By Jake Donovan
More eyes than ever are on Mikaela Mayer’s rise in the pro ranks.
It was evident in her most recent ring appearance, scoring a unanimous decision over Argentina’s Lizbeth Crespo in a bout that featured a number of firsts for the 2016 U.S. Olympian. Her fight came in supporting capacity to Tyson Fury’s heavily promoted Las Vegas debut. The attention from his headlining act—which streamed live on ESPN+—trickled down to her own televised headliner atop the ESPN2 lead-in telecast, which peaked at more than 800,000 viewers for her latest win.
“We knew there was extra attention being paid to this event, but I had no idea how many people would watch my fight,” Mayer (11-0, 4KOs) told BoxingScene.com of her latest win, which marked her own Vegas debut and first scheduled 10-rounder and first time as a televised headliner. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way my career is progressing.”
The three-hour telecast as a whole averaged 493,000 viewers, a strong number for ESPN2 who would be pleased with such ratings back when it regularly ran the now-defunct Friday Night Fights series. A steady increase in viewership came of the evening, which meant more attention paid to a gripping pre-fight segment conducted by ESPN’s multiple award-winning journalist Mark Kriegel on Mayer’s troubled past and what led her to a boxing gym.
Given the amount of attention paid to this card, it felt like the right time to tell the tale.
“We know there was a growing interest in Mikaela,” George Ruiz, Mayer’s manager told BoxingScene.com. “The lead-in telecast ran that piece that showed her background, which we discussed for a while when the best time would be to tell her story. There was great press for the event, it was perfect storm.”
That said, opening up her past to an expanded audience didn’t exactly make it any easier to share on an emotional front.
“I was so nervous and never talked about any of that,” admits Mayer. “I even started crying during the interview and kept thinking, ‘Oh no, please don’t show me crying.’ It came out great, Mark did such a terrific job.”
Once the opening bell sounded, it was time for Mayer to do her job, with which the unbeaten super featherweight contender was pleased.
Most observers had her losing the opening two rounds before taking over in round three, to which she doesn’t necessarily disagree or dispute. By fight’s end, everything she expected to come of the bout ultimately transpired.
“To start, for this fight we actually wanted it to be for a world title,” notes Mayer, who remains determined to land such an opportunity before year’s end. “So when that didn’t happen, we wanted a girl that was going to challenge me in the ring like I hadn’t been so far as a pro.
“We got that with (Crespo). She’s never been stopped and—look, we’re in the pros. When the bell rings, I’m going in there to throw punches with intention. This was my first 10-round fight, so I wanted to feel out my opponent before taking over. I know there’s no way any opponent can outwork me, and didn’t feel the need to rush.”
It showed in the end, with Mayer taking a wide decision for her second victory of 2019. Both bouts have aired live on linear television, her previous win this past February airing on the ESPN-televised undercard of Rob Brant’s first defense of his middleweight title. The entirety of her pro career has been carried an ESPN platform of sorts since signing with Top Rank straight out of the amateurs in 2017.
The timing couldn’t have been any better for her brand or her career progress.
“When we signed with Top Rank, they were in negotiations with networks. I was so happy they did the deal with ESPN,” notes Mayer. “Think about, why was MMA outshining boxing especially among younger fans? Because you can go to Buffalo Wild Wings or any bar and say turn on ESPN. It’s an easy platform.
“I knew that was going to be a game changer. When Top Rank signed with ESPN and then signed me, it felt like it my destiny. The deal is exactly what boxing needs and what my career needed.”
Of course, sharing a card with an engaging personality such as Fury didn’t hurt.
“It was fun being part of this card,” notes Mayer, not at all caught up in the fight week theatrics. “I’ve fought on the undercards of big Top Rank events before, so didn’t really think about that aspect here. I don’t have a team that gasses me up. This was more about developing my skills as a contender than being part of a big event.
“That’s what I got from the fight and I’m grateful for it taking place with so many people watching on TV. It’s building towards bigger fight, so I know my title fight will come at the right time. This event was the nudge we needed to move closer to that goal.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox