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Fury vs Schwarz: Mikaela Mayer talks boxing, Muay Thai background, and much more

Rising contender Mikaela Mayer discusses her boxing career, her background in Muay Thai, and a lot more.

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Unbeaten Mikaela Mayer (10-0, 4 KO), a 2016 US Olympian, returns to action on Saturday’s Fury-Schwarz card in Las Vegas, facing Lizbeth Crespo (13-4, 3 KO) in a fight that will air on the ESPN2 prelims, ahead of the ESPN+ main card.

Mayer talks with Fight Hub TV’s Marcos Villegas about her boxing career, her goals, her background in Muay Thai, and much more.

On her growth as a pro

“I see a huge growth, too, so it’s obviously pretty cool when you hear people say that they’ve seen it, as well. I’ve said this from the beginning, it’s such a huge difference in the amateur style versus the pro style, and it takes some conscious work to really break out of some of those amateur-style habits, and my team has done a really good job at zoning in on what those things are and getting me out of those bad habits and making that transition to the pros, so that I can be a successful and exciting pro.”

On the biggest bad amateur habit

“So the amateurs is more of a scoring system, obviously, so you want to score that point and pull straight back, whereas in the pros, you don’t want to pull straight back — you don’t want to just tap-tap and pull straight back. You want to shift to the inside, you want to be able to work the body and take the angles, and really just learn to fight more in the pocket, going from high-to-low. So they’ve settled my feet down a little bit, a lot less movement, more intention behind my punches, and setting people up behind the jab. A lot more of using my jab and trying to set up my punches behind that.”

On how she started in boxing

“Most people, boxing is in their family. Nobody in my family boxes. I discovered boxing in high school. I didn’t start boxing until I was 17. I was a little bit of a rebellious teenager, doing my thing, not really focusing on anything, I was in my fourth high school by senior year. There’s actually a piece coming out on ESPN that kinda gives a little bit more of my background in life that hasn’t been told before. I was getting into fights, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, there was some trouble going on in my family. My parents split, and my dad got custody of us three girls at a young age. He worked a full-time job and there was a lot of me raising myself. I just got caught up in the wrong crowd, not really focused on going to class and doing what I should’ve been doing at that age, and I realized that. There was an epiphany that hit me, and I was, like, ‘I want to be good at something. I want to be successful, and this is not how I’m going to become that.’ And it started with me just starting something new. I said, ‘Let me just start a new sport.’ My dad had me in sports growing up and I stopped through high school. There was a Muay Thai gym by my house and I just walked in and signed myself up. I started in Muay Thai.”

On going toward boxing instead of MMA

“I almost did. When I found this gym, this was, like, when MMA was just kind of hitting. When I started, women weren’t even allowed to compete in the Olympics [in boxing] yet. I started taking boxing just to better my hands in Muay Thai, and I was 18 when I took my first boxing fight, and I think two years later they announced they were going to allow women into the 2012 Olympics in London. So I made that my goal, two years into training, I told myself I want to be an Olympian. It was pretty crazy. You don’t usually start an Olympic sport that late and then actually make the Olympics, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t dabbled in it. I fell in love with it immediately, I poured everything I had into it. I went from never training to training six days a week. I just set my goals.”

On the last time she threw a kick

“Oh my God, a long time ago. Yeah, I haven’t kicked in a long time. But there was a period after I decided I wasn’t going to go for another Olympics and I needed to look for another chapter in my career, and I was going to make the transition to MMA. I had a contract set, I was ready to move in that direction, because that’s where women were getting the recognition, the pay, the TV time, and I just didn’t have the [boxing] offers coming out of the Olympics. But the stars all aligned at once. I sat down with Top Rank last minute and it was just a perfect fit. And thank God, I’m so glad I stayed with boxing, because this is the vision I always had for women’s boxing, I almost sight of it in the struggle of trying to create a career with it, but it’s exactly how I saw it play out in my head, and I’m really happy with where I am and how they’ve been moving me.”

