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Mikaela Mayer is already a world champ, but she wants more for herself, and for women’s boxing

Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, boxer Mikaela Mayer had a breakout 2020. Despite fight cancellations and postponements, including a false positive prefight test for the virus that led to her removal from Top Rank’s first card back from hiatus in June, Mayer captured the attention of the boxing world and won her first professional title in front of a national audience. Now a champion, her future plans are clear.

As she awaits the finalization of her first title defense, or perhaps a unification bout, in her own words, Mayer shares her goals for the upcoming year and beyond.

As told to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.

I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I want to unify this division. I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to fight non-champions next. I want to go straight into unification bouts. There’s no reason why these fights shouldn’t start to happen.

I’ve been making a lot of noise about fighting WBC junior lightweight titlist Terri Harper. She’s been on my hit list for a while. I’ve made that very clear. That goes way back to February when they swooped the Eva Wahlstrom fight from underneath us. Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn got that fight for his fighter. I was the No. 1 contender in this division for a long time and kind of made a big deal of the fact that I wasn’t able to get a world title fight, but the No. 13 ranked girl, Harper, was. That’s boxing for you, but I now have three girls on my hit list for 2021, Terri Harper, IBF junior lightweight titleholder Maiva Hamadouche and WBA junior lightweight titlist Hyun Mi Choi. I’ll take any of them.

I would like to fight Terri Harper first. I really would. Just because I sort of built up this beef against her. I think I’m 20 times more experienced than her in the ring, so I would like to get that done because we’ve been talking about it. But now it just comes down to the point where I don’t want to wait, so I’ll take any of the other three champions in my division.

Eddie Hearn already said that Hyun Mi Choi has signed a contract to fight Terri Harper once her hand heals because Harper broke her hand in the last fight against Katharina Thanderz. So even though she’s injured, and we can’t unify until she heals, Eddie Hearn is reserving Hyun Mi Choi versus Terri Harper. In the meantime it looks like Hamadouche is free.

I think Top Rank and Matchroom are discussing that fight first, and then shortly after Hyun Mi Choi and Harper for that belt. Then that would leave me versus Harper, assuming I beat Hamadouche and Terri Harper beats Hyun Mi Choi, which I think is the likely scenario. So Hamadouche first, and then the winner of Hyun Mi Choi versus Terri Harper later on in the year. The way things are going right now it looks like I would be fighting two to three times, so that would be the next two fights for me.

If we can’t get a unification fight for this next one, then I want to fight a top American. There’s a handful of them. This division is probably the most competitive division in women’s boxing, so I know there are a handful of top females in the United States, and I would like to go for one of them. Just continue to make big fights.

We’re done with the buildup fights. We’re done with the experience fights. I’m ready to go.

Heather Hardy, who has made a great name for herself in this division, I think would be game to take the fight against me. She has a big following, so I think that would do. I’m thinking in business terms also. How can we build women’s boxing the most? How can we make the biggest fights? Hardy’s a name out there.

You have Alycia Baumgardner, who won’t shut her trap. She just keeps talking even though I offered her the fight two fights ago. She turned it down, so we ended up giving it to Helen Joseph. Let’s just make that clear. I would give her another shot to say yes. But those two are Plan B because I would like to go straight for a unification.

I can’t speak for every other fighter, but I am kind of confused as to why there really aren’t that many unified champions. Especially in the men’s divisions, you would think that is what everyone was gunning for, but I don’t think it is necessarily the fighters. I think it’s a lot to do with the different promotions going on and getting the promoters to work together.

The one thing I love about this new era of women’s boxing — we are down to fight. We don’t care about who is picking and choosing. We have something to prove. We want to fight. We want big fights. We want the attention around women’s boxing and we know we have to put our ass on the line to get it. So that’s one thing I really like about this era.

Outside of the fights that I want, I want them here in the United States. I know Eddie Hearn is working with SkySports in the UK, but America is the challenge. It’s tougher over here, not just boxing, but any type of sports or entertainment. If we really want to grow women’s boxing and this sport, then we’ve got to win over America. I want these unification fights held in the United States on ESPN. At least one of them.

I wouldn’t mind going over to the UK. I have a lot of fan-haters over there. They love me — but they love to hate me. It would be fun to take myself over there for a couple challenges. But I can’t see me unifying this division outside America, on ESPN. I just think that’s a win-win for everybody. That’s the best scenario for this sport, for us women, for myself. Obviously I’m biased, but ESPN is the biggest sports platform in the world so I can’t see it happening outside of that. That’s important to me.

I want to be a main event. I know I was the main event going up against Helen Joseph, but it was sort of by default, because Jamel Herring tested positive for coronavirus so they had to move me up. I think I proved that I can put people in seats and I do put on exciting fights. If anything, I’ve never put on a boring fight. So I think that’ll be great for this sport as well. That’s been a goal of mine, to have Top Rank put me as a main event this year. And not by default.

I’ve done everything Top Rank has asked for. When they signed me I think they were still a little bit hesitant. They didn’t have any female fighters in their roster. They didn’t know how it was going to go. I was good on paper, but was I really good? They didn’t really know. So I feel like I still had so much to prove to them over the last few years. I think that they believe in me, and I think they are willing to put me more as a headlining fight now.

I’ve been working really hard to build my career, and it’s just slowly growing and slowly building. But I’ve always known there was going to be a point where it just jumps. It just jumps three or four levels. I feel like I’m at that point now.

So I just continue to win and unify these belts and do what I need to do over these next two fights, then it’ll really launch my career to the next level. That’s what I’ve been working for really, the whole 13, 14 years of my boxing career.

It’s a lot of pressure, but I also asked for this pressure. I wanted this. I wanted to be in this position.

I think 2021 is definitely going to be a big year for women’s boxing. You have undisputed middleweight champion and unified junior middleweight champion Claressa Shields and undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor, and those were the names and those were the most interesting weight divisions, but it’s proof that women’s boxing is growing because look at the 130-pound division now. Look at the other divisions. They are becoming really, really competitive.

I think the more attention each one of these divisions gets and the more these girls push for unification fights and are willing to open their mouth and speak their minds and get in the media and make people pay attention to them. It’s happening. I definitely think 2021 is going to be a huge year for women’s boxing.

ESPN Boxing

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EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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