Monday, May 29, 2023  |


Mikaela Mayer carves path back to world championship after stepping up to lightweight

Mikaela Mayer (L) and Jennifer Han (R) exchange punches during their WBO and IBF junior lightweight championship fight at The Hangar on April 09, 2022 in Costa Mesa, California. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
Fighters Network

Mikaela Mayer is not going to let one loss or one fighter dictate her career. Instead, Mayer is moving on, eager to put herself in a position to win another world title belt. 

Mayer will face Christina Linardatou Saturday night at Copper Box Arena in London, England. The 10-round bout will precede the main event between heavyweight contenders Joe Joyce and Zhilai Zhang.

Both fights will stream live on ESPN+ (3 p.m. ET/ 12 p.m. PT).

The last time the boxing world saw Mayer was on October 15, losing a close split decision to Alycia Baumgardner, who won Mayer’s Ring Magazine junior lightweight championship, along with the IBF and WBO world title belts. Baumgardner successfully defended her WBC title.

Mayer (17-1, 5 knockouts), who grew up in Woodland Hills, California and now resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado, decided to move up in weight to 135 pounds. She will face a formidable opponent in Linardatou (14-2, 6 KOs), who was born in the Dominican Republic and now resides in Athens, Greece. Linardatou does have a win over Baumgardner, and her only two defeats came at the hands of Ring Magazine lightweight champion Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon.

The 32-year-old Mayer wanted to fight Persoon, but will still face a credible and talented opponent in Linardatou. 

“(The move up to 135 pounds was) definitely long overdue,” Mayer told The Ring earlier this week. “This was something I had the ability of doing a few years back, but with the goals I had at 130 (pounds) and wanting to go undisputed, I had to stay there and sort of try and fulfill that. But now that I did everything in my power to get that goal done, it’s time for me to move up.

“We chose Linardatou because I wanted a top contender. I didn’t want any easy fight. I know I’m coming off a loss. Maybe the perception is of a champion: you lose a championship and you’re on the decline. That’s not me. I still feel I’m in my prime. I’m still getting better every day. I didn’t want to take a step back in any way and I want to continue challenging myself against top contenders.

I really wanted Delfine Persoon because I know she’s the No. 1 contender in the (130-pound) division. I feel like she should’ve been the one to go for undisputed against Baumgardner. So I thought she would be a tough fight. A statement fight. She was unavailable. We couldn’t get that fight done. The next best option was Linardatou, who has only been beaten by Taylor and Persoon. She’s a top contender and beat Baumgardner. It goes along with the storyline.”

Photo by Mark Robinson/ Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Mayer, who is still rated No. 1 by The Ring at 130 pounds, had hopes of an immediate rematch with Baumgardner, but the Detroit-based fighter chose to unify the world title belts at junior lightweight rather than face Mayer. Baumgardner faced Elhem Mekhaled, winning by decision and adding the WBA world title to become undisputed champion at 130 pounds.

Any semblance of an immediate fight with Baumgardner went out the window after Mayer decided to move up to 130 pounds. Mayer decided she was not going to wait for Baumgardner, rather put her effort and energy to win world title belts at 135 pounds. 

“I made it clear I wanted the rematch,” said Mayer, who is managed by George Ruiz. “She made it clear she didn’t, so I moved on. I’m moving up to 135 (pounds). I have a path to the world title. She doesn’t want to give me a rematch. She doesn’t want to give the fans a rematch. She obviously doesn’t want to make real money. She just wants to look cute, pose with her belts and have fun with that. That’s not what I’m about. I’m going to go up to 135 and get the belts another way. I’m going to make money another way. She’s not the only option for me, so that’s the mission I’m on now. She’ll say to herself one day, ‘Wow, I’m a dumbass. I should’ve got a rematch with Mikaela and milk this for all it’s worth.’ Then maybe I’ll be interested in the conversation, but I’m not going to sit around and wait for anybody.”

Aside from fighting, Mayer has dabbled into providing color commentary, whether for ESPN+ streams or for Sky Sports. 

Mayer was ringside almost three weeks ago at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, where she called the action of Seniesa Estrada, who became the unified Women’s titleholder at 105 pounds with a win over Tina Rupprecht of Germany. 

Mayer and Estrada, both promoted by Top Rank, have become good friends in recent months. Each roots for one another, especially Mayer, who was glad Estrada recently signed a promotional deal with Top Rank. She hopes they could one day co-promote a card together. 