On what MMA promotion had a contract for her

“Bellator. I would’ve been able to box, as well, but I’m glad I didn’t go in that direction, because boxing — you never perfect boxing. You never perfect the sport, there’s always room to grow and learn. It’s hard enough. Imagine trying to dabble in two sports, the footwork’s different, it’s so different. I’m glad I didn’t go in that direction.”

On if she misses Muay Thai

“Not really. I love boxing. ... It’s definitely tougher on the body. In boxing, we’re trained to defend punches, and we know they go here to here. But kicks going to the head, kicks going to the legs, elbows coming in there. ... At first, you build miniature fractures in your shins. If I was kicking now the way I was kicking then, I probably wouldn’t walk for a week.”

On how close she is to a world title shot

“We actually tried to make that happen for this fight. We think we’re ready for the belt. We’ve had some good opponents who have challenged me in different ways, they’ve all brought something different to the table, which is what you want in your first few years. We wanted it for this fight, but we weren’t able to strike a deal with any of the champs. We’re gonna try again. We want that this year, for sure, we want those world titles this year.”

On making weight as a woman compared to men

“I really couldn’t tell you the difference because I’m not a man, I’ve never been through that weight cut. I do hear that women do struggle more, we do carry that extra amount of water weight. But cutting weight hasn’t been a problem for me. I work with Perfecting Athletes, they’re here for fight week, they cook all my meals, they monitor my water, they help with the cut on weigh-in day. It’s been really easy. It’s very scientific and healthy, I feel my absolute best. I think that’s what the problem is, a lot of people don’t know how to properly cut weight. And it’s not their fault, we’re all trying to figure this out on our own, but I’m lucky enough to have a really great team who guides me in a really scientific way.”

On balancing life as an athlete and a normal life

“I actually think it creates balance. When you’re in camp and you’re ready for this fight, everything is sort of taken away from you, you’re zoned in. My coach is with me, there’s no — friends aren’t over, family’s not around, there’s no fun and games. You’re in the zone. It’s a little bit of torture when it comes down to those last couple of weeks. It’s hard work. But then when you’re done fighting, now it’s time you can dedicate to your friends, to your family, to enjoying life, maybe taking a little vacation or having a little fun. Then when do I stop? When’s my next fight, let me figure out how many weeks I need, let me get back to work. It actually creates balance for me. I know what I have to do when I have to do it, and what I’m allowed to do.”

On it being tough on friendships

“A lot of the friends I have, they are boxers. They know how it’s been. Through the years, when I first started training, I’m definitely not close with my friends from high school anymore, because I had to sacrifice a lot being a teenager and going out and partying and having to getting in the gym and doing what I had to do. I didn’t go out Friday night, because I had to get up Saturday and train. So I lost friends there, but the friends I have now who have accepted me over the years, I feel like I have a good, solid foundation of friends.”

On how active she plans to be

“It’s June, it’s only my second fight this year. I think Top Rank’s going to have to get me a few more fights this year, but obviously I really, really want that world title shot. I’m hoping to have it if not the next fight, definitely like, October or November. Hopefully three more fights this year.”

On whether she’d sign a million dollar UFC contract

“If it was black-and-white, like, leave boxing, come here, take this contract, give up everything you’ve started, at least you’re getting a million bucks — I wouldn’t do it, no. I’m on a mission here. I work very closely with my manager. Our wheels are always turning, we’re always thinking of new ways — how can we brand ourselves, how can we be the exception in this sport, what can we do? It’s fun for us and it’s a challenge. We’re paving the way for women’s boxing, we’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, and I want to see it through. I want to see how we can get there. And if the offer’s here today, I’m sure it’ll be there in a year or two.”

Bad Left Hook will have live coverage of Fury vs Schwarz on Saturday, June 15, starting at 10 pm ET on ESPN+, with prelims at 7 pm ET on ESPN2

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