Mikaela Mayer: “I Almost Went to MMA”
By Felipe Leon
It came as a bit of a surprise when Top Rank, the Las Vegas, Nevada, based promotional company, announced they were jumping into the female boxing world with former amateur standout Mikaela Mayer (2-0, 2KO) as their first and only signing.
Bob Arum, the octogenarian who has been the leader of the company since its inception in the late sixties, has used women on his boxing cards but it was more for publicity in the late 80s and 90s than in belief. It was his step son and right hand man, Todd DuBoef, who was the one who actually saw the potential in the 27-year-old Los Angeles native as the right fit to spearhead the female camp under the Top Rank banner.
“I sat down with Todd DuBoef the day after my manager called me,” the charismatic Mayer told the 2Minute Round podcast last week from her new home in Sacramento, CA. “He told me everything I wanted to hear. He made me feel like he saw what we could do, in women’s boxing. He saw that I was the one that could help do it. Gave me everything I needed, the support, the contract I wanted.”
It was fate since like many female boxers who feel the sport is just not giving back what they are putting in, the lightweight Mayer was on the verge of making a career change. “I was literally days or maybe a week from signing a contract with Bellator and transitioning to MMA. I was really close. My manager said let’s wait and talk to some promoters.”
“I had talked to a few but I wasn’t under the impression they saw the vision or they really wanted to invest in a woman,” she continued. “They were just saying, $3,000 a fight, no signing bonus, blah, blah, blah. If I was willing to sacrifice going to Tokyo and winning my gold medal, I need to have a promoter that is backing me, I need to have a major promoter. Stars kind of just aligned and once my manager called me back and said Top Rank wants to meet with me in Vegas. I was literally in Vegas at that time and I met with them the next day.”
The 5’9” Mayer began boxing at the age of 17 after trying Muay Thai first and quickly became a staple at all the Los Angeles area gyms as she honed her skills and climbed the amateur ranks. It wasn’t until she met with her trainer Al Mitchell she realized how good she could be.
“Before I met Al Mitchell I think I was going off natural talent, getting in there and just fighting,” she explained. “My coach before in L.A. was more of a Muay Thai coach, great guy, really took me under his wing but he wasn’t a boxing genius like Al Mitchell is and didn’t have the experience. When I got with coach Al he really broke me down, took me back to basics. My footwork, staying off my heels, walking in angles and using my reach. Basic fundamentals that nobody had really broken down and shown me.”
She felt short of the 2012 Olympics after winning the 2011 Golden Gloves at 132 pounds. Despite not going to London, she knew she was not done yet. “I haven’t really had been doing it for that long and I knew I had so much more to give. I wasn’t nearly anywhere near my peak and my dream wasn’t over. Four years seems like a long time but it was just an opportunity for me to get better and more experienced for the following Olympic trials.”
After all that hard work and a bit more titles like another National title in 2014 and 2015, she made it to 2016 Olympics in Rio, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Anastasia Belyakova of Russia via majority decision. Despite making it to the top of the amateurs, Mikaela felt there was more.
“I had so much fun traveling around the world competing for Team USA. It was a lot of fun for me. The biggest pride of my life, honestly, I don’t think anything will ever top it,” she said of her amateur experience. “All I thought about for years was getting on that Olympic team and going to the Olympics. After the Olympics I kind of felt unfulfilled. I thought there was going to be more. I thought I was going to feel that after all these years I did it and now I am fulfilled and I just wasn’t.”
“It got me looking into the other direction, like women’s MMA, they are getting a lot of exposure, do I go that way, do I turn pro?” Mayer revealed. “I didn’t know if I wanted to do that all over again and maybe feel the same way. I wanted more. I didn’t know what, so it opened up my mind and had me looking at different opportunities. Within eight months I was signed to Top Rank and heading to my pro debut.”
Mayer made her debut in her hometown of Los Angeles on the undercard of Vasyl Lomachenko vs Miguel Marriaga back in August. It only took her all of 75 seconds for her to stop Widnelly Figueroa in the first round. In her second fight late last month in Tucson, AZ, on the Oscar Valdez vs Genesis Servania undercard, Mayer got more work from Allison Martinez but looked poise and in full control while stopping the Texan in the third round.
By all accounts despite having had an extensive amateur career Mayer is making the transition to the pro style much quicker and easier than others. Something she is very conscious of.
“I’ve only had two pro fights and obviously I want to make that transition well,” Mayer said to hosts David Avila, Amy Green and this writer. “I was very conscious of the small but important things I needed to do that transition well. I recently began working with Gabe Flores because I moved to Sacramento and he is in Stockton. His style compliments my style so well. He keeps me boxing long and tall which is what I like and he is making me sit down a little bit more on my punches and working more power combinations.”
“It is a different mentality in the amateurs, the gloves are a little bit more pillowy, you have head gear on, my mindset wasn’t to knock these girls out but to outbox the shit out of them, just score,” Mayer said of the difference between the amateurs and professional ranks. “My mentality is different now. I feel the size of these gloves and I want to go in there and do something exciting. I want to knock these girls out. I feel that women boxing needs, we need exciting fights. We can’t just be mediocre.”
Now Mayer is scheduled to return on another significant card when she performs at the Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 9. It’s the undercard of the much anticipated face-off between defending WBO super featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
“That is an amazing card to be on. I want to stay busy. I am used to fighting so often, I want to fight five or six times a year,” she stated. “Fight me, I want to get my record up and get some big fights. I want to show the world what I have been working on for the last ten years in the amateurs. I wanted to turn pro, I wanted the bigger stage and I wanted to show the world. We work so hard in the amateurs, we travel all the time, we compete all the time, and no one gets to see it.”
Mayer is patient and knows her time will come for the bigger stage. That stage could very well be the biggest sports network on the planet ESPN. The network and her promoter signed a game changing contract this year and she is confident she will find her place within it.
“It is definitely going to happen; I just think we are doing it right,” Mayer stated. “We want to build it up. When I get my chance on TV, I want to have thousands of new fans tuning in. I think we are doing it the more strategic way, building me up a little bit. Definitely in 2018 you will see me on ESPN that is the plan.”
As far as how soon she sees herself stepping up to the world stage as a professional, Mayer doesn’t think it will take long and she is ready now as early as next year. “We don’t expect it to take very long. I’ve already had the experience. I am ready to be pushed, I am ready to go. I am peaking, I feel good, I feel strong. I feel very calm in the ring. I thought it would be more nerve racking, bigger stage, more people, no headgear but I feel very relaxed and very comfortable. What you are seeing is really how I am feeling. I expect them to move me somewhat quickly this coming year. I don’t want to wait more than a year; I am ready to go for it next year for sure.”
“I want to fight them all. Ultimately when the time is right I know that me and Katie Taylor are going to face off and it is going to be a big fight,” she says of who she wants to face while mentioning the other big name in the 135-pound division. “I want us to sell ourselves properly so when the time comes it is a big fight for women’s boxing. That is definitely on my radar but right now I have learned especially with my experience to take one fight at a time. One year at a time. Right now I am focused on December 9th and then I agree I want to pick up the competition and I want to get to the big fights sooner than later.”
To listen to the interview in its entirety, please visit BlogTalkRadio.com/2MinRound