By Jake Donovan
Mikaela Mayer sat ringside to watch her longtime friend and 2016 Olympic teammate Claressa ‘T-Rex’ Shields make history this past April in Atlantic City. Shields turned in a tour-de-force performance in dominating Christina Hammer to become the undisputed middleweight champion in just her 9th pro fight.
The bout was treated as a major event, with Showtime pulling out all the stops and giving it as much treatment as would be the case for a male fight with such significance attached.
It was moment rightly celebrated by those who long for women’s boxing to gain the attention it deserves. As for Mayer, witnessing first-hand the attention afforded her old teammate has become a goal to achieve—not necessarily she views as an entitlement.
“I came into the pros knowing that women’s boxing is still very unique to most,” Mayer (10-0, 4KOs) told BoxingScene.com ahead of her 10-round bout versus Argentina’s Lizbeth Crespo this weekend at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev. “What Claressa did that night, she set the standard, but she’s also worked tremendously hard and has accomplished a lot (pro and amateur) to get to where she is today.”
Mayer turned pro under the Top Rank banner in 2017, roughly a year after her tour in the 2016 Rio Olympics but not boasting as deep an amateur background as Shields, who captured back-to-back Olympic Gold medals in 2012 and 2016. The unbeaten super featherweight continues to improve with each fight, shining in her most recent outing when she soundly outpointed second-generation boxer Yareli Larios this past February.
Saturday will mark both her first career appearance in Las Vegas and her first scheduled 10-round bout. It all comes on the undercard of England’s unbeaten larger-than-life heavyweight Tyson Fury, who headlines this weekend’s ESPN+ livestream.
Mayer’s bout will top the ESPN2 lead-in card, which gives her another first as she debuts as a televised headliner. In Crespo (13-4, 3KOs), she is matched with a durable former title challenger who has never been stopped or dropped in more than seven years as a pro.
Other opponents were offered, ones which perhaps would have made the rising contender more TV-friendly. Those type of fights may look good on the highlight reel but ultimately provide next to nothing in terms of career development.
“We asked for this step up in my career, on this platform” insists Mayer, who is trained by renowned veteran cornerman Al Mitchell. “I was once in a situation where I had everything provided for me through USA Boxing. I was living rent-free, had health insurance and could have just easily coasted along.
“I’ve always wanted more. I love boxing from the bottom of my heart and just want to go out there and be the best Mikaela Mayer every time I fight. For this fight, my team wanted see me get pushed for 10 rounds–or less if we can end it earlier. These are the fights where I earn my place in the spotlight.”
A title shot remains very much on her list of goals for the remainder of 2019, with the long-term goal to join Shields as a multi-division world champion. Long and lean at 5’9”, she has the frame to conquer several weight divisions.
What she’s out to prove on Saturday and in every fight is that she has the talent to demand the type of attention that so many others crave—and far too many expect.
“This is the part of a fighter’s career where we prove who’s for real and who isn’t (or may never be) ready,” notes Mayer. “It’s where the cream rises to the top. I want to build my career to where I’m in demand by the fans and can call out the best, not just be one of those fighters who calls out the champs just to bring some attention to their own name.
“What Claressa has done and a few others in women’s boxing, not every girl is going to get there—but maybe, not every girl deserves it. I don’t want anything given to me, I want to prove I’m one of them who deserves it.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox