Mikaela Mayer could be the gamechanger for women’s boxing in the United States


Former Olympian Mikaela Mayer makes her professional boxing debut on Saturday night, and she has the potential to leave a serious mark on the world of women’s boxing.

Mikaela Mayer wasn’t about to rush into the biggest decision of her life.

For 10 years, all the Los Angeles native thought about was boxing in the Olympics, and in 2016, she reached that goal, making it to the quarterfinals of the Rio Games before losing a close decision to Russia’s Anastasia Belyakova.

The next day, she wondered what was next. Does she remain with Team USA and chase gold in 2020, turn pro in boxing, or make the move to mixed martial arts? All three options got time in her head.

The first option to go was staying amateur in order to pursue another Olympic berth.

“I wanted to go for 2020 because I have so much experience now and in three more years I’ll definitely get my gold medal,” Mayer said. “But I turn 27 this year and I want a bigger stage. I want to make the most of the next five years because I’m peaking, I’m doing great, I feel the most athletic I’ve ever felt and I need to make the most of it. Being an Olympic athlete is really hard because you bust your butt in between those Olympic Games. You go to these random countries, fighting in random cities for maybe two or three dozen people and no one sees your fights. So it was hard for me. Did I want to do that for another four years and maybe not get the result I wanted again, or do I try to go to where there’s a bigger stage?”

Olympics out. And why not, because if any boxer on Team USA is made for that bigger stage, it’s Mayer, someone with presence, charisma, and a great story. And most importantly, she can fight. But which fight sport would get her? MMA was a good fit simply because it’s embraced the ladies and put them on the sport’s biggest platforms, unlike boxing.

“I thought about women’s MMA because that’s where women were getting their respect and acknowledgment,” Mayer said. “I thought, ‘I want to keep up with the times, so maybe that’s where I have to go.’ I was close to doing it.”

Talking to some boxing promoters who were offering low money and little idea of how to market her only pushed Mayer further to the cage from the ring.

Enter Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank Boxing, and one of the power players in the sport. Top Rank is an elite promotional outfit, one with a reputation for not only having an eye for talent, but the skill and experience to move that talent better than most. For proof, both Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya were promoted by the Las Vegas company before branching out on their own.

“He (duBoef) gave me the vibe that I wanted,” Mayer said. “I wanted a big promotion behind me and the money had to be right. Todd saw the vision of what I can do, and he believed in me. He said, ‘Let’s do it and try to make a market for women’s boxing.’”

On Saturday, Mayer makes her professional boxing debut at the Microsoft Theater in LA against Widnelly Figueroa. So it begins.

“They are trusting in women’s boxing and me, so it’s a huge honor,” Mayer said. “And it feels great to know because it’s not just about me, but about women’s boxing in general.”

QINHUANGDAO, CHINA – MAY 19: Bronze medalist Mikaela Joslin Mayer of the United States attends the award ceremony of the Women’s 64kg Final during the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships on May 19, 2012 in Qinhuangdao, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Thankfully, Mayer’s sport is in the midst of a resurgence. Showtime is airing the first world title fight of her Team USA squadmate, two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, this week, as well as fights featuring five-division champion Amanda Serrano. De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions signed 2012 Olympian Marlen Esparza, and Europe has gotten into the mix in a big way thanks to the early pro success of Olympians Katie Taylor (Ireland) and Nicola Adams (Great Britain). Among fight game insiders, there’s a cautious optimism with the caveat that if the sport doesn’t take off this year, it will be an uphill climb at best for the ladies in the future when it comes to mainstream acceptance and the purses commensurate to their talent.

“This is a wave right now,” Mayer said. “There’s a wave of women who are experienced, accomplished, very technically sound and talented coming over into the pros. You have Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor, and a handful of girls from the Great Britain team, so this is a wave that I need to ride. And if I would have stayed with USA Boxing, this opportunity might have passed me by. This is the first generation of women who can come into the pros and say, ‘I’m a multiple-time world champion,’ ‘I’m an Olympian,’ ‘I’m a multiple-time Olympian,’ ‘I’m an Olympic gold medalist.’ And that’s what’s different.”

And Mayer may end up being the game changer. Top Rank recently signed a deal with ESPN that will bring their talent-rich roster to basic cable airwaves. That means the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Terence Crawford, and Vasyl Lomanchenko can be seen off premium cable and Pay-Per-View. And soon, Mayer will be part of that group as one of the few female boxers getting regular exposure to a new fanbase. That’s a lot of pressure for someone to be the flag bearer for their sport, but Mayer is used to that kind of thing.

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“I have a big task on my shoulders,” she laughs. “Good thing I’ve had some practice.”

On Saturday, the next chapter starts. Is she ready?

“This is everything I asked for,” said the lightweight prospect. “I better be ready.”