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Mikaela Mayer Goes Global

Unified super featherweight champion Mikaela Mayer gets Boardroom set for her bad-blood bout with Alycia Baumgardner and sketches out her path to securing her legacy in boxing.

Let’s be clear: Mikaela Mayer already made history.

In 2017, she became the first woman in a generation to sign with iconic boxing promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank following an extensive (and extensively dominant) amateur career that saw her earn three USA Boxing national titles and a trip to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Since then, she’s compiled a perfect 17-0 professional record with two of the four super featherweight (130-pound) world championship belts to show for it. In time, she kick-started a media career as a television analyst on Top Rank’s ESPN broadcasts, too.

But to hear the LA native tell it, she’s got plenty more to do — she wants to be an all-timer in the sport as one of the foremost faces of a revolution in both prestige and perception with respect to women’s boxing worldwide.

For the first time in her pro career, that journey to legend status jet-sets outside the US for a Saturday date at London’s O2 Arena against Alycia Baumgardner as the co-main event leading into the middleweight title scrap between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall.

This fight was first scheduled for Sept. 10 only to be delayed by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II; that only meant five more weeks of bad blood. Five more weeks to broadcast the desire to dish out punishment, which Mayer intends to do in no uncertain terms as her path toward undisputed glory sharpens into view.

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Ahead of the bang-bang action in London, check out Boardroom’s conversation with unified super featherweight world champion Mikaela Mayer, lightly edited for length and clarity.

NOTE: This interview took place before the original Sept. 10 fight date was rescheduled to Oct. 15.

SAM DUNN: This title fight is a huge one. You haven’t fought in the UK as a pro before, right?

MIKAELA MAYER: No. Obviously, when I was fighting with Team USA, we fought a ton internationally, but all my pro fights have been domestic.

SD: How does that change your preparation?

MM: That’s one of the reasons we came out here early. We came out two weeks out instead of one because there’s a ton of media; boxing is a little bit different in America than is in the UK. In the UK, it’s like one of their top two sports, so we just knew there was gonna be a ton of media and we didn’t wanna cram that all into fight week.

Another difference is there’s weight checks for this fight where I have to be a few pounds lighter than I normally would a couple days out from weigh-ins. We wanted to get out early because when I travel, that sets my weight back; it takes me about four or five days just to get the travel weight off from a 10-hour flight, you know? I had to bring out my nutritionist and everyone with me two weeks out, so they’ve been cooking for me, getting my weight down, and just acclimating to the time.

But I’m used to it. I’ve learned to roll at the punches — pun intended — coming up, just having to just fight in all kinds of different accommodations.

SD: It’s gonna be a different kind of crowd. What are you anticipating in terms of the pageantry and singing and chanting that we count on from British fight fans?

MM: Oh, yeah. It’s one of the reasons that I wanted to come out and fight in the UK. The energy of the fan base here is so fun and exciting — it’s a little bit crazier than Americans, honestly, but in a good way. I can’t wait. I think the energy’s gonna be completely different than what I’m used to, ’cause they really go hard for their fighters.

SD: What’s the craziest pop that you’ve ever seen either for a British fighter or just among British fight fans in general?

MM: I went to the last Tyson Fury fight and we were in the third row right up next to the ring at Wembley Stadium, so it was huge and it was packed and we almost didn’t make it to our seats. I mean, there was like a mob we almost could not get through. We were getting squished.

I have a video of me pinned next to this mosh pit of people who were trying to get to the front before Tyson walked out, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is insane.’ I literally had to hustle my manager out to the front with me, show them my all-access pass, and I barely got in in time. That was insane. Oh my gosh, they go so hard for Tyson.

SD: Fury’s on another level. When he surprised Bob Arum at MSG and sang to him for his birthday at the Lomachenko-Commey card, it was like seeing Elvis.

MM: Yeah, he’s great. Tyson’s great for boxing. We needed that.

SD: The Top Rank stable is a mix of star power and championship credentials, and you have a unique role in all of it — including all of the media work that you do on their ESPN broadcasts. How do you characterize the particular flavor you bring to the promotion?

MM: The first, obvious one is I was the only female in their stable for five years. You know, they just recently signed another female, which is great, but it took a while. It’s a little bit different in America versus the UK because there’s so much competition for the media’s attention and you’re on ESPN, the biggest sporting network in the world. It’s not easy.

In the past, Bob’s experience with moving women was unsuccessful, but this is a new day and a new era. When I signed to Top Rank, even though I was an Olympian and I had this contract with them, I still felt like [in] the first half of my career as a pro [that] I was proving to them that they did a good thing, that I was actually worth the investment, because they really didn’t know. I was kind of like a guinea pig in this era to see if they could sell, if people would be interested, if people would bite. And so, even though it took five years, I feel like I did my job to an extent because they did sign another woman, and women’s boxing has hit a level where I don’t think anybody ever thought it would hit.

I mean, I knew it would go to this level, and I think the other women in this era, we all believed that it would be here eventually. We had to believe that — but I think we proved a lot of people wrong.

I’ve always thought [that] the most important thing when you’re building your brand is just being authentic, being your most true self. Like on my social media, I always tend to show a lot about like my personal life and it’s not just boxing, boxing, boxing. I think that just shows that I’m relatable in that way.

SD: Did you feel that there was a specific moment, whether in the ring or behind closed doors, where this “guinea pig” period fell by the wayside and you were just a champion, period? Just a star, period?

MM: You would think maybe that moment should have been when I won my first world title — it was like two years ago against [Ewa] Brodnicka — but I didn’t even feel it quite then, because even as a female in this sport, it’s not good enough just to win one belt like a man.

If you’re a man in this sport and you go and win a world title, your life is immediately changed overnight. Fame-wise, brand-wise, you’re elevated. Your stock went up, your paychecks went way, way, way up. It’s not necessarily the same for women. It’s almost like we have to win four belts to equal one belt that the man has. And I think that’s slowly, obviously changing, but I didn’t feel like a shift right away when I became world champion. Like I think most young boxers would, I feel that shift happening more so now.

Mayer after defeating Jennifer Han on April 09, 2022 (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

I think a big fight for me was going up against [Maïva] Hamadouche when I unified and got my second belt, the IBF belt. I showcased a side to me that people didn’t think I had. I showed my versatility and being able to duke it out and beat her at our own style — since I’m tall and lean and I box and I move, no one thought that I could sit in there and bang it out, so that was a big fight for me. It showed my versatility, and even Bob, he got in the ring and he was just like, ‘Wow, that was like the best female boxing fight I’ve ever seen. One of the best fights I’ve ever seen.’ That’s always good to hear.

And this fight, too — I feel like this is the unforgiving sport, a very unforgiving sport, so you never know, but I feel like this fight is definitely, definitely gonna separate me. I think my stock is gonna rise significantly after this fight, but then again, this will be my third belt, like I said. It’s just now starting to feel that way.

SD: On Saturday night, how do you showcase your game at another level against Alycia Baumgardner? What do you think she’s gonna try to force you to do, and how do you ultimately control ‘the story of the fight,’ as Max Kellerman likes to say?

MM: I think the narrative being built around this matchup is that she’s this big puncher and that she’s gonna catch me and she’s gonna knock me out the way she did to Terri Harper two fights back, but I’ve always said I’m not Terri Harper. I’m on a whole different level than Terri Harper. I’ve always said that, so I really, truly believe I’m her biggest test.

But let’s just look at like the narrative, the fans and the casuals who think that this may be a big test for me, handling power. I think that’s kind of the narrative for me even though I’m pretty sure I proved that I could take a punch or two from the Hamadouche fight. It’s just another style. I think Top Rank has done really well at putting me up against multiple different styles in the last 17 fights, and I’ve had to adjust and find a way to beat them.

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I feel like she does have kind of a laid-back counter, she wants to counter me with that big right hand, and so this is no different for me. I went to this camp preparing for that style, and my coaches and I are very, very big on game plans and strategy, so we’re just gonna go and do that.

