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Meet Mikaela Mayer: Q&A interview & photos of the 2016 women’s USA boxing hopeful

Credit: Vern Evans

Interview with Mikaela Mayer & Photo Gallery:

Mikaela Mayer, 22-year-old model turned USA women’s boxer, is fresh off another two big wins, picking up a Golden Gloves title and a PAL National Championship to add to her collection. She missed out on the 2012 London Olympics, losing a close decision in the qualifiers to Queen Underwood. However, she’s been hard at work since, and just recently avenged that defeat to assert herself in the women’s Lightweight division. Now, she’s ready to take the world by storm.

Is she the future face of women’s boxing? The sexiest women’s boxer on the planet? Or simply a hard-working, skillful boxer with do or die Olympic ambitions? Maybe it’s all three.

Below, find the full transcript of my recent interview with Mikaela (you can find the feature story on Mikaela here), as we discuss her latest tournament victories, training for the 2016 Olympics and next year’s US National Championships, her crossover appeal as a potential star in the world of women’s boxing, and all of her goals both in and out of the ring.

Mikaela Mayer Photos – In The Ring

Congratulations on all of your recent wins – the Golden Gloves title and the PAL national championship – you must be pretty happy right now…

Mikaela Mayer: I am happy, I probably should be a lot happier but I’m not because I realize it’s only a small step in the right direction, but It’s definitely a good accomplishment, and it feels good.

Well especially since it included a very sweet victory for you over Queen Underwood, who of course narrowly edged you in the Olympic qualifiers for London. What was that like for you?

MM: It was a really great feeling, I actually felt really confident going into that fight, because our last fight was a year and a half ago, and I’ve been training really hard since. I feel like I jumped not just one level, I jumped several levels, since the last Olympic trials. I feel like it was the perfect time to face her, and I felt really confident, knowing I learned a lot in the last year. Went in there and did what Coach Al and I have been working on, and obviously we had a year to review that fight.

In women’s Olympic boxing there’s only three weight classes. I know you’ve kind of been stuck between divisions a bit from where you’re competing right now (Junior Welterweight, 141 lbs), and where you need to fight in the Olympics (Lightweight, 132 lbs). So what has that been like for you?

MM: Well actually I’m pretty lucky, I’ve always been at 132 lbs. So the fact that they announced that as an Olympic weight was luck for me. I wasn’t one of the girls who had to squeeze, or gain weight, and a lot of them did. I was lucky. We were told that this year there would be two or three more weight classes for the women, and they didn’t. They announced a few months ago that there would be no more weight classes added for us. That was a big bummer, especially for a lot of the girls who really drop a lot of weight to make 112 lbs, or those in between girls who try to put on weight to get to 165 lbs. So that was a bummer, and it also would have spread the competition out a little bit.

Sure, those are stacked divisions with the best from two or three classes, really…

MM: Exactly. So the competition is going to be even way stiffer this year. It’s going to be tough, but I’ve always been in the toughest division in the world. Not just in the United States, but the 132 lb weight class is the most stacked division for women in the entire world. So I’ve always had a lot of really hard competition, but nope, I really have no choice. That’s where I’ve gotta fight.

Mikaela Mayer Photos – In The Gym

Video: Mikaela Mayer Dr. Pepper Commercial

So tell me a little bit about the Dr. Pepper commercial as part of the “/1” One of a Kind campaign that you were involved with. That was very cool, and a pretty rare opportunity for a boxer, and a female boxer, in this country.

MM: It was so awesome, because you’re right, boxing, especially amateur boxing, is not a huge household name sport. You don’t see it on TV as you do gymnastics and volleyball and other more mainstream Olympic sports. So it was amazing for me as an individual to help develop my career, but it was also amazing just for the sport in general. The only other person who has actually been doing stuff for that has been Marlen Esparza, and she’s done really well too. But I think any one of us who can actually get our sport out there, and get it in the mainstream, on a national commercial like that, is amazing. So hopefully that opened the eyes of a lot of young people that there’s this other sport out there. It was cool for the sport, amazing for myself with getting that type of major credibility, and I think all athletes look for that recognition and for people to embrace them in that way. It was amazing for me.

