Mikaela Mayer Meets Vanessa Bradford for Title in Omaha
By David A. Avila
Finding the next great world champion can be a fruitless endeavor filled with potholes, disappointments and clouded perceptions.
But every so often a fighter stands out like a piercing light.
Mikaela Mayer (7-0, 4 KOs) crackles with energy and looks to utilize it against Canada’s Vanessa Bradford (4-0-1) on Saturday Oct. 13, at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The super featherweight contest for the junior NABF title will be streamed on ESPN+.
“This is my first eight round fight,” says Mayer. “I’m excited to be fighting for a title.”
It’s been a longer road than people know for Mayer.
Words and deeds aren’t always enough in the entertainment world and boxing is entertainment. So when talent agent George Ruiz was asked to take a look at a female boxer, it didn’t strike the right chord.
“A friend called and said if I would mind taking the meeting to meet a fighter as a favor. I didn’t expect anything. I was representing digital area. I was a fan of boxing but not interested in representing a boxer,” said Ruiz of his first meeting with Mayer. “But when I first met her, she had just exuded energy. I just knew she was a star.”
Soon after, Ruiz signed Mayer in 2012 though he had never seen her fight.
Ruiz, now the founder of Intelligent Arts and Artists, finally saw her in her boxing world and was even more convinced of her abilities as an athlete.
“I saw she had medaled. I figured she was a pretty good boxer. But I never had seen her box. I finally saw her at a tournament in Oxnard,” said Ruiz, who had also researched her past. “Pretty much after that she became a fixture because I knew she was the real deal.”
Mayer had just missed qualifying for the Olympics in 2012. But that didn’t stop her from blazing from gym to gym throughout the Southwest in pursuit of improving her skills. She was obsessed.
“She has a passion for the sport, her eyes light up whenever she talked about it. She seemed passionate and dedicated to it. She never took time off or talked about vacations or pursuing hobbies,” said Ruiz who also manages Emmy Award winners, musicians and other artists. “It was this dedication that champions have. That kind of commitment and she showed it.”
For the next four years Mayer could be seen in various gyms hungrily looking for sparring like a hawk looks for its next meal. The tall blonde from the San Fernando Valley could be seen in gyms located in dangerous areas like East L.A., South Central L.A. or in other locales where police blotters are filled with criminal activity and enough pages to resemble a phone book.
Mayer became known as that white girl that shows up, laces up her gloves and fires away in the ring against anyone within her weight class. She became somewhat of an urban legend in Southern California gyms.
“I sparred some tall white girl she was pretty good,” said one Mexican girl in a gym in Maywood, Calif. “I didn’t know her name but she’s good.”
That girl was Mayer.
When Mayer ran out of sparring action in Southern California she began venturing into Las Vegas. It didn’t matter where the action was, Mayer was there hunting for sparring.
When 2015 rolled around, Mayer was more than ready to compete for the US Olympic team. Along the way she had found a new boxing coach in Al Mitchell, known for producing Olympic champions. They clicked.
The Southern California Valley girl then packed up and moved to Michigan to be closer to her new coach and worked to acquire the new skills needed to make the Olympic team. After numerous contentious tournaments to make the Olympic squad she finally succeeded.
In 2016, she traveled with the US Boxing team to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and won her first fight in the tournament. She lost a highly controversial match against a Russian fighter but had made her mark.
MMA or Boxing?
Until women boxers were accepted into the Olympics the world of female boxing had been overlooked by promoters and television.
The success of American female boxers suddenly made boxing promoters take interest. But until 2016, only female MMA fighters were signed by major promoters.
Mayer met with several boxing promoters but nothing seemed to click. Her biggest offer came from an MMA promotion outfit.
“She got an offer from Bellator. That’s when she called me and said we have this offer and I’m leaning toward taking this. I asked if she really wanted to fight in MMA or boxing,” said Ruiz knowing she preferred boxing. “I asked her to give me 48 hours to see if she has any other options.”