And I can’t really say that she’s had the same tests. I really can’t say that she has. I’m definitely her toughest fight to date.

SD: Let’s say you take care of business and get a clear win. At what point do we stop simply calling you a great champion and begin to approach that L-word, “legacy?” And does your outlook there include moving up to lightweight?

MM: I think the word legacy is definitely coming into play, especially at this time in my career, and [with] this buildup, Baumgardner turned into a mega-fight. This is the real undisputed fight. It’s technically not because there is one more belt that [Hyun Mi] Choi has — we can’t seem to get a fight with Choi, she’s just running around scared, hasn’t fought anybody, she should be stripped — but whatever. This, I feel, is the undisputed fight. And I think a lot of the fans know that, too. This is the big test.

After this, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job. I cleared out this division, and if I can get that fight with Choi, absolutely, yes. I started on my quest to go undisputed, so I would hate to have to walk away from that. I’ll do everything I can to follow through with that if she gave me that fight soon, ASAP, like this year, but there’s so many other challenges for me.

I’ve always said that I really want to go up and challenge myself against Katie Taylor. She’s undefeated champion at 135, and I think that’s a better weight for me. You know, I’ve been at 130 my entire career and it’s time for me to go up. I’m strong, I’m tall, I’m lean. I can go up to 135, 140, even 147. I want to go up and continue to challenge myself, but ideally, if I had it my way: Baumgardner, Choi, Katie Taylor.

SS: Yes, please! After watching that Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano thriller earlier this year, you must have had some thoughts about both of them. Some scouting reports playing out in your head.

MM: I was there. That was a great fight, great fight for women’s boxing, super entertaining — but you know, I feel like that’s not gonna be what our fight would look like.

Styles make fights, and I genuinely believe I do have the style to beat Katie’s there. Everyone’s gonna say that, but I really do believe in that, and I think that I’m next in line for a fight like that. Honestly, I’m right on the pound-for-pound list underneath Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields. I’m right there, and so [if] I’ve done my job and go undisputed at 130, I will definitely have had one of the most difficult paths to undisputed because I had to have taken the belt from every single champion individually. I would be deserving of the fight with Katie Taylor. I truly, truly believe I would, and I believe she’s a big enough champion and an honorable enough champion where she would [accept]. She wants big fights, too, and I feel like she would want to give me that fight.

I feel like she would wanna challenge herself, but honestly, her belts are already collected. So, I can in just a couple of years be undisputed at 130, boom, go up, undisputed at 135, boom, undisputed at 140. All those belts are collected — I don’t have to collect them [individually] like I did at 130.

Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner at a pre-fight press event in London (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

SD: Last one — when you step into the ring on Oct. 15 against Alycia Baumgardner, how does it end?

MM: I’m gonna punish her. I’m seriously, seriously going to take it to her at some point in the fight. Once I get her number, once I get her timing, I know she can’t handle my pressure, my punch output. I know she can’t — she’s never done it. She’s never had to handle that, and the one time she did, she came up short against [Christina] Linardatou and she lost, so I have definitely a chip on my shoulder.

I wanna go in there and I definitely wanna punish her and I wanna stop her. Of course I wanna stop her. I feel like I’m this close to stopping a lot of my opponents because that’s my style, I take it to them and I break them down. Unfortunately, I only have two-minute rounds. I wish we had three; that would benefit me personally, but I don’t, so I’m just gonna have to work extra hard to get her out of there in two-minute rounds.

SD: And then those UK fans over there will go absolutely ballistic like only they can.

MM: It’s gonna be insane.

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About The Author
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn is the Managing Editor of Boardroom. Before joining the team, he was an editor and multimedia talent for several sports and culture verticals at Minute Media and an editor, reporter, and site manager at SB Nation. A specialist in content strategy, copywriting, and SEO, he has additionally worked as a digital consultant in the corporate services, retail, and tech industries. He cannot be expected to be impartial on any matter regarding the Florida Gators or Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter @RealFakeSamDunn.