Mikaela Mayer: “I don’t really have any hard feelings towards Harper, but she has something I want.”
If Mikaela Mayer has learned anything from our latest interview, it was the word punditry. The American and English language barrier evident in my opening sentence. Mayer was alien to the word and I failed to resonate with that. I need to learn that saying the same word three times won’t automatically mean someone understands it. Mayer smiled, I cringed and tried a different phrase, belatedly I had made my point.
Mayer was a few days removed from her debut appearance in the TV studio working for Top Rank for the Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez unification fight in Las Vegas. Despite the boom in women’s boxing there still seems a lack of women in a punditry role on our TV screens, Mayer was in many ways, a welcomed addition and it was an experience she very much enjoyed:
“It was awesome, it was my debut in the studio and it was such a cool fight to see. I believed Josh Taylor was going to win he has a great boxing style, he likes to go at it, work the body he is a really exciting fighter.”
Mayer has built up a large following on social media and is aware of how important it is to have active accounts on the various platforms that are currently available. Far too many fighters don’t use the free tools that are out there to promote themselves, add that to a lack of interviews, and they end up not being seen or heard. This observer remembers a time of no internet and fighters had to hope they had the right connections to land a few words in newspaper print to get their stories out. In the modern world of social media, fighters can now take control. Many, for whatever reason choose not to.
Mayer understands the benefits and it can also lead to sponsorship opportunities with the larger brands:
“It’s free marketing, I think it is important because you can build a fanbase. The first thing a potential sponsor asks me or my manager is how many followers I have, that’s how many people you can sell their product to. They look at the engagement to, how many likes or interactions, that’s important to. Being a female I think it is even more important because we are not making millions of dollars like the men. I do rely on my sponsors to get me through my monthly bills, it’s a huge help.”
Twitter is one place where Mayer seems to come alive. Her own little playground to stir up a little bit of trouble, some would say. Terri Harper and Mayer have had a certain amount of interaction on Twitter, Mayer again sees it as free marketing, to build up a narrative for a potential fight down the line with her British rival:
“When I am posting about Terri, it’s just building up the fight and the rivalry. Boxing is entertainment at the end of the day and we need rivalries, the fans want to see rivalries and that’s a great way to start one. It’s what I have done with Terri Harper on Twitter and it gets people excited about the fight. Boxing helps because it takes such a long time to get the fights made, so it gives us plenty of time to build up the excitement for the fight.”
Unwittingly or not, Mayer has been portrayed as a villain by some as a result of those interactions with Harper. Mayer the WBO super-featherweight champion is after unifying her division, and with Harper, the WBC/IBO unified champion, also wanting full unified status, they appear set for a big fight sometime in 2022. The American you suspect not so quietly enjoys her role, but there is a purpose to her tweets:
“I do enjoy it but it is not coming from a place with me trying to be anything, everything I say I really believe and mean. I don’t just go on there and say stuff to just start things. There is a lot of truth behind what I say. I don’t really have any hard feelings towards Harper, but she has something I want, she is my competition.”
Josh Taylor was roundly booed on his away trip to Las Vegas for the Ramirez fight, and Mayer was intrigued by the prospect of going over to the UK and receiving the same harsh vocal treatment from the British fans if she does end up fighting Harper. There is a large market for boxing in the UK, and Harper wants even more than another belt around her waist:
“I do hope to be fighting over there at some point. When Josh Taylor got booed, it got me thinking if that fight with Terri Harper does happen in the UK I know I will get booed. I started to think about it and it kind of pumps me up. There is something about going on someone else’s turf for a big fight. I have always said I want to unify over here in America because America is a challenge and we need to grow the sport here more than in the UK right now. The UK is doing really well at the moment Eddie Hearn is signing plenty a lot of women, but I do want to fight in the UK eventually. There is a huge boxing fanbase there and I want to steal her fans.”
If there is one fighter who understands the modern world better than anyone it is the Australian Ebanie Bridges. Following a basic idea that is simplistic but incredibly effective, brilliant even, Bridges has made her name for herself largely using Twitter to get seen and heard. A masterplan of self-promotion:
“People can say what they want about Ebanie, but her following has more than doubled since her fight. And then she went and backed it up, she had a great fight, she doesn’t have a ton of experience. Ebanie went in there against a good opponent and went in there and did what she had to do. Sometimes as a woman you can’t just rely on your talent, there is still that pay gap and the respect we are trying to earn. A girl has to do more in this world, all power to her I think she did great. It just shows that you can be sexy and feminine and embrace that side and still be a boxer.”