A phone call to Top Rank was made and an appointment was quickly organized.
“I sent Todd DuBoef a package about her. He wrote back: looks interesting,” said Ruiz of that first communication. “He said I can do 15 minutes.”
The meeting was easy to arrange because ironically Mayer happened to be in Las Vegas working out at Randy Couture’s gym. Top Rank’s headquarters are also located in the casino city. They all agreed to meet the same day.
DuBoef was still sketchy about signing female boxers but Ruiz was convincing.
“He told me they hadn’t signed a woman in decades and that the women’s boxing market is very speculative,” Ruiz recalls. “I said just meet with her face to face. You will either see what I see or you won’t.”
That day the scheduled 15 minute meeting took place. It stretched into an hour.
“I think he saw what I saw. He likes to sign talent and marketability. She has both. He said he will take a chance with us. Let’s build something together,” said Ruiz of that first meeting in the summer of 1917. “Two weeks later we had an offer and closed the deal. Four or five weeks later Mikaela made her pro debut in L.A.”
It’s we, not me
In the world of entertainment where fame can lead to riches, those that pursue success often isolate themselves in a cocoon to insure their cause is the only cause.
Mayer, 28, hopes to strive for success to breech a hole in the glass ceiling for female fighters in boxing.
“Oh I had a vision how I wanted my career to go. I guess I’m not surprised because I’ve always seen that in myself. I’ve always believed in what I can do for women’s boxing,” said Mayer. “So many women have fought before me that were never allowed to reach this plateau. It’s about us, not just me.”
Mayer’s beliefs are shared by her manager too.
“A lot of my practice was in pioneering women, breaking barriers, she’s the first athlete. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in women’s boxing because of the Olympics. That opened the flood gates,” said Ruiz who attended UCLA. “Now amateurs with 150 fights are entering the pros. It’s made a difference. More opportunities for women are happening.”
You can have all the qualities of a star but still not be a star. As a prizefighter the goal is to win.
“Mikaela has it. She’s a star as long as she keeps winning,” said Ruiz. “She is not a celebrity in the traditional sense because she needs to perform in the ring. For her winning is number one.”
The day Mayer made her debut was like peeling a perfectly looking orange. But is it ripe?
On the outside the Southern California native looks like the perfect person to be cast as a prizefighter: long arms, long legs, movie star looks and without a trace of fat.
But could she fight?
The Top Rank brass, the talent agency and her friends and family gathered at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles to watch Mayer’s pro debut against a fighter Widnelly Figueroa who had one pro fight. It was Mayer’s first fight with no head gear, smaller gloves and fighting in the kill or be killed pro style.
Matchmaker Brad Goodman saw the action.
“It barely lasted a minute before she knocked the other girl out,” said Goodman who has witnessed the careers of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and many other super stars. “What little we saw she showed the skill set needed and continues to grow.”
In 14 months Mayer has engaged in seven professional fights while blasting out four opponents by knockout.
“I’m a boxer. But no one has actually seen me box and move. There is still so much more to me,” said Mayer chuckling. “People have only seen me be an aggressor.”
Will she be an aggressor or a boxer in her first title fight against Bradford?
“This is my first eight-round fight,” said Mayer. “I’ve seen some tape of her and she’s a volume puncher.”
It’s also the first major step toward her goal of being a world champion. On Saturday, Omaha is the destination for yet another big step.
Is she ready for the future?
“I just don’t see her as a women boxer but as somebody who will be a big name, as big as Ronda Rousey if not bigger,” said Ruiz. “I don’t limit myself seeing her as just a boxer.”
It all begins with winning.
“Just like a lot of fighters they want to get to that next level but we as promoters know it’s a slow process,” said Top Rank’s Goodman. “You got to crawl before you can walk.”
Mayer knows this.
“Everything I do revolves around boxing,” Mayer says. “I’m so focused on many things but it’s all about my boxing.”
And winning that first title.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)