So do you get recognized in the street or has anything changed for you since that commercial?

MM: A little bit, I do get a little bit of recognition. It’s not huge, but in the boxing community, a lot. But, you know, still normal when I’m walking down the street. I’m a normal girl (laughs).

Well maybe that will change after Rio 2016…

MM: (Laughs) Yea, maybe.

So talk to fans who maybe aren’t as familiar with women’s boxing or the women’s amateur game and who have never  seen you fight…What kind of fighter are you?

MM: People who don’t know amateur style boxing… well, in my opinion, the best female fighters in the world are amateur. Now, there are a lot of great pros, don’t get me wrong. But I think people underestimate the word ‘amateur’ and think that because we’re amateur, we’re less than a ‘pro’. But the elite of us, the best of us, we’re professional amateurs and we do this as a choice. We fight amateur as a choice to represent our country and compete against other countries. It’s pretty much another sport, it’s just a different playing field. So that’s one thing that I always try to preach to people, that we’re not amateur because we’re less than or we’re not good enough, we’re professional amateurs and we choose to go in this direction.

Absolutely, well I think that anybody who watched the women at London 2012 came away with the same opinion, watching fighters like Claressa Shields from the U.S. and Katie Taylor and everyone else, they put on an amazing show…

MM: Right, and it’s a different game. People always ask me, ‘when are you turning pro, when are you turning pro’ as if turning pro is the ultimate accomplishment. I’m like, I don’t know, but right now I’m going for a gold medal! To me that’s more prestigious, that’s just as awesome. So I get annoyed when people ask me that as if that’s the next level.

But, me particularly as a fighter, I would like to say I’m a classic boxer. I try not to fight everyone the same, I believe in going into the fight with a game plan. You can’t fight everyone the same, you have to have a good strategy, and I believe my coach is the best at that, he’s an amazing strategist. I think I’m pretty well-rounded, and I think that has to do with my coaching.

Obviously your sights are set for Rio 2016, but unfortunately, you missed out on London 2012. What was it like for you have accomplished so much but to have not been on the Olympic squad?

MM: It was obviously heartbreaking, but I walked out of the ring [after the Olympic trials] – after six fights back to back, I fought hard, I fought good, I was proud of myself – knowing I did everything I possibly could have done. I fought hard over six, hard fights, I didn’t regret anything, I thought I did my absolute best. I immediately developed a new goal for 2016, so I still have that Olympic dream, and I’m still young in the game. I had been competing for way less time than most people I’ve been competing against. I’ve only been boxing for maybe less than five years.

So I was still new to the game in some aspects, still young and hungry, and I felt like I was nowhere near my peak. I had so much more to learn. So why would I not continue? I’m so much better now. I feel like I have the chance of making the team, but Ialso  feel like I have enough skills to actually win a gold medal. So I think I’m at a whole new level. Would I have been able to win a gold medal at the last Olympics? No, I don’t think I would have. So I don’t regret anything, and I think everything is working out for the better.

Mikaela Mayer Photos – Out of the Ring

I know you were supportive of the team through and through, but was there any part of you that was jealous or upset at all? Claressa comes home with a gold, Marlen had a McDonald’s commercial, before your own recent star turn with Dr. Pepper of course, so was there any part of you that felt like you missed out on all of that, or was it all motivation for you?

MM: It was probably a little bit of both. Being at the London games and watching everyone compete, you can’t help but wishing you were there. Part of me was thinking ‘I’m good enough, I could be here, I could be hanging with these girls.’ So there’s a part of you that wishes you were a part of that. But, like I said, I feel like everything is working out better for me now. So it all happened pretty well, I’m still learning so much. I think this is a better time, a better year for me to make the Olympic team, I think I can go further this time around. As opposed to last time where like I said, would I have won a gold medal? I don’t think so.

