Mikaela Mayer: The Teenage Rebel Who Found A Cause
Boxing has saved many lives over the years. A life seemingly heading in the wrong direction, the discipline of boxing turned many drifting lives away from the road to nowhere. The American Mikaela Mayer lacked discipline in her youth, no direction, a rebel without a cause.
A mother with alcohol problems, an intervention by child protective services led Mayer and her two sisters living with her father. The American was only 5 when her parents split and grew up doing what she wanted.
Partying, going missing for an extended period, kicked out of several high schools Mayer was drifting along seeking a place where she belonged. At 13, Mayer was smoking and drinking, with nowhere to expend her frustrations, the fights were plenty. The outlet for that aggression would come later.
Brief spells as a model and playing bass in an all-girls metal band came to nothing. Pictures of the band, with Mayer holding a cigarette in her mouth, tells a story of where she was in her life at that point.
After a brief spell in Muay Thai, boxing came into her life and Mayer had something to grab hold of, finally in her late teenage years, she had found her calling. Mayer finally had a place where she felt comfortable, where she belonged, something she wanted to be good at. A successful amateur career followed, a three-time National champion, world championship bronze medallist in 2012, an Olympian in 2016, but Mayer then had a decision to make.
But without the right offers to turn professional, Mayer considered a switch to MMA. Bellator tempted her, but at the eleventh hour, Top Rank wanted in. In 2017 Mayer became their first-ever female signing. Mayer finally had the offer she wanted, now 27, the pursuit for a world title began. After 13 fights her wish was granted.
Eddie Hearn was in the process of signing all the current world super-featherweight champions, to create his own unification playground. But Mayer, in many ways became a problem.
Hearn signed the WBO champion Ewa Brodnicka, but any plans to match her with Terri Harper were put on hold. The WBO made Mayer the mandatory challenger, the American was told to go and get a belt by Team Harper, now she had an opportunity to do exactly that.
At the end of October, Mayer didn’t waste her opportunity, she grasped her moment, winning a wide decision over Brodnicka to be crowned the WBO super-featherweight champion of the world. But without fans, the sterile atmosphere takes something from the sport and something away for the fighter also:
“The fight didn’t feel like a world title fight, it is nobody’s fault, there was no audience allowed because of the pandemic. It didn’t have that world title energy, I didn’t really get that moment, I didn’t get to have a belt put around me. It just felt a little anticlimactic and I didn’t really feel like a world champion. But I got the win and it is another step on the way to achieving my ultimate goals. I got it done and now I move on to the next one but I do hope we can get fans back in there.”
Despite the wide margin on the scorecards it was still somewhat of a frustrating experience for the new champion. Mayer struggled to find her rhythm and her best form, her veteran trainer Al Mitchell knew the sort of fight Mayer was in for:
“Coach Al was adamant in training camp that it could be a really tricky fight, she is going to make it a frustrating fight for you. Al was very specific about our gameplan, but as well as being a runner she was a grabber. So when I finally did close that gap she would grab hold of me, it was really difficult for me to get my shots off. I didn’t land my shots as clear or as solid as I normally do. But that’s her style running and tying up and it definitely made it frustrating because I just want to fight.”
Brodnicka was one of several recent Matchroom signings as Eddie set about signing all the current world champions in the super-featherweight division. The WBA champion Hyun-Mi Choi and the IBF claimant Maiva Hamadouche are also signed. With the unified IBO and WBC champion Terri Harper also in the Matchroom bubble, Hearn has real intention to unify all the belts. But with Mayer upsetting those plans for the immediate future at least, the American knows Hearn will have to go through her to finalise his unification plans:
“Everyone was tagging me in on stuff, saying Eddie has signed this girl and that girl, I just said cool round them all up for me. Before Eddie signed them all up there were spread all around and you couldn’t get the fights made. But now we know who to go through, it is kind of fun trying to guess what his next move his because he did have to adjust after I was made mandatory for Brodnicka.”
Mayer has made no secret of her desire to fight Terri Harper. But Harper is now recovering from a broken hand she got in her last fight against Katherina Thanderz, which will now delay any planned meeting between the pair. Both fighters have said they would be prepared to travel to their opponent’s backyard but it is a fight that looks like it will have to wait until the middle of next year. Mayer will not wait and plans to fight much earlier than that:
“Terri broke her hand, so she has to heal up, get back in shape, have a training camp and that could be 6 months before she fights again. I’m starting to think my next fight will have to be against an American to defend my belt because I don’t see me unifying right away.”
Natasha Jonas fought Harper to a controversial split-draw in August when they met at Fight Camp in August, and a fight between Mayer and Jonas would have much meaning for both. Mayer could if she wins do something that Harper couldn’t do. Jonas needs a belt in all probability to rematch Harper, but it seems that Jonas might need to get a belt to fight Mayer as well:
“I would like to fight Natasha Jonas, but she is not really on my radar right now because she doesn’t have a belt and my aim right now is to unify. So we are not going to push for Jonas we are going to push for a unification fight and if we can’t get a unification I see myself fighting a top-ranked American before March next year.”
Harper vs Mayer is simmering quite nicely and they have the potential to form a heated rivalry that could result in several fights between the pair. Harper has made changes to her training after the Jonas fight and was widely praised for her performance against Thanderz.
“I want to stay sharp and fight, and I want that fight and hopefully when she gets back it happens. We are building that fight up. I thought she looked really good against Katherina Thanderz, but she had the perfect style for Terri and allowed her to fight in her comfort zone. I thought she boxed as I expected she would, but I am more rounded than her and she won’t be able to hold me off that easily.”
Mayer is incredibly ambitious and one world title isn’t enough for her. The fights with the other world champions are firmly on her radar, and Katie Taylor, a one-time idol of Mayer, has been mentioned as a possible opponent somewhere down the line. Mayer isn’t planning on leaving the super-featherweight division anytime soon, but is aware there might be opportunities elsewhere:
“I still make the weight ok it is not really a problem for me. I’m smart and I do the weight properly. I want to unify at 130 but if I get offered some money fights at 135 then I will do that too.”
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and a common failure to look beyond what you see and read on social media. Mayer knows she has to get noticed, she knows how to sell a fight and what Mayer is doing is most certainly working. Love or hate, Mayer knows how to play the game. At the initial meeting with Top Rank, Mayer sold herself, her self confidence helped get the deal done, sometimes confidence and a little bit of swagger are needed, many times it is everything.
I didn’t get arrogance during our call, it was the complete opposite. Apologetic for having to rearrange our interview several times, Mayer was relaxed and courteous, but you get the sense that when it is time to get back to work that steely edge will return. Fight mode brings out a different side to her. Undoubtedly Mayer is outwardly confident in her abilities, and in her 14 professional fights she has more than backed up her words.
Hearn and Harper have constantly spoken of the intention for the big fights, to unify the division to crown one champion. But they have a big problem if they want to achieve that. Mayer is that problem, to unify they will have to go through her, that will be no easy task. Mayer was told to get a belt, it might turn out to be a case of be careful what you wish for.