“I was really excited about Top Rank signing Seniesa (to a promotional deal),” said Mayer. “Obviously when Top Rank first signed me, I absolutely had a goal of them saying, ‘Hey, there is a market for Women’s boxing and we’re continuing to sign more.’ So I was thrilled when I heard they were looking into (signing) Seniesa. (Top Rank) couldn’t have picked anyone better. She’s awesome. We’ve known each other for the longest time, through social media. But we first officially met at the Katie Taylor versus Amanda Serrano fight (on April 30, 2022) in New York City. Since then, it’s been best-friend energy (with Seniesa). Really great fighter. I’m really happy that she’s finally getting to show the world that. I know she went through a tough time with her last promotion and deal. She definitely deserves this platform. She deserves those belts. I’m really rooting for her. I think she’s a great fighter and person.”

Mayer, a top amateur fighter before turning pro in August 2017, has been trained by Al Mitchell for almost 15 years. Mitchell trained top fighters, including David Reid and Vernon Forrest, and was the 1996 U.S. Olympic boxing coach . 

Mitchell’s resume in boxing, almost 65 years, includes being the head boxing coach at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. Mitchell’s no-nonsense style and Mayer’s quick-witted personality have been a unique pairing in boxing, but Mayer would not have wanted it any other way, considering the bond that was created between them.

“It’s really incredible,” said Mayer. “I don’t have a say-so. Al is the coach. I’m the fighter. It’s more about I’m putting in the trust and belief, knowing that I was going to trust in what he (tells) me to do. Whether it was right or wrong, at least I was committed to a style, committed to somebody, committed to a plan.

“He’s never let me down. He’s always been there for me. Whether he believes in me or not, he always wanted the best for me. That was the thing. He didn’t care about the money. He never thought I would make it to this level. It’s not because he didn’t believe in me or think I wasn’t a great boxer. He didn’t see Womens’ boxing at this level. He’s 80 years old, this year. But I had to believe I would get to this point. The women who are at my level, also the women at the top of the game, we had to believe in Women’s boxing. There was no incentive for him to take me under his wing and really develop me and be there every step of the way, making ‘0’ dollars like most coaches for the longest time. He just really genuinely cares about his athletes. And I saw that and I trusted in him. I did everything that he said. That’s the partnership you have to have between a coach and an athlete. It’s just trust and trusting in each other.”

The sport of boxing, along with Mitchell, has provided an outlet for Mayer. As a teenager, Mayer was a bassist for a female rock group called Lia-Fail, which gained a following in Southern California, playing at high schools or at venues on the famed Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The band even played on the Vans Warped Tour in 2005.

Mayer left the band after the conclusion of the Warped Tour. She became defiant, found trouble and got into fights, where she would be expelled from multiple high schools. 

It was not until her late teens that she decided to learn how to fight that she walked into a boxing gym. What started from learning how to fight turned into becoming a stellar amateur and representing the United States at the Olympic Games in 2016. 

Mayer was fortunate enough to continue training, which would lead to working with Mitchell later in her amateur career. She looks back at what could have been, but is grateful to have made the right decisions to put the right people in her life.

“At 15, I was just breaking out of the band,” said Mayer. “The heavy metal band days. I had the worst boyfriend at the time. Ask my Dad. I was never home. I was always gone. It was definitely a part of my teenage rebellious days where, if I didn’t go through all that, I wouldn’t have had that sort of awakening and epiphany and that desire to be successful and great. It’s not that I had misery and always went through hard times. I was still a teenager. I had no direction. I was always an extremist. Ask my Dad. I really put my Dad through a lot. I just woke up and realized I needed something. I wanted to be successful. I really wanted to be good at something. And that’s what had me walk into a boxing gym. If it wasn’t boxing, I knew it was going to be something. That’s just the person that I am. 

“It’s just crazy, but a month or two into training, I believed I wanted to be the best Female fighter in the world. I didn’t know what that looked like. I didn’t know how to get there. There was no path. We were in the Olympics, but we weren’t promoted or signed. I don’t know what I was thinking. All I knew was I had a dream and I was going to make it happen. And to be where I am at now just shows what I believed in. It’s really crazy but I did it. Coming off this loss and feeling the way I did these last few months, I still have a lot to show and I’ve accomplished so much. I still have so much opportunity. I’m in my prime. I have a great promoter (Bob Arum). I have a great network. I still have my coach. I have to remember how far I’ve come and still what I want to accomplish and get done.”

Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]