Former world champion Mikaela Mayer returns to the ring this Saturday, facing former European titleist Silvia Bortot in Manchester. The American is moving up to light welterweight for the bout, which takes place on the undercard of Liam Smith vs Chris Eubank Jr II.
The Sportsman sat down with Mayer to discuss the Bortot bout, her dream fight against Natasha Jonas and how she “expected more” from Katie Taylor against Chantelle Cameron.
Silvia Bortot awaits this weekend in Manchester. What do you know about her as a fighter?
I've studied some previous fights that she's had. I didn't know much about her. I didn't know her at all, until Top Rank had presented her to me. But she seems to be just a come-forward fighter. She likes to sit in the pocket and dig hooks to the body. She's not really the boxer-mover. So it'll definitely be a more action-packed fight which, as you guys know, I love. I love those types of fights. But I don't want to sit inside the whole time and bang it out, as much as I love to do that. I know I'm going up in weight. So I just want to get back to practising my boxing and my slickness and take care of it from the outside.
The fight sees you go up in weight again, having fought up at lightweight. What made you decide to move up again?
It's my body. I've been fighting at 130, 132 my entire career since I started. It's been 15 years of that. Most fighters move up in that time. I never did, I stayed at 130 because that's where I held the belts and I had a dream of going undisputed.
But when I decided to move to 135, and I allowed my body just that little bit of room to fill out. It filled out so much that cutting to 135 was just like cutting to 130. It was the same, no different. And then after that fight, when I filled back up as most of us do after the fight, it’s like I jumped another weight class. My body just did it naturally. I just told my team like, I don't think 135 is going to be the weight class for me. It's going to be just as bad as 130. I want to be comfortable at this stage of my career. I have the experience. I have the height, the reach, I have all that. There's no reason for me to be cutting and being uncomfortable. Let me see what I can do when my body is filled out naturally and comfortably. I just want to see what I can accomplish with that.
At 135 also, my opportunities weren't there anymore. Because we came in to wait for Katie Taylor, but she had the rematch clause with (Amanda) Serrano. Then she got the rematch clause in place with Chantelle (Cameron) so that put me out of the world title for however long, same with 140. There's no immediate opportunity there. Whereas 147, I eventually felt like I'd be going there. But with the way my bodies filled out so much, I started this camp 160. I can handle 147 and there's more opportunity there. I think that's where all the top women are going. I think that's going to be the next big weight class for us.
How has the move up in weight felt during sparring as you prepare for the Bortot fight?
I didn't realise how much I was struggling at 130, because I've been doing it so long. To me I was just a fighter in a hard training camp. That's just what it felt like. But I've been so comfortable in this camp, almost like it's kind of scary because I'm like, “Am I too comfortable? Am I not suffering enough?”. I was used to feeling that suffering and that was what made me feel like I was working hard, But that's not the case (this time).
I love how strong I feel in sparring and it's lasted through the whole camp. The last few sparring sessions, that last week of hard work you start to feel it but that's normal. It wasn't normal to be feeling it the entire camp and that's what I was doing. To get to 130 I was starting my calorie deficit 10 weeks out. You get to the point where you’re just surviving.
I was always in shape because I had to run every day to get down to that, hard runs, hard sparring, long rounds. So I had great endurance, but the other energy systems weren't there. That explosiveness, that pop. So that's really what I'm working on now. I'm feeling so much better in sparring. I have that energy, I'm not just surviving through the rounds. I feel great.
This is your third consecutive fight in the UK. What keeps you coming back?
Well I do love you guys, it’s not just about the plans that I have. I do love being out here performing for you guys. I think that the fanbase here is just awesome. I've been really welcomed. I feel like they've taken to me really well here. It only makes sense to continue to build my name here. Especially since I feel like there's a lot of big fights for me against girls from this side of the pond. There's a handful of big fights in my future with a lot of girls from over here. So it only makes sense for me to continue to build my name and my fanbase out here, knowing that my future opponents will be British.
Any word on who these opponents might be?
This fight’s at 142, but I plan to move up to 147 in my next fight. I want to talk to (Natasha) Jonas. She just won the IBF world title. I don't know of any big fights she has in the immediate future. So I’d love to lock in a deal with her. I think that the world wants to see that fight, too. I think that she's a game champion. I know that she's at the point in her career, she wants big fights only. And that's me. I’m a big fight for her. She's a big fight for me. And I think the fans would love it, so that's definitely on my radar.
An intriguing aspect of that fight is the fact you’re both Olympians. How has being an Olympian helped you in the pro ranks and how did you find the transition to professional boxing?
It was very important to my growth and development. I've stepped in the ring 18 times as a pro, but as an amateur I stepped in the ring 130 times. You can't get that experience anywhere else, just being able to get in the ring and compete. Especially being a female in the sport. When I was looking to get signed by a promoter, nobody was signing women. That ‘Olympian’ on my resume really helped with the credibility on paper. I think it was important, pitching myself to Top Rank and saying, ‘Take a chance on women's boxing, sign me’.