I know there’s two aspects to this sport. There’s the skill aspect, and the business aspect, and you have to have both. Especially as a female boxer. You really have to market yourself right, you have to brand yourself right. I’ve always known that. So when I saw Marlen doing that, I said, ‘yes!’ that’s exactly what you are supposed to be doing. And a perfect example is Claressa goes and wins a gold medal, and she was so young and I don’t know if she had the right team around her. So she wasn’t able to capitalize on it. You have to have a really good team around you, and you have to be able to market yourself well. So I’ve known that from the beginning, and those have always been my goals.

I’m glad you brought that up because I wanted to talk to you about that as well. You’re one of the top female boxers on the world, and on the other hand, you’re a former model… so you’re balancing that sexuality of a female athlete which some athletes embrace, whereas others only want to be known for their performance. So how do you come to terms with those two different views or that dynamic of how both fans and media can view you?

MM: I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know there are some girls who don’t want to go in that direction. And I don’t try to go in that direction, but I think I’m just naturally a feminine, girly female in general. So both of those sides come out of me naturally. I’m in an aggressive, male-dominated sport, and I have that aggressive side, but I’m also totally a feminine girl who wants to wear dresses and heels. So I think that’s intriguing to people in general, that dynamic. I don’t try to be that, that’s just who I am.

Like I said, if that’s not the direction you want to go that’s OK. But this is a business, and you have to know what the media and the market wants. And you have to be willing to make some adjustments and if you really want to make a career and be successful, that’s just how the business works. Everyone has their own thing. Hopefully what works for them is what works for media, so I got lucky, what works for me, works for media. They like what I bring to the table, and I got lucky in that aspect.

Marlen did ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue. What did you think about that, and is that something you would do as well, or something like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue where they showcase athletes…  

MM: The ESPN Body Issue has been on my bucket list for years (laughs). When Gina Carano did it, years ago, I was a fan of hers and so I always wanted to do it. I saw some boxers getting on Marlen, like why would she expose herself like that, but I think it was awesome. These athletes are all well respected. They’re extremely skilled and well respected in their sport. They weren’t doing anything distasteful. I was there when Marlen got the call, so I was like, ‘yea, do it, do it, hell yea do it!’

Well I think you’ll definitely get your chance pretty soon, I wouldn’t worry about not crossing that off your bucket list…

MM: (laughs) I hope so!

I think a lot of people, and I know I believe this, look at somebody such as yourself as potential breakout star athlete for women’s boxing in this country, and potentially one of the huge stars of all of Team USA at the 2016 Olympics, should you earn your spot of course. You’re talented, charismatic, obviously photogenic with that modeling background, and everything else. What do you say to that and have you considered yourself in that role before?

MM: Definitely. That’s part of my goal. I realize that part of being successful in this sport is branding yourself. There are so many things, so many goals, so many plans. The ESPN Body Issue is just one of those things on my bucket list. You know I want to be the next Olympian on a Subway commercial. I plan to do all of those things, assuming that everything happens the way I expect it to, with me getting on the team and going to that next level. So one step at a time, but I plan on embracing all of that that comes with it.

What’s the next major event you’re competing in — Will it be the US Grand Prix in December, or are you waiting for the 2014 National Championships in Spokane?

MM: Well, they’re not taking me to the Grand Prix, they’re taking Queen, because she won Nationals. I feel like I got a really bad decision at Nationals this year, a really bad decision in the semifinals. So I didn’t get to face Queen in the finals like I expected. She went on to get the decision, and she’s ranked number 1 right now at 132 lbs. So I’m upset about that a little bit… but, I have Nationals in January, and that’s the one I’m focused on. That’s the one that qualifies you for the World Championships and the Continental Games. The winner of Nationals gets to go on to do all of those things, and those are the important ones.

Shouldn’t you be ranked higher than her following your recent victory?

MM: After I lost in the finals of the Olympic trials I moved up to 141 lbs, and I made the national team at 141. I went on competing that whole year at that weight. I won a gold at the Continental Games, I won a bronze medal at the World Championships at 141. But obviously that’s not an Olympic weight class, so I came back down to 132. So I’m not ranked at that weight…

And I was going to keep going back and forth, but I was just so determined to be the best at 132. Even though I got a bad decision at Nationals… people were telling me I should go to 141 for the Golden Gloves and for PAL, but I just seriously believed I could do it at 132. And, so finally, now being able to prove that to myself by beating Queen, that was part of it. So I’m staying at 132 now.