Bridges answered many questions despite losing in her recent world title fight with Shannon Courtenay. There was plenty of back and forth between the two fighters leading up to the fight, with Courtenay critical of how Bridges was promoting the fight. Mayer disagrees with what Courtenay was saying:
“I’ve always said talk your shit because I have done it but leave looks out of it, boxing doesn’t discriminate, it’s what you do when you step in that ring. Everyone has the right to be who they are. If you want to get on the scales in boxers briefs then you should do that. If you want to get on the scales in lingerie like Ebanie Bridges then you should do that. We have enough people telling us in the sport what to do and how to be. The last person we need is another female boxer telling us this is the only way to be respected. It is just wrong she just needs to let people be who they are.”
Despite hoping for a unification fight after winning the WBO super-featherweight title last year, Mayer has to make do with Erica Farias when she makes the first defence of her title later this month.
Talks with Maiva Hamadouche ended in frustration and without agreement. Hamadouche is chasing Olympic glory, leaving the American little choice but to look elsewhere for her next opponent:
“It’s definitely frustrating, but what can I do. I am just focussing on what I can control. These big fights will come, they have to come. I have the belts they need me. I have made it clear I want those fights it is up to the promoters now, there is a lot of politics involved but the fights will happen. Top Rank has said they will happen, let’s just get through Erica Farias.”
Mayer is coached by the veteran trainer Al Mitchell. They formed their now unbreakable bond in 2010, Mitchell was in his sixties at the time, maybe thinking his time in the sport was coming to an end. He thought he would never train a professional fighter ever again, let alone a female fighter. Mayer turned up for her initial session dressed in pink, Mitchell thought she wouldn’t last. He was wrong:
“Me and Coach Al have been together for 11 years now. Coach Al is 76 now, I am his first female and will be his last professional fighter. We have been through two Olympic trials together. He never even expected me to go pro. Just to look back and see what we have done together it has been such a journey. I live with Coach Al through my training camps, not a lot of fighters do that. There is such a bond between us that you build when you live with someone 24/7, he’s like family to me.
“He only took me on to the programme because the funding was falling apart, they were losing the funding and he needed a few more athletes there. My Dad told him they are allowing women in the Olympics now, and Coach Al said ok we need her to fill a spot. Looking back now all the guys that were on that team I have sort of surpassed everybody and I am the only one who stuck with him which was such a good decision. Coach Al is one of the last teachers left in the sport.”
Mitchell was initially unconvinced by his new protégé. But there is an edge to Mayer, a desire to forever needing to prove herself. Eventually, Mitchell knew he had someone special on his hands:
“I always felt I had to prove myself to him, to be worthy of being on his programme. But I believed in myself, I always believe in myself. I always feel I have to prove everybody wrong. Even when Top Rank signed me and they gave me a contract I still felt I had to prove myself that they had made a good investment and I was as good as I was hyped up to be.”
Mayer has long seen Katie Taylor in her future. Any fighter chasing the big fights will target boxing’s Golden Girl. Taylor struggled with Natasha Jonas only winning narrowly in a potential Fight of the Year contender. Mayer doesn’t see any signs that Taylor is slipping and wants to fight her while she is still in her prime:
“I don’t see a decline in Katie, I just haven’t seen her get much better. She has been in the sport a long time and accomplished a lot of things. But again it comes down to believing in yourself, I believe I can beat Katie Taylor, and I want to be the one to beat her. I don’t want to fight her on the decline, I want to fight her while she is in her prime. Unifying at 130 is a goal of mine, but I won’t hesitate to go up. I am here for the big fights and Katie Taylor is definitely on that list.”
Mayer is ambitious, even full unification at super-featherweight won’t satisfy her. A move up through the weights looks inevitable. The big fights with the big money to match:
“I really want to go undisputed and hope the promoters can make these fights happen in a reasonable amount of time. I want to go up to 135 and I believe I go to 140 as well. I’m walking around at around 150lbs now. I have fought at 130 for literally my whole career and I am due to move up. I feel I am maturing into my body and I believe I can fight in multiple weight divisions. I am not going to sit and wait at 130 I am going to take the money fights.”
Mayer has her critics, a perception likely formed by some of her tweets, specifically the ones aimed at Terri Harper. But there is a method in her work, to create a rivalry and get additional interest in her career. Not everything is at it seems. Having a persona you either love or hate is smart business. Love or hate her, the important thing is, viewers will watch. They might tune in to see her lose, but they will be watching nonetheless. Money in the bank.