayer’s steps may or may not be hard. But if someone decides to do it, they better start early.  

Mikaela Mayer (left) outpointed Helen Joseph. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Starting her musical career in her early teens in the same venue where The Doors and Motley Crue cut their teeth, and then kickstarting her boxing career in her late teens with the same coach that partially guided people like Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward’s amateur careers definitely brought an unusual degree of confidence to the demeanor that Mayer, now 30, displays every time she stands in front of a mic or a camera. She can get away with everything. A quick review of her Twitter account will show her having an interview with adult film superstar Kendra Lust one minute, and then being an ESPN boxing commentator right after that. Don’t be surprised if you find out she stopped by the Sesame Street studios to do a guest appearance between those two commitments.  

Her potential is huge, and she has no problem embracing that.  

“That just comes with the territory,” she said, when confronted with all of those different aspects of her public persona. “As a female fighter I don’t have the luxury of sitting back and collecting five-million dollar checks based on my performance in the ring. I don’t have that luxury yet. As many other women in the sport, we have to hustle. I have to engage with my fans, I have to make sure people come to my fights, and be out there building my brand. I have to be juggling all of those things like commentating jobs and things like that. I want to make sure I do everything to have the best career that I can have while I can still fight over the next few years.” 

As much as she has carved her own niche, however, Mayer did have the advantage of being part of a generation of very extroverted, camera-happy fellow Olympians who are still part of a journey that has produced some of the fastest results of any Olympic generation, with hugely successful careers being had by many of her peers only a few years into their pro careers.  

“It’s really awesome to look back and know that me and Claressa (Shields) and the others were all in the same team together, relatively young, and now we’re all in the pros being successful too in our own journeys, and all in our own unique ways,” she said, referring to the generation that also produced people like Shakur Stevenson and Teofimo Lopez among so many others. “And I am still in Colorado training. There’s a great group of trainers, you have the altitude, and then I still work closely with USA Boxing. I have that connection and those roots. And I was just thinking about this the other day, it will be really cool one day in five or ten years when we all look back and see our journeys together and what we’ve done for the sport.”  

All that wind beneath her wings can only take her so far, though. And even with the full support of Top Rank and their deal with ESPN behind them as well, some of the big marquee fights have been proving difficult to make. The pandemic has not helped, but the fact that many of the great fighters in her division are signed with rival companies didn’t help either.  

Still, Mayer has put her social media skills to good use, to keep those rivalries alive on social media and perhaps force the big fights that she craves in the future.  

“I was pretty clear with the fact that I wanted to unify right away when I became champion, and I made clear that I want to fight Maiva Hamadouche. We both want the fight,” she said, in reference to the current IBF super featherweight titlist with whom she has engaged in more than a few fiery exchanges on Twitter. “I want the fight, I believe she wants the fight, but sometimes there is only so much a fighter can do, right? At the end of the day it all comes down to the promoters. Top Rank is very cool about listening to me and going along with what me and my team would like to do, but sometimes things don’t work out, and maybe that was the case with Maiva. That’s not to say that it won’t happen, but on the positive side we will have more time to do the fight.”  

For now, she will have her hands full with her opponent du jour. Against Farias, she will be facing a proven hustler of the have-gloves-will-travel variety, one of Argentina’s female boxing pioneers who has walked into the lion’s den more than once and who knows what it takes to leave a good impression abroad. Her career has grown in appreciation as the only three women who have defeated her so far (Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill and Cecilia Braekhus, all of them in their home countries) continue to grow and impress in their own paths.  

“We know she’s coming down from 140,” said Mayer about “The Panther”, who will be her most experienced opponent yet (at least in years and number of pro bouts). “She is a former champ at 140 and 147 also. She fought a lot of the top girls. So yeah, a lot of experience, and I expect her to come well prepared. But she’s 5’4’’, I don’t think she’s as quick and sharp as me, and I just don’t see her taking the belt from me on Saturday.”  

Defeating Farias and getting Hamadouche to sign on the dotted line are only the appetizers on a quite large buffet table served in the 126 to 135-pound weight class range nowadays. That is probably the reason why the new chapter of the World Boxing Super Series will be disputed in 130-pound division, in what will be the series’ debut for female boxing. Although Mayer’s participation in the series is not being discussed at the moment, the challenges are there nonetheless.  

“Everyone’s a threat in this division,” she said, with fighters like Terri Harper and Hyun-Mi Choi in mind, among others. “Because this is the most stacked division in women’s boxing right now. We have tons of talent, and we have four champions, right? Each one of us has a belt, and none of us wants to let it go. So I know that I have to give it all and everyone has to really work hard, and whoever comes out and becomes a unified champion is going to definitely make history and have a huge career. I want to have multiple fights at 135 after that, so I really want to sweep out this division but I am not looking past anyone. They are all tough and they all want it, but I still believe I am the best and I still believe I will be a champion in 2022 and I am looking forward to that.”  

Finding challenges won’t be hard for Mayer, who is poised to become one of the big moneymakers in women’s boxing. One of them, though, could be the return to having thousands of fans in the stands scrutinizing every move and reacting in real time to her performances, something that she didn’t get to experience in her title-clinching performance against Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka back in October 2020.  

But then again, we’re talking about a girl who had toured the US with a hard rock band by the time she was 15. We should have known better before we asked.  

“That’s funny you would think that the fans add pressure, but they don’t. They take away the pressure,” said Mayer, smiling broadly on the Zoom call. “They hype you up and put you in that state where you think ‘I am ready to perform and show the world what I’ve been working on.’” 

“The only moment when you feel extra pressure is when you’re walking out to the ring, and you hear crickets… there’s nothing going on, you see your corner and their corner, and it’s just bright lights and silence. That feels like a lot more pressure,” she added, describing the pandemic scenario that we have grown accustomed to in the past two years of seeing fights being staged in empty ballrooms with the ring surrounded by large screens. “I fought two fights during the pandemic. It was weird, with all the stuff that was going on. A little bit of a layoff here and there, and then I tested positive for COVID. But it didn’t affect my mindset at all. I am used to thinks not going perfect. You have to.  I am just grateful that I had the opportunity to fight during the pandemic, and I think I am one of the few who won a world title during the pandemic. But that wasn’t very ideal because winning world titles is all about the fans and the energy. It was a little bit weird. But I am in a great position now, I am glad the whole thing is behind us. I am really happy to have the fans back because it creates such a different energy, so I am looking forward to that.” 

The next chapter of her journey from teen rock star to boxing world champion is something to look forward to, as well, but it is still largely uncharted. We may end up finding her anywhere from a Wheaties box to a Victoria’s Secret catalog and beyond.  The sky is the limit.

Is she up for all that? Can she finally be the one who will do all that and more for the sport?   

“It’s entertainment, at the end of the day, right?,” she said. “As a fighter, it means a lot more. This is what we work for. We are athletes, and there’s a lot that comes with it, but to the rest of the world we’re entertainers. They want to pay to see us fight, they want to pay to see an exciting fight, and they want to pay to see a personality they can relate to and who they have been following in their journey. We have to be able to do it all.” 

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