So you have a couple of months until Nationals then, so are you just in training right now, or what’s going on for you?

MM: Well, obviously you can’t train at 100% everyday, you have to teach yourself. I came back up to Michigan, I’m in Michigan right now. Coach Al and I are having a mini technical camp. Then I’ll be home for most of November and I’ll focus on my strength training, cross training, a lot of pool workouts, a lot of strength building. Then, I’ll come back to Michigan in December and have a five or six week camp for Nationals.

I know Rio 2016 is the big goal, and I won’t ask you about when you’re going to turn pro…

MM: (Laughs) I’m considering it after, I really would consider it. I feel like I have a kind of duty as a female boxer and someone who has done pretty well, to see what I can do to grow the female boxing pro game. So I might do that just to see what I could do to help grow it.

So you saw where I was going with that… but what are your thoughts about what the sport of women’s boxing really needs to gain a place not only with mainstream sports fans, but even for boxing fans who don’t tune into the ladies fight game? You know in the 90s there was a bit of a surge there behind Christy Martin and Laila Ali and a few other folks, but that’s tapered off, so what does the sport need?

MM: Well, you just said it. You had someone like Laila Ali or Christy Martin, these household names who were in the media and doing well and making the sport known. I think you need that. You need faces, you need characters, you need people who other people can look up to and relate to. I think the women are doing a really good job in that sense right now, they’re doing well when it comes to the sponsors and endorsements, getting their names out in the media. Better than the guys have. I think that was a great decision by AIBA to let the women into the Olympics, and the women could be the ones who help make this sport more well known.

What did you think about Katie Taylor’s decision to continue as an amateur and come back to the Olympics for a second time, as opposed to turning pro?

MM: Well, Katie Taylor has always been one of my favorite boxers. I know that one day, hopefully, she’ll be my number 1 competition. I still always thought that she was great, and she still is. I wouldn’t expect her to not go for another round, she still seems like she’s in her prime and doing really well. I heard she had a couple of offers to turn pro in the U.S., but she’s doing so well as an amateur, I don’t think she wanted to take that risk to go in that direction when she’s already doing so well. So, I don’t know. I definitely plan on fighting her, maybe next year, before the Olympics, I’ll fight her. Maybe another year or so, or maybe we’ll meet each other at the World Championships next year, and I’ll look forward to having that competition.

As a boxing fan, who do you like to watch or who do you appreciate at any level of the sport?

MM: Well, Katie Taylor, like I just said (laughs). She represents Olympic style boxing very well. I think all of us admire her and her style and everything. But my favorite fighter has always been Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s fun to watch and he was so fast.

Anybody in today’s game? Any fights you’re particularly looking forward to?

MM: No, honestly… I mean I used to be a really big Manny Pacquiao fan, but I think he’s slowed up a little bit. So I’m not too eager about watching his fights anymore. That sounds mean, but… you know, I turn on Friday Night Fights sometimes, and I just don’t see that world class boxing that I want to see. So I stick with watching the major pay-per-view fights.

I feel like Friday Night Fights and other shows have been kind of a letdown. Not only that, but I’m looking at these men who are fighting, and obviously they have skill, but I know a lot of women’s fighters who have just as much skill, if not more. But they let the men have the television spots, and get that exposure. I really don’t see why they can’t put at least one female bout on those cards. It doesn’t make sense to me. They’re going to get up and walk away because there’s one female bout on the undercard?

Well I guess they’re waiting for you to break out on the scene…

MM: (Laughs) Maybe… I mean, I would demand it!

Thank you so much for the time today. We’ll definitely be following you at the Nationals in 2014!

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Matt Taylor is a boxing enthusiast and fan who has been interested and involved within the sport for over 15 years. He loves watching and analysing fights from all over the world and is a big fan of the Heavyweight division.