MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The cut on the bridge of Mikaela Mayer’s nose had opened up again, but the former model paid no attention to it.
“Who cares?” Mayer said. “Honestly, I told the doctor, ‘I don’t care if my nose falls off.’”
All she cared about was winning the lightweight division at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing on Sunday. The cut, which Mayer suffered in her first bout of the tournament, would leave less of a scar than losing her second straight Olympic Trials.
Mayer lived up to the promise she made to herself four years ago by defeating Youth Olympic Games champion Jajaira Gonzalez by split decision and claiming the final spot on Team USA.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had in my entire life,” said Mayer, who narrowly lost to Queen Underwood at the 2012 trials.
Mayer joins 2012 Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, who won the middleweight title, and flyweight Virginia Fuchs, who toppled Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza to earn her spot on the team.
All three will now try to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in continental and world championships competition next year.
Mayer bounced back from a crushing loss to Gonzalez 21 hours earlier to claim the gold medal, a guitar and champion’s red jacket.
“Honestly, It wouldn't be a Mikaela Mayer story if it didn't end like that,” Mayer said of her defeat and eventual victory. “That's just how my life has always been. Perseverance has always been my key word.”
Gonzalez, 18, the youngest fighter in the tournament, won in a unanimous decision Saturday night to force the rematch, which made up a 13-minute special session at the trials.
“I was very angry and very frustrated and very sad but I had to pull myself together,” said Mayer, who in their first meeting of the week – and of their careers – on Tuesday night beat Gonzalez on a 2-1 decision.
Lying in bed last night, Mayer said, “You feel sorry for yourself for a second then you just have to pull yourself out. I had my whole family here and they've been super supportive. I had fans texting me and telling me they believed in me.
“I just had to remember that I'm the best and that's why I'm here and that's why I won.”
She said she had to rework her game plan after the Saturday loss. “We just had to pick up the movement and pick up the boxing skills,” said Mayer. “I couldn't stand in front of her.”
Overcoming Gonzalez’s prodigious punch output, Mayer was more aggressive than she had been a day earlier. At 5-foot-9, she also had a four-inch advantage over the younger fighter, a former youth and junior world champion.
“Hat's off to Jajaira, she's definitely one of the toughest opponents I've had in a long time,” Mayer said. “It was the third round where I started to pick up my movement and I said, ‘Let me remember to just have fun with this, use my boxing skills and frustrate her’ because that was the only way that I knew that I could pull this off.
“Making her miss was the key."
Gonzalez admitted that she was “a bit more tired” than she had been on Saturday.
“I still thought I did everything I could to win, but I guess the judges didn’t see it that way,” she said. “I feel like I won, especially since I’m pretty young. I was the youngest in my bracket. I fell short in the beginning. I thought I won it all three fights.”
Gonzalez was consoled after the fight by Esparza, who gave her a long, heartfelt hug.
Although Mayer still has to qualify internationally to go the Olympic Games, she is as worried about that as she is about her nose.
“I know there's still more to go, but this is the first step,” said Mayer, who won the light welterweight (141 pounds) bronze medal at the 2012 world championships. “If I didn't do this, there are no more steps. This means everything to me. I'm the happiest girl alive right now. All my dreams are coming true."
Billy Walsh, the new women's national team coach, said Mayer’s maturity and experience are her best attributes.
“Mikaela has loads of boxing ability, good hand speed, good movement,” he said.
However, Walsh wants her to work on the extension of her punches.
The 1988 Irish Olympian and former national team coach praised Fuchs, a kinesiologist and personal trainer, for her great conditioning.
“She has many good attributes,” Walsh said. “I can also see places for her to improve, which is heartening for me. I think there’s a lot of improvement that can happen and needs to happen for her to make it on the international scene.”
Walsh called Fuchs “more of an aggressive southpaw,” and said he hoped to make her more diverse in her boxing.
In working with other U.S. boxers, he said, he’s been impressed by their flexibility, adaptability and ability to learn quickly.
“I think she has a great opportunity,” Walsh said. “She’s beaten one of the stars of American boxing for the last number of years (Esparza), so that should boost her confidence.”
Shields has no lack of confidence, especially with Olympic and world titles to her name.
“She’s an exceptional talent,” Walsh said. “Again, there’s lots of work that she needs to do. Being Olympic champion is one thing, but to retain it is a much more difficult thing because everyone’s been watching and playing catch-up.
“I saw some brilliance in her performances throughout (the trials), but last night (against Tika Hemingway) she was in against someone she’s beaten already a few times and maybe the motivation wasn’t as high as it should have been so there were lapses in parts of her performance.”
The three fighters will have their first chance to secure a berth in the Olympic Games field at the continental qualifier in March in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One or two spots will be available in each weight class. The final qualifier is the world championships in Kazakhstan in May, where the top four advance.
Walsh can’t wait to get started with his new charges on Team USA. “I’m not going to take away anything that they already have,” he said. “What they have is fantastic. I’m only going to add to it and try and make them a more all-around boxer who can fight at any distance against any opponent in any place.”