Back in August, The Sportsman spoke with former world champion Mikaela Mayer ahead of her Manchester victory over Silvia Bortot. A recurring theme during the chat was Mayer's desire to face Liverpool's Natasha Jonas. Now that bout is confirmed, with the American meeting Jonas for the IBF welterweight title on the 20th January on the champion's Merseyside turf.
To whet the appetite for one of the first big fights of 2024, here is a throwback to that interview with Mayer. As you can tell, Mayer has been focused on Jonas as a future foe for a long time. January will be explosive to say the least.
(Bortot) 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.
Mikaela Mayer is promoted by Top Rank Boxing.