Boxing & The EDI Landscape…

THE boxing match, several months ago at Madison Square Garden (MSG) between two legends, as we all know now, was a thing of beauty and will be mentioned among the greatest events/fights in history. 

To a casual boxing fan, the opening line of this article, most likely would have conjured up images of male pugilists. Without taking another step into this composition, they may ponder, “Who is this writer talking about, Fury, Haney, Usyk, Inoue..?”

Most serious folks following the game, would correctly think Katie Taylor 21-0 (6) v. Amanda Serrano 42-2-1 (30), due to the MSG reference; however, there are no guarantees. 

Taylor v. Serrano was more than a highly anticipated women’s bout that did not disappoint. The first female fighters to headline a card at New York’s famous venue, unexpectedly brought boxing slugging its way back into the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), landscape. 

It’s not as if boxing hasn’t drifted into this landscape in the past, the game, historically, just can’t seem to get it right.

If you want a look back at how we got here, please take a quick read of two articles I wrote on the subject matter (links in highlight). The first, I penned back in 2017… Million Dollar Ladies- The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing. The second, a sequel in 2019, Million Dollar Ladies-The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing…Round 2…Breaking Glass Ceilings.

For those who choose not to hit the link….I’ll provide a brief bit of context here-

In the 2017 article, I quoted Marian “Lady Tiger” Trimiar, who back in 1987, while enduring a month-long hunger strike aimed at bringing better conditions, pay and recognition to women’s boxing, stated, “Unless women get more recognition, we will be fighting just as a novelty for the rest of our lives. There will be no future.”

Sadly, 35 years later, the first all female card only now arrives.

Additionally, it was only TEN years ago in 2012, that women first could earn Olympic gold.

In the 2019 piece, I spoke about a potential Taylor- Serrano match, advising readers to buckle up if the match ever happens, that a “Rock cracks the glass ceiling”

So, what happened? Why is there still a struggle with regards to EDI when it comes to women pugilists? I could take the easy road and blame the root of all evil… lack of interest generating money, and along with it, greed. Or maybe, the minuscule fan interest with regards to supply and demand, and lastly, not enough marketable female boxers, but that would do a disservice to all of these fighters. In fact, lesser known and talented male boxers and YouTube stars turned fighter get more pub than the top females in the game.

One would only have to look at boxing’s sister combat sport of the UFC, and see that they have supremely marketed their female fighters for many, many years. Something is amiss in the sweet science.

Although I have a deep and unwavering love for the sport of boxing, and have followed it a few years shy of 5 decades, I’m going to challenge it herein and make it uncomfortable. Elephant in the room…beware.

Look no further than unconscious bias when trying to identify why boxing cannot get this right. Ah yes, the activation of the amygdala, causing one’s brain to make quick judgments based on past experiences. The sport of women’s boxing has no doubt suffered from unconscious bias, more specifically, gender bias. Quite frankly, most of it has been “conscious bias”. There has not been a lack of negativity from many purists of the sweet science when it comes to women.

Earlier this year, legendary promoter Bob Arum stated that “fans don’t particularly pay attention to the women’s fights” and that it was “like comparing the Premier League to women’s football.”. Once again, a judgement based on past experiences. We need these types of legends supporting women’s boxing with positive statements, not negative ones. Naysayers need to continue to learn, grow and challenge their own perceptions and biases.

As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and others are penalized. Historically, in the case of boxing, men benefit, women are penalized.

Say what you want about Jake Paul, but, as far as EDI goes, he’s been an unlikely champion of the cause. A vocal voice for women fighters, and equality in pay. Paul’s first client under his promotional company, Most Valuable Promotions, was Serrano. Paul believes correctly that women fighters are “being mistreated”.

Said Paul, “I think it’s a bigger question of boxing needing a ton of change and women’s boxing being one of those verticals,” Paul said. “Bringing in a new, younger audience was one vertical I identified.”

A new generation of fight fans open to EDI, and self aware of unconscious bias, could absolutely sustain the effort.

The increase in EDI efforts across all employment sectors has picked up steam over the past year. It appears that this time, boxing is primed to be in alignment, and not behind, which has always been the case. 

Flash forward to this Saturday night in London from the O2 Arena. The first major all female fight card, ever, headlined by two must see TV match ups…

Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall, 10 rounds, WBC/IBF/WBA/WBO women’s middleweight unification, & Mikaela Mayer vs. Alycia Baumgardner, 10 rounds, WBO/IBF/WBC women’s junior lightweight unification.

These two fights will no doubt pick up where Serrano v. Taylor left off, and keep the momentum moving.

The rest of the card rounds out nicely, Lauren Price vs. Timea Belik, 6 rounds, female middleweights, Karriss Artingstall vs. Marina Sakharov, 6 rounds, female featherweights, Caroline Dubois vs. Milena Koleva, 6 rounds, female lightweights, Ebonie Jones vs. Vanesa Caballero, 6 rounds, female featherweights, and Ginny Fuchs vs. Gemma Ruegg, 6 rounds, female flyweights.

These are the types of cards that will go a long way in strengthening the standing of women in the game. Quality matchups will need to be sustained. This will require quality fighters, and personalities to sell the fights, thus gaining fan interest. Further, a great marketing campaign to make some of the fighters household names, and we’re on our way. Once that happens, here come the promoters, advertisers, and networks, all of whom will never look back.

The future is bright with names like Mccaskill, Estrada, Crews-Dazurn, Kozin, Fundora, Jones, Mercado, Netisri, Daniels, and Lujan. (First names have intentionally been left off. Do some research, that’s how change begins.)

Shields is not shy on the subject saying, “My fans are going to show up for me, for sure, when you put me against a very tough opponent,” ….”The Taylor-Serrano fight proved what I’ve always said — when you give women equal pay, equal promotion, equal TV time, women’s boxing can sell.”

Shields continued, “They always try to say women can’t do this and can’t do that,” “You don’t know where women’s boxing has gotten to if you don’t give them an opportunity.” Shields criticizing all “these men who are in charge.”

Boxing must sustain this momentum. From April’s instant classic of Serrano v. Taylor, to the highly anticipated Shields v. Marshall & Mayer v. Baumgardner this Saturday, 2022 may prove to be the year that changed the path of the women, bringing EDI to the forefront.

It’s a crisp morning this Sunday the 16th. Be it on the tube in London, the Metro in D.C., or the subway in NYC, a conversation is overheard….

“What great fights last night from the O2 Arena!” states a seasoned boxing fan.

“No doubt” states a casual fan, “Claressa, Savannah, Mikaela, and Alycia, are some of the best in the game”.

All of these talented women in the game haven’t just arrived, they’ve been here all along. We just need you to notice🥊🥊🥊🥊

“It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you”

-Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Ladies-The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing…Round 2…Breaking Glass Ceilings

“It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you”

-Million Dollar Baby 

This piece is a sequel to an article that I wrote in March of 2017 titled, Million Dollar Ladies-The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing, if you want the backstory, the article can be found here….- https://standing-8.com/2017/03/27/million-dollar-ladies-the-resurgence-of-womens-boxing/

If you’d rather just jump ahead,……..protect yourself at all times….

For many decades, as you listened to the chatter in major cities the world around, be it on rapid transit, at airports, or in pubs/bars, you’d hear it, conversation on the purest of sports, the sweet science. “Did you see that knockout?” one would say,  “The knockout? What about that body shot and the beautiful boxing?” another would chime in.

In year’s past, the temporal lobe of an eavesdropper would immediately envision a male pugilist with red gloves hitting an adversary.  Or, their minds eye may think more specifically to any number of current or past male champions landing an assault as described.

However; in 2019, it wouldn’t be a shock if said eavesdropper thought of a female fighter first when envisioning the combatant. Some of the best fighters in the game today are not only male..but female. Gender be damned.

The most astute boxing observers of the bunch will know what I’m talking about. If I was to reference Taylor’s relentless combination punching and sick skillset, Mayer’s excellent work behind the jab with disciplined movement and defense, Shields’ straight right, wicked left hook, and ferociousness, Hammer’s all around game, the constant relentless brutal pressure and counter punching of Serano, or the undisputed, undefeated Braekhus…you just know.

If you don’t know, you’ve been missing out on some of the best pugilists in the game today. These fighters are moving in on new territory. They are headlining cards and are the attraction. There is momentum with some huge fights on the horizon and the sky is the limit.

In no particular order, let’s take a deeper look at these skilled fighters.

Because she’ll be in action tonight, we’ll start first with Ireland’s Katie Taylor (12-0 5 KO). Already the WBA world lightweight champion to start 2018, Taylor had a heck of a year beginning in April as she captured the IBF title besting Victoria Bustos. All Taylor did the remaining eight months is defend her titles three times, setting up her first bout of 2019 against WBO titlist Rose Volante (14-0 8 KO).

