Mikaela Mayer is one of a kind. At just 22, she has already achieved more in the boxing world than most athletes dream about. Currently ranked #1 in the world, Mikaela’s journey to the top has taken a unique path. Originally aspiring to be a model as a teen, she has since morphed into a world champion boxer. Unlike most athletes who start their sport at an early age, Mikaela has only been in the ring for five years. After getting her start in Muay Thai when she was 17, it only took her six months to win her first fight unanimously. After another six months of training, she made the transition to boxing, and hasn’t looked back since. While she is currently ranked #1 in the world, Mikaela has her eye on a new prize to conquer—the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
While her skill and path to success in itself is proof enough that she is one in a million (which is the basis of her recently released Dr. Pepper commercial), her determination and personality set her apart from others in her field. After not making the Olympic team during trials, she pulled herself together a mere week after and made the national team at a different weight—which later landed her two world medals. While her focus and determination is unquestionable, many may be surprised to find out she is involved in such an aggressive sport like boxing upon first meeting the self-described girly girl. Keeping true to her self, she lives in a “bubblegum pink” world filled with manicures, highlights, and butterflies while regularly getting punched in the face during training. Today, Mikaela takes us on her unique journey to the top of the boxing world and shares her dreams for the future.
Full Name: Mikaela Joslin Mayer
Current Occupation: Athlete
Educational Background: Some college, Northern Michigan University
You are a former model turned boxer—that is not a career switch you hear about everyday! Take us on a quick tour through your career bio.
I wouldn’t exactly call the modeling part of my life a career. Modeling to me was more of an aspiration. In high school, I wasn’t sure about what direction I wanted to take and thought modeling was the answer. I pursued agencies, had photos taken, posed for photographers, and was even on the cover and had a spread in Mac Magazine before I found boxing.
How did you get your start in the modeling world? How long were you modeling before you started boxing? Do you still take modeling jobs, or are you focused on other professional endeavors?
Most of the modeling I did was for photographers portfolios. I did this for only maybe a year before I found boxing. I was looking for an agent and researching my next steps, but struggled due to lack of knowledge in the business. Not to mention the fact that once I found boxing, I was suddenly in the gym every day after school and had no desire to do anything else. A few months into my boxing workouts, I realized that this was my passion and the path I really wanted take. I soon after told myself I was going to be the best female fighter in the world. I still love getting dressed up and participating in photo shoots. I’d love to do some modeling in the future when my boxing career allows for It. However, at this time I think I want to go the fitness route vs. high fashion!
You first became involved in boxing just a few years ago (at age 17) and were initially told you were “too old” to start the sport. What initially drew you to boxing?
There was a Muay Thai gym by my house which is what got me started. I was so eager to be involved in something productive and positive, so I immediately made the move and signed myself up. I was over doing things only half-way, and I wanted to know right away if I was too old to actually compete. The instructor actually said yes! I thought to myself—hmmm that sounds like a challenge. Six months later I took my first Muay Thai fight, winning unanimously. Muay Thai lasted about a year until I made the transition into boxing.
Was it difficult to get involved in the sport with everyone telling you no right off the bat? How did you persevere though everyone originally told you “no” and get to where you are today?
I think people who doubted me quickly had a change of heart when they saw my commitment to the sport. The instructor who originally told me I couldn’t compete soon took me under his wing and trained me six days a week. I loved learning new skills, and was so eager to get to practice every day. It was pure passion for the sport that kept me persistent and dedicated. I didn’t care what people thought—I believed in myself, and I knew that one day people would see I was truly dedicated to making my dreams come true.
What is the most unexpected way your life has changed because of boxing? .
Boxing has benefited my life in so many ways! The ambition and characteristics that boxing has built in me are unexplainable. Some people wake up in the morning dreading their day at work, or feeling anxious about the direction their life is headed. I on the other hand, am blessed to wake up every day knowing what my purpose is and loving what I do. Every day I get to wake up and focus on accomplishing my dreams.
At such a young age you have already accomplished so much in your boxing career (including being named the AIBA #1 ranked boxer in the world—wow!), how does earning such international fame and recognition affect you as an athlete?
A lot of athletes hope for recognition in their sport because we work so hard, and a lot of the time our work goes unrecognized. I feel like I’m in a great place right now because I have so many people who believe in me just as much as I believe in myself. When you have such immense goals, having people that support you is so important. It motivates me even more—I want to make people proud.
While you are currently ranked the number one in the world, you didn’t become such a success overnight. Tell us a little bit about your journey to the top. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while making your way in the boxing world?
Nothing happens overnight! I have and am still experiencing a lot of ups and downs. It is just as hard to stay on top as it is to get there! So the journey never gets easy. I was originally fighting at 132 pounds as I trained to make the Olympic team in 2012. In February of last year, I lost in the finals of Olympic trials and had my dreams temporarily crushed. A week later I moved up to 141, won Nationals, and made the National Team. Although 141 was a non-Olympic weight since AIBA only allows 3 weights for this woman, I still qualified for the Continental Games and World Championships. A month later I won a gold meal at the Continentals and a Bronze medal at the Worlds—ranking me #1. Despite my loss in Olympic trials, I had a very successful year and I was proud of myself. I am keeping my Olympic dream alive and the skills to make it come true, so I immediately decided that I was gonna go for it again in 2016.
Who do you look up to for inspiration in your professional and personal life?
When it comes to boxing, I look up to my Team USA teammates. Our 2012 woman’s National team was the best USA has ever had. We brought back 13 medals last year! In a solo sport like boxing, it’s great to have teammates who know what you’re going through and who share a common goal. We all come from different walks of life and are all so different, but when we come together, we are Team USA. It is very encouraging and motivating to have my team when we’re overseas in China and we are all each other have for months!
Going into the 2012 London Olympics, you were the favorite to win a spot on the US Women’s boxing team, but didn’t end up qualifying. How were you able to overcome this (very temporary) set back? Do you believe this experience made you a better competitor and athlete?
Being so close to making the 2012 Olympic team definitely hurt! When you work that hard for something and miss it by a hair, it devastates you. I remember getting out of the ring after the fight and desperately trying to hold back my tears through the hugs and the interviews. I had a huge knot in my throat the entire time! When I was alone, I let it all out and started to question the whole meaning of my life. I did this for about 7 minutes before I said, “I guess this means my new goal is 2016.” I knew it would be another hard long road—but my dream was and is still very much alive. I am still developing as an athlete and am no where near my peak. I know now that this has allowed me time to gain more experience and really come into my own as a boxer.
Recently, you’ve partnered with Dr. Pepper and star in their “one of a kind” commercial—you are currently ranked #1 in a sport where getting punched in the face is a daily reality, yet also say you live in a “bubble gum world” where everything is pink! Tell us how you morph these two (seemingly, to the outside world) very different realities to make yourself one of a kind.
This is all very true—I punch people for a living and also live in bubblegum pop world! My friend who is on the national team told me one day that that’s where I live! Apparently I think everything is cupcakes and butterflies all the time—I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and always try to see the good in life. I won’t deny it, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. Being positive and having this outlook on life keeps me happy and has gotten me pretty far. Most people’s first impression of me would not be that I’m an athlete in such an aggressive sport like boxing. I’m a super girly-girl who gets her nails done, wears lots of pink, highlights her hair, etc. and I come off very giddy, silly, and rarely serious. But don’t let this fool you! I am extremely focused, driven, and skilled at what I do!
What motivates you to keep pushing yourself professionally when you’ve already accomplished so much?
I may have accomplished a lot to outsiders looking in, but to me I haven’t even touched the surface. My goal is to win an Olympic gold medal and I don’t plan on stopping until I do. I still have so much more to learn and gain!
While you were in school, you supported yourself by bartending. How did you first get into bartending? How do you manage to fit your bar-tending job in with your extremely demanding training schedule? Do you ever struggle to juggle the two?
There was a time when I first started boxing where I had to work, train, and go to school. Waitressing and bar tending was convenient for the fact that I made good money in tips, the shifts were shorter, and if I had to leave to compete, all I had to do was get another server to cover for me. There was one point while I was in college where I would train, go to class, train again and then bar tend until 2 am! It was rough but I had no choice. I needed money and I wanted to train! If you really want to do something you will find a way, not excuses.
You accepted a scholarship offer to box for Northern Michigan University in the winter of 2010-2011, but soon after, they shut down their boxing program. How difficult was it for you to pursue your education while training?
The scholarship at NMU was an ideal situation. I could pursue my dreams, while also getting a free education—all in the same place. I sit on the board of directors for USA boxing and did my best to help my Coach and the school keep their program, but we just couldn’t get the funding. My education would have to wait—I couldn’t afford to put myself through college and train, nor did I have the time. I knew one thing though,I had found an amazing trainer. I knew that he was the one who was going to get me to where I need to be, and no one else would do. So going there was definitely not a waste. Without my coach, I would not be where I am today.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career thus far?
My entire 2012 year was amazing. Although I didn’t make the Olympic team, I can look back and say wow, I did my absolute best and I have no regrets. Now it’s simply time to get even better. I’m very proud of the fact that a week after Olympic trials I pulled myself together and went on to make the national team at a different weight. I didn’t let the loss hold me back. I kept pushing, and thank goodness I did because I received two world medals that year. When you fail—try again. Now I’m in a national commercial! Definitely a great year.
What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?
Nothing! I wouldn’t want to mess with the circle of life! It’s like the butterfly effect—everything I did led me to where I am today and I am thankful for every experience, good or bad.