I think it's played a part in going up against all my past opponents, because a lot of the girls that I fought in the beginning, they didn't have an amateur background. They had been pro for their whole career. They didn't have a ton of fights, but they had been trying to make their way in the pro game for so long, they just couldn't compete with me. They couldn't compete with a female that had an amateur pedigree. It's gotten to the point where it's gonna be really hard for any woman to come into this game now who doesn't have that amateur pedigree.
It's just like the men. The men who have the amateur pedigree or the Olympians, they're the ones who are pound-for-pound, straight to the top. There's a few who haven't done that, and it's definitely possible, but it's just such an advantage to have. You have to also be able to adjust to the different style. It's a very different style. There's some who stay in the amateurs too long, and they don't know how to get away from that style and adjust into the pros. So I feel like I've done that really well, thanks to my coach.
You mentioned how nobody was signing female fighters when you turned pro. With women’s boxing now hugely popular, what are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed as the sport has grown?
Just the fact that women have an opportunity now to even go pro. Because when I left the Olympics, I was about to go to MMA. There were no offers on the table like there were for the men. There was nowhere to go. I was this close to signing with Bellator before my manager ‘Let me just sit down and make a few phone calls’. We got in front of Todd DuBoef at Top Rank and I sat down and basically to sell myself to him. Luckily, I had that opportunity to sit down with them, because the women were… there was no option for us to turn pro.
Now you have a handful of promoters building their rosters of women. Matchroom, you gotta give them credit, because they're doing the most with the women right now. They have the biggest female roster. It's taken very well here in the UK, there's still a way to go in America. America has always been a little bit tougher of a challenge. But it's changing. The fact that Top Rank just finally signed another female, Seniesa Estrada. I know to the world that five years, two females, that's not a lot. But it's just different in America, the market is tougher. They are a little bit more cautious about who they sign and how they're going to move them. But I think that we really changed that. I hope to see more promoters pick up more females. We've come a long way, we still have a long way to go. Definitely still a long way to go when it comes to closing the pay gap and having more opportunities in place for this next generation.
It’s interesting that you said you nearly signed for Bellator. With Savannah Marshall recently signing to fight for the PFL, an organisation that allows active boxers to compete in MMA, would you ever consider giving Mixed Martial Arts a try?
Absolutely not. That ship has sailed, there's still so much that I want to accomplish in boxing and I need to focus on that. That deserves all my focus. These other women, kudos to them and that’s gangster of them to go and do that. But they’re at different stages in their career. I just feel like I have way too many big fights on my list that I want to get done.
There's also the fact I have a great contract with Top Rank, a contract that I need to focus on because if I do step into MMA and get injured, the opportunity I have in boxing is going to suffer. So I just don't feel like I need to take the risk. I have everything I need in boxing. This next year is about getting myself back in position. And then getting back on my hit list, checking off all the girls on my hit list. That's what I'm focused on.
You mention your ambitions in boxing and your hit list. Do you have a goal in mind of where you want to be a year from now?
I want to start collecting belts at 147. I want to fight Natasha Jonas, I want the fight with Sandy Ryan. It'd be a great fight. I want to fight Chantelle Cameron. I just want big names. That's where I'm at in my career now. I think the girls that I mentioned there, they're feeling the same way. We've been in this for a long time, we've been grinding for a long time. We want to be able to showcase our skills now and put on the biggest fights possible for ourselves. But also for the sport of women's boxing, before we hand off to the next generation.
You mentioned Chantelle Cameron there. She steps back into the ring with Katie Taylor in November. What was your reaction watching their first fight and who do you think wins the rematch?
I was ringside for that fight. I was calling it and I expected a little bit more from Katie. I really did because Katie has always been so good at adjusting and sort of stealing the rounds. When it's close, razor thin, she finds a way to get her hand raised. So I expected it to be a lot more competitive. At the end you saw the Katie Taylor that we've seen trying to steal with those fast combinations. But Chantelle Cameron had done too much by then.
I think Chantelle won clearly. I'm glad the judges got it right because we've seen the opposite a handful of times. If I had to put money on it, I’d say Chantelle’s going to do it again. I think that Katie has a ton of experience, she knows how to adjust well. I just don't think she'll be able to make enough. I think you need a really good strong jab to fight back someone like Chantelle Cameron. Katie's always sort of kept that amateur style, lots of movement, lots of footwork, leading with the backhand. It's worked really well for her. It's worked great for her and she's one of the best in the world. She’s going down in history.. But it's never evolved into that pro style, she doesn't have a super strong jab. I feel like you need that to keep someone like Chantelle off you.
Your love of the Spice Girls is well-documented and you have entered the ring to their songs in the past. Could we be seeing a Spice Girls inspired entrance in Manchester on Saturday?
I don't think so this time. I did that for my debut here in the UK. But I didn't plan another Spice Girls… I did it for the first two times I was out here. The first time I was here every day, every event I was dressed as a different Spice Girl. Then I came out against Alycia Baumgardner with the Spice Girls song and the dancers so that was fun. But now I don't want to piss people off too much.
Would you consider bringing it back if you could get one of the Spice Girls to do it?. I mean, you couldn't say no if Sporty Spice sang you to the ring surely?
Sporty Spice DJs now so if we Sporty Spice wants to DJ me to the ring somehow, hell yes! We can figure out a whole shebang for that.
Mikaela Mayer is promoted by Top Rank Boxing.
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