Nine months and three training camps later, Mikaela Mayer finally made her way back to the ring—making a bit of history in the process.
The 2016 U.S. Olympian and current unbeaten junior lightweight contender thoroughly outboxed Nigeria’s Helen Joseph over 10 rounds in their main event Tuesday evening at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Judge Julie Lederman scored the contest 99-91, awarding Joseph round two. Judges Dave Moretti and Patricia Morse Jarman each had it a perfect 100-90 in favor of Mayer.
Originally scheduled as a chief support on June 9 and again for this card, the 10-round bout received a last-minute upgrade prior to Monday’s weigh-in. With it came the first ever female fight to headline on an ESPN prime telecast, and the first on any ESPN platform since 2007.
The watershed moment for ESPN came after the original headliner became a two-time COVID casualty. Jamel Herring was due to defend his 130-pound title versus Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Oquendo, only to produce what he insists was a false positive coronavirus test result. The 34-year old southpaw tested positive on June 20, thus postponing their July 2 bout by 12 days. The second test result surfaced shortly before Monday’s weigh-in, thus leading to the ladies taking over the show.
Mayer was primed for the occasion, having lost out on two fight dates due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The initial outbreak canceled her plans for a showdown with former featherweight titlist Melissa Hernandez this past St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, while a false positive test postponed her originally scheduled June 9 clash with Joseph.
The medical issue was cleared up, with event handlers placing the bout on Thursday’s show.
Mayer fought like a contender who hasn’t stopped training, thoroughly outworking Joseph over the course of the contest. The Los Angeles-bred boxer—who now lives in Colorado Springs—landed 21 punches in a purposeful opening round, shooting her jab and landing long right hands against the 5’5” Joseph, a two-time featherweight title challenger now based out of New Haven, Connecticut.
Joseph sought to close the gap in round two, shooting her right hand to the body but absorbing hooks and right uppercuts for her trouble. Mayer remained poised no matter what her vastly experienced foe had to offer, landing the final punch in nearly every exchange all while without the services of head trainer Al Mitchell, who remained at his Marquette, Michigan after having tested positive for COVID.
"At first I was worried, what if everyone is right and that (Joseph) will test me and I don't have Coach Al here," Mayer told BoxingScene.com. "But going into a fight, you remember that all of the work is done in training camp.
"I reminded myself of that tonight."
The corner instructions instead came from Kay Koroma, best known for his current work with unbeaten former featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs). Mayer spent most of her previous camp with them for the originally scheduled June 9 date, while applying the finishing touches ahead of the rescheduled date, for which she also had the services of Manny Robles on fight night.
"I'm blessed that I had three great coaches to help me get through this fight," noted Mayer, who returned to the jab in round three. She followed up with right hands when she saw an opening. Otherwise, the unbeaten contender wisely moved out of harm’s way, never giving Joseph a chance to return with anything of substance.
Joseph continued to come forward, standing directly in front of Mayer for much of round four. The tactic didn’t necessarily change the tempo of the bout, other than forcing Mayer to spend much of the frame fighting in reverse. It didn’t at all bother her, as she effectively pumped her jab.
Mayer constantly circled to her left to start round five, stopping to shoot her left and then reversing gear and moving away from Joseph’s right hand which was beginning to find a home. Mayer nullified the weapon by shooting her left hook over the top in round six, a frame where Joseph began to show signs of fatigue.
Much of the latter half of the fight was spent on the inside. Joseph laid on Mayer’s shoulder while looking to dig to the body, but it was Mayer who did the superior work downstairs before moving to her right, prompting Joseph to plod forward and miss wildly with reaching right hands.
Brian Cohen—who has guided more female champions than any other manager in history—doubled up as head trainer on this fight, urging Joseph to go for the knockout and stop fighting like she’s moving underwater. The former title challenger did her best to heed that advice in the final round, but Mayer was too sharp and with too much left in the tank to give even an inch.
It was well-reflected in the final Compubox numbers. Mayer dominated across the board, averaging nearly 54 punches per two-minute round, landing 195 of 538 total punches at a 36% rate. Joseph was just 86 of 377 (23%) in her second straight defeat, falling to 17-5-2 (10KOs). The 31-year old was far more competitive in a 10-round loss to former lightweight titlist Delfine Persoon last November in Belgium.
Pre-fight expectations suggested a similar challenge here, though not the way the victor tells the tale.
“Honestly, I’m a little offended that you guys thought it would be competitive,” Mayer (13-0, 5KOs) told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna. “It tells me that you guys underestimated me.”
Rather, it was a compliment to Mayer’s progression in the pro ranks, even if it took nine months to see the latest version. The 30-year old was last seen in a 6th round stoppage of Alejandra Zamora last October in Reno, Nevada. The expectation following the fight was a title fight for her next ring appearance.
A hoped-for crack at WBC 130-pound titlist Eva Wahlstrom instead went to England’s Terri Harper, who won a 10-round decision to take the belt this past February in Sheffield, England. The show was presented by Harper’s promoter, Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing who put up a hefty fee in order to secure the rights to the title fight.
The new expectation for Mayer is for her Hall of Fame promoter, Bob Arum to deliver on that same front for her next outing.
“Bob (Arum) told me 'Nice job' and that my next fight will be for the title,” insists Mayer. “I told him I'm going to hold him to his word. Don't let Eddie Hearn outbuy us.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox