Mikaela Mayer has opened up on her relationship with coach Al – claiming the 80-year-old broke her confidence down before turning her into a world champion – and credited boxing for turning her life around after getting into trouble as a teenager.
Mayer sat down with Mail Sport ahead of her highly-anticipated clash with Natasha Jonas this weekend, revealing exactly how she got into the sport and why female boxer’s have it harder than men.
The former unified world champion will challenge two-weight world champion Natasha Jonas for her IBF World Welterweight title at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool on Saturday night.
Mayer – a former unified Super featherweight champion – and Jonas – a former unified Super Welterweight champion – have fought across several different weight divisions throughout their careers.
When asked why female fighters move up and down the weight categories more frequently than men, Mayer told Mail Sport: ‘We don’t have the luxury of taking one big fight and sitting back and taking the pay cheque.
Mikaela Mayer (above) will challenge two-weight world champion Natasha Jonas for her IBF World Welterweight title at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool this weekend
Mayer – a former unified Super featherweight champion – and Jonas – a former unified Super Welterweight champion – have fought across several different weight divisions
Mayer has been involved in some of the biggest female fights in history, playing a defining role in the success of the historic all-women’s boxing card by taking on Alycia Baumgardner
‘We have a lot to prove. We have to hustle a little bit more than the men.
‘We are going to do what we have to do to get those big fights and get that respect that we deserve. We work hard to build our names up and grow the sport.
So, yeah, it’s a combination of having to [because of the depth in women’s boxing] and wanting to. We do it for a reason. We want those big fights, we want the respect and we want the sport to grow.’
Mayer has been involved in some of the biggest female fights in history, playing a defining role in the success of the historic all-women’s boxing card by taking on Alycia Baumgardner.
In total, live coverage of the all-female card – which saw Olympic gold medallist Lauren Price, Olympic bronze medallist Karriss Artingstall and Tokyo Olympian Caroline Dubois take to the ring – reached over two million viewers.
However, it wasn’t Mayer’s night. Baumgardner became the unified super-featherweight world champion in October 2022 by securing a controversial split decision following a brutal contest at the O2 Arena.
Mayer pushed for a rematch but Baumgardner was not interested. As a result, Mayer decided to move up to lightweight and take on Christina Linardatou. However, that fight was called off.
It is believed the BBBOfC refused to licence Linardatou due to a permanent lens in her eye which she’s boxed her whole career with. The news came as a bit of a surprise considering the BBBOFC previously approved her to fight with Katie Taylor in 2019.
Mayer – who was looking to beat Linardatou to secure a fight against the Bray Bomber – ended up facing Lucy Wildheart, beating the stand-in opponent by unanimous decision at the Copper Box Arena in London.
Mayer credited her 80-year-old coach, Alfred Mitchell (right), for her rise to stardom. But, revealed how the highly renowned trainer was reluctant to work with her at first
Mayer went on to explain how coach Al broke her confidence down when she first arrived at his gym but thanked him for keeping her ‘humble’ and motivated to work hard
The American went on to secure a dominant points victory over Silvia Bortot in September 2023, with the scorecards reading 100-90 in her favour following her super lightweight debut.
Mayer credited her 80-year-old coach, Alfred Mitchell, for her rise to stardom. But, revealed how the highly renowned trainer was reluctant to work with her at first.
Mayer said: ‘He didn’t want to work with me to begin with. He ran a programme in northern Michigan attached to a college where kids would go to college and train with him on a scholarship. He never had a female in that programme.
‘But, when they announced females were going to be allowed to fight in the Olympics my dad decided to call him. My dad kept calling him and calling him, trying to get him to bring me into the programme.
‘He didn’t want to but women were allowed to box now so he said alright bring her up. Even then he didn’t think I was going to make it. Out of most of those guys in the programme, I am the one left standing.
‘It took years though of me showing up and winning to prove to him that I really wanted it. I don’t think it was until the 2012 Olympic trials when he saw me fall into the loser bracket and fight my way all the way back into the finals that he said okay, she’s got what it takes. We’re going to make 2016 happen. So, yeah it took a while.’
Mayer featured at the Olympic Games and became a unified super featherweight world champion, holding the WBO title and the IBF, before losing both in October 2022
Mayer went on to explain how coach Al broke her confidence down when she first arrived at his gym but thanked him for keeping her ‘humble’ and motivated to work hard.
‘I thought I was decent but when I got to his gym I was complete s*** apparently. He really broke me down. He broke my confidence down. I thought I was doing some things right but turns out I wasn’t.
‘He was saying you’re doing this wrong and this wrong. There was no positive reinforcement. That is not something you are going to get from coach Al.
‘Once in a while, close to a fight, you might get one or two compliments. But, he does not compliment you throughout camp. At least he didn’t back then. Now he’s a little nicer.
‘But, he just broke me down and let me know… you don’t know s***. You’re going to listen to me and you’re going to do everything I say.
‘It was really hard but then on the opposite side, you have a lot of coaches who are yes men. They’re just going to pump you up and tell you everything you want to hear.
‘Coach Al kept me humble and kept me working hard. H ensured I kept learning. That was important. Especially as I didn’t walk into a gym until I was 17 years old and took my first fight at 18 years old.
‘So, I had a lot to learn. I needed good coaching and I needed tough coaching. Now I think it’s so different because I think I have almost surpassed his expectations.
‘He never expected me to go this far as a little female at his school. I can see his belief in me now, I can see his trust in me. So yeah, he’s come a long way.’
Boxing became Mayer’s salvation from a young age. The discipline and focus demanded by the sport became a powerful catalyst for positive change in her life, steering her away from trouble.
Through boxing, Mayer not only discovered her athletic prowess but also a newfound sense of purpose and resilience after admitting to ‘getting into trouble’ during her teenage years.
‘I came to the realisation I needed sport at a young age. I was 17 and I was thinking, what am I doing with my life. I was in three different high schools by the time I hit my senior year.
‘I was not focused on anything. I never went to class, I don’t know how I graduated. I was just partying, ditching school to hang out with the wrong people.
‘I remember telling myself, no I want to be successful. I don’t want this for my future. That’s a pretty big thing to come to terms with at 17 when everyone’s still in that messing around stage.
‘I mean, I started [partying] young. I was wild from a young age, but I also came around young. So, I decided to start something new.
‘My dad had always had me in sports when I was young, but I didn’t do anything throughout high-school.
‘I decided to walk into a kick-boxing gym down the street from house. I had driven past it for years so me and a friend decided to sign ourselves up.’
Mayer is grateful for the way in which she turned her life around through boxing, but claims that journey came at a cost. She lost friends and spent a large portion of her time on her own as she threw herself into the sport.
‘I stopped hanging out with my friends. I lost everyone. I went to a continuation school at the time, it was a place that all the bad kids went to but we got out at noon which was the good part.
‘So, I’d get out, walk to my dad’s apartment about a mile and a half away and get changed. I would walk across the road to the hair salon, work for a couple of hours there and then I’d run two miles to the gym. I would do that every single day until I found coach Al.’
However, Mayer claims it was all worth it to represent her country at the Olympic Games and become a unified super featherweight world champion, holding the WBO title and the IBF, before losing both in October 2022.
Mayer will be looking to cement her legacy this weekend by beating Jonas in her own backyard. Meanwhile, Jonas will be looking to make her first defence of the IBF crown she claimed with an emphatic stoppage win over Canadian Kandi Wyatt earlier this year.