Katie Taylor Credit- Katie Taylor Twitter

   Credit- @KatieTaylor Twitter

As Taylor told the Independent-

“Ever since I won my first world title as a pro my goal has been to unify the Lightweight titles so this is obviously a massive step towards that, “Volante is unbeaten so I’m expecting a tough fight but that’s exactly the kind of challenge I want. I think the better the opponent and the bigger the challenge, the better I will perform”

Taylor Volante Credit Matchroom Boxing'

       Credit- Matchroom Boxing

If she is successful, she will add the WBO strap and look for a unification fight against once beaten WBC champ, Delfine Persoon, who just defended her belt on March 9 with a TKO7 against Melissa St Vil.

“For now my focus is on Volante but of course after that fight I would love to have all the belts as soon as possible. Hopefully the Persoon fight can finally be made for the summer and then there are some other huge fights out there as well for the rest of my career.”

If all goes as planned, that fight is rumored to be on the undercard of Anthony Joshua v Jarrell Miller on June1.  Rock hurled at glass ceiling…..

I’d be perfectly fine watching Taylor on a black and white TV, she is a throwback fighter. The hand speed, angles, body work, and forward attack. If I ever have the honor of covering one of her fights live, I’m going to wear a derby with “Press” inserted in the band as I bang away on the keys of my Smith Corona typewriter smoking a cigar.

Another interesting matchup for Taylor down the road is against Amanda Serrano (36-1-1 27 KO). Taylor beat her sister Cindy by shutout on all three judges scorecards last October, now, younger sis wants revenge.

What can you say about “The Real Deal” that hasn’t been said already? An unheard of seven weight world champion, she has simply dominated. You have to go back seven years to locate the one and only loss on her record and ten years for the draw.

serrano-voraberger.jpg

         Credit- YouTube

In her last fight, Serrano didn’t let her opponent Eva Voraberger survive the first minute of the fight, stopping her in about thirty -five seconds. In true Serrano fashion she attacked from the opening bell moving forward as always and landed a wicked left hook to the body, which crumbled Voraberger…game, set, match. Oh, did I mention that Serrano dropped six weight classes to go after that seventh belt? Brutal.

Serrano would welcome the fight against Taylor but as she told DAZN, she’s looking to first knuckeup with “Raging Raja” (Amasheh)-

“I think seven is good and I will probably want to keep this one for a while and defend this against the so-called real champion Raja… maybe she won’t take the fight”

Regarding Taylor-
“If that fight comes, I hope she is ready for it, but right now I have other sights on my mind. But she better be ready for me.”

Serrano had began to navigate to MMA; however, after her promoter Lou DiBella signed a co-promoted deal with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing for a three fight deal that feeds exposure on DAZN, she is poised to stay for the moment.

As she told The Sporting News-

“Thanks to the platforms DAZN and Matchroom Boxing, they’re actually giving women a platform to fight on,”

They’re paying the women what they deserve, so that’s exciting for me. I was just tired of the way [women’s] boxing was going. Now, it’s going up and even if I could continue to open doors for female fighters and make history, and have girls have someone to look up to, I’m happy to do that. But I don’t have much more in me in boxing.”

If a Taylor- Serrano match is made, buckle up. Rock cracks glass ceiling….

When you call yourself “The Greatest”, or “GWOAT” (Greatest Woman Of All Time), you are stepping into rarified air.  That said, when your resume documents history as the first U.S. amateur boxer to win two Olympic Golds, the capturing of three middleweight world titles after only eight fights as a pro, and fighting on April 13th for a chance to unify the division in only your ninth fight?…. You might have a case for said acronym.

Referencing of course IBF/WBA/WBC World Middleweight Champ Claressa Shields (8-0 2KO), or T-Rex, as you will. A nickname that stuck when she first began the sport because of her short arms, and continuous punching.

Claressa Shields Credit Stephanie Trapp.jpg1

Credit- Stephanie Trapp-Showtime

Shields is street. There are many definitions for the word; however, used here to reference, as the Urban Dictionary defines it, “The cold reality of day to day life and achieving” as in growing up in Flint, Michigan and achieving success, and “Someone who is ready to defend themselves at all times and jump on any opportunity to level up”…that’s Shields, always on point.

Like Taylor, Shields is a throwback of sorts. When I think of her training, I see an old hole in the wall gym, all business. Goof around here and get knocked out, or thrown out on your ass. You don’t play boxing here…. bring your A-Game every time out. Every second, every minute, be it sparring, on the heavy bag, or the speed bag. This is the stuff that forged her.

Shields probably possess the strongest Ring I.Q.. She is a student of the game and it shows in her approach. She can attack or sit back and box from the outside. It’s her call and whichever she chooses, her adversary would be wise to adjust their own game plan.

