Publish Date: 07/15/2020
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Having already scored a knockout victory over the coronavirus, Mikaela Mayer threw a near shutout against her stiffest competition to date, ‘Iron Lady’ Helen Joseph, in a fight that had been rescheduled from its original spot on the calendar. Actually, Mayer had originally been scheduled to fight battle-tested former world champion Melissa Hernandez at Madison Square Garden back in March when the pandemic hit the U.S. full force.
On June 9, Mayer was supposed to have co-headlined Top Rank’s first boxing show on ESPN beneath the MGM Grand’s protective “bubble” with strict Covid-19 protocols in place, alongside fellow 2016 Olympian Shakur Stevenson. However, a positive test result three days prior to fight night burst Mayer’s bubble and sent her packing, the situation resulting in confusion, frustration, and finger-pointing.
Mayer, who was asymptomatic the entire time, revealed that she had tested negative for Covid-19 but positive for the antibodies by her personal physician a week before leaving for Las Vegas. This means that she had indeed been exposed to the virus at some point but effectively fought it off and, even if this is far from certain, is unlikely to suffer a further recurrence. Although she had no choice but to comply with the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s dictate to withdraw from the fight opposite Helen Joseph and return home in a self-pitying mood, Mikaela publicly objected to the outcome of the test they had administered which she and her doctors believed to be a false positive. And yet, trace amounts of the virus were found to exist in her system which was reason enough to adhere to the Commission’s understandable zero tolerance policy.
As food for thought, consider the case of WBO junior-lightweight champion Jamel Herring who tested positive for a second time Monday morning, forcing the Nevada State Athletic Commission to postpone his title defense against Jonathan Oquendo yet again. The silver lining being that the women’s bout was elevated to main event status, a first specific to ESPN’s long-running Top Rank program.
Left with no viable alternatives last month, Helen Joseph opted to stay put and patiently wait out Mayer’s mandated quarantine so that she could honor her end of the fight commitment. A two-time world title contender, unsuccessful in featherweight championship bids against Dahiana Santana and Jennifer Han, the Nigerian ‘Iron Lady’ is a tough customer who has put ten of her seventeen opponents away before the final bell. Although Joseph hasn’t scored a knockout since ending Shannon O’Connell’s evening prematurely three years ago, there is still considerable enough pop in her punch, not to mention sixteen years of ring experience and having overcome a lifetime of unthinkable adversity, to make things more than a little interesting.
Mikaela Mayer herself has a 41% KO ratio, not to mention an impressive amateur pedigree which saw her advance to the quarterfinals of the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro where her dream of Olympic gold was brought to an abrupt end by way of a close points loss to Russia’s Anastasia Belyakova, who would go on to place third and take home the bronze medal. Helen Joseph, a globetrotting road warrior who has fought in eleven different countries and now calls New Haven, Connecticut her home, made it abundantly clear that she did not travel all the way to Vegas and extend her stay by an additional five weeks just to let Top Rank’s golden girl walk all over her.
In fact, Joseph was perturbed not by the unforeseen delay, but by what she perceives to be Mayer’s fabricated reputation as a boxer of great promise and worthy of instant renown built, as she sees it, upon a record thus far padded by “easy fights”, although seasoned pros like Nydia Feliciano, Edina Kiss (who Joseph also fought), Calista Silgado, Yareli Larios, and Lizbeth Crespo would without a doubt take issue with this assessment. Nevertheless, Joseph drove her point home by predicting that “I don’t see her finishing this fight with me at all.” Those are fighting words, ones Mikaela Mayer would make Helen Joseph eat Tuesday night, force fed by nearly 150 power punches in twenty minutes.
Not only did the fight go the full distance, it was in fact Joseph’s corner that considered stopping the one-sided walloping after the ninth round. In terms of “easy fights”, Joseph ultimately presented Mayer not with a credible threat to her undefeated streak but with the opportunity to partake in what amounted to a nationally televised sparring session. Joseph sought to smother Mayer and nullify the lanky Olympian’s height and reach advantages, but Mikaela proved to be the epitome of grace under pressure even without the guidance of her longtime trainer and surrogate father, Al Mitchell, who was himself watching from home while recuperating from coronavirus. The 76-year-old Mitchell is thankfully recovering nicely and was no doubt pleased by his protégé’s performance, although Mayer joked afterwards that Coach would surely make note of the fact that she had abandoned her jab at times and cold have put in more work to the body.
Overall though, Mayer had the far busier hands, throwing in excess of 500 punches, countering effectively with powerful check hooks thrown over her opponent’s jab and making excellent use of her right uppercut which repeatedly found its target as Joseph stalked forward from a crouch, reminiscent of Joe Frazier or Dwight Muhammad Qawi only without their trademark bobbing and weaving head movement which would have served her well. Joseph appeared uncharacteristically sluggish, prompting her trainer to remark that Helen looked as though she was “fighting under water.” All told, Mikaela Mayer strode beneath the spotlight last night and set up shop there as if it was second nature.
Currently in possession of a peripheral belt courtesy of the NABF, Mayer made no bones about the fact that she expects Bob Arum to secure her a shot at a legitimate world title. One tantalizing prospect would be for Mikaela to take on the winner of the August 7 Matchroom Fight Camp bout between WBC and IBO world super-featherweight champion Terri Harper and 2012 Olympian Natasha Jonas who was bested in London by Ireland’s eventual gold medalist Katie Taylor.
Speaking of Taylor, she and Mikaela Mayer have both name-dropped one another on multiple occasions when asked about favored ring rivals for the days ahead. Taking into consideration her rematch against Delfine Persoon next month, potential legacy-making scraps with Amanda Serrano and Cecilia Braekhus perhaps looming on the horizon, and four mandatory challengers standing in an already crowded queue, Katie’s dance card is filled out quite comprehensively for the foreseeable future.
That said, Taylor has always expressed a simple and eager desire for the best fight available, a matter which is subject to Eddie Hearn’s shrewd discretion, of course. Assuming Mayer continues her winning ways and builds an increasingly recognizable public profile in the process, Hearn might just be able to see his way to following the money trail to Mikaela’s front door sooner than later. With female boxers being given the chance to punch through the glass ceiling at long last, you would hope that the sky is the limit.