On April 13, she will face Christina Hammer (24-0 11 KO), the winner, a chance to become only the second woman in the four belt era to unify a division.

Said Shields at the first press conference for this monumental bout-

“This has been long overdue. I’m just glad that Hammer is here and the fight is set. She’s been at my fights before but I can’t wait to get inside the ring and show her I’m the real champion………..April 13 you’re going to see someone fold. I promise you, it will not be me. Make sure you all tune-in” 

“I think for women’s boxing this is a true super fight that we’ve never gotten before. We’ve never had a fight like this in women’s boxing. It’s great to make this happen and us being from two parts of the world makes this fight even better.

“I want to make her quit. I don’t want her to just know I’m a good fighter, I want her to know I’m great.

Countered Hammer-

“I’m looking forward to April 13. I want to show the world who I am….This is a big risk to come from Germany to the U.S., but I believe the best should fight the best and I did what I had to so that this could happen. This fight can be a game changer for our sport” 

“This fight is the real deal. This is going to be a game changer for women’s boxing. I think we’re going to inspire a lot of female athletes who want to live their dream. It’s motivation for everyone…..I’ve had the title for a long time. I always push myself. This is the fight I wanted to show everyone who is the best. I will be the undisputed champion.”

“Shields is beatable……….I want to finish the job if I get the chance…….Anything can happen in boxing. I’m prepared to go the distance. Knockout is the goal but most importantly, I want to win.”

Hammer Shields 1st Press Conf Stephanie Trapp SHOWTIME 3

              Credit- Stephanie Trapp-Showtime

Hammer has held a strap for nine years. It’s no coincidence. She simply knows how to use her physical attributes to execute her game plan. She uses her jab to perfection as she sets up her power behind it. She works the body and navigates the ring on her terms using some great footwork in the process. And beware, her timely sneaky uppercut is lethal as is her right cross.

Hammer Shields 1st Press Conf Stephanie Trapp SHOWTIME 7

Credit-Stephanie Trapp- Showtime

Yes, Hammer v. Shields fighting for the unified title is must see TV. Glass ceiling is shattered.

The only woman to ever unify a division?  None other than The “First Lady” of boxing, undefeated and undisputed…..Cecilia Braekhus (35-0 9 KO). A champion for ten years, and a pioneer of sorts for those coming through the ranks now.

In 2018, Ring Magazine awarded Braekhus with their first ever women’s pound for pound ranking and championship belt. In addition, she became the first woman to be featured on HBO Boxing.

Braekhus’ footwork is no doubt the key to her success. She effortlessly moves in and out while picking her shots. It is at the core of everything she does. Very skilled in all aspects of the fight game, we need to see her more on the big stage. It is a shame that she has been this dominate and has not gotten mainstream exposure until recently. It’s not that she hasn’t been a star and on PPV, it’s just that it was mostly across the pond. Let’s hope that changes soon and we see much more of her. It has been rumored for awhile that a match against MMA legend Chris Cyborg is a possibility. No doubt a Mayweather-McGregor result….

cecilia-braekhus-sporting-news.jpg                                         Credit- Sporting News

It is rumored that Taylor and Braekhus may get together at some point. That should solve the problem.

No article would be complete without a rising star. One who has exhibited everything needed to become a champion but is on the cusp just waiting for their opportunity.

Enter Mikaela Mayer (10-0 4 KO). Top Rank has a hidden gem in this pugilist, and they knew that early on as she was the first woman signed by the promotional company to a multi-year deal.

Mayer YouTube

    Credit-YouTube

Well, not so hidden now, as Top Rank has done a great job in getting her exposure on some high profile cards.

Mayer may be the purest boxer of the bunch. Her skillset is very solid and polished, she’s well schooled in the sweet science. Like Braekhus, her footwork is excellent as she sets up her arsenal. She uses her length well and fights tall working off of her active jab. Be it solid left hooks, straight or overhand rights, body work, or defense, she brings just about a complete package into the ring.

We’re looking forward to seeing Mayer get that title shot, and like her as the next big star.

While there are many more female fighters that are on the brink of greatness and are beginning to become regular names in boxing circles, I chose to profile the ones herein because they are on the doorstep of becoming household names, even to the casuals.

Just give me one FOY candidate out of the scheduled or rumored bouts mentioned above and women’s boxing can rise to another level and be sustained.

If that happens, the ceiling is shattered for good and long overdue.

Pay these ladies what they are worth and get them the exposure they deserve. They are not at any less risk then their male counterparts.

Just refer to them as a boxer.

Gender equality is a beautiful thing.

The time is now ladies……we see your dream!!

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Science Snippets

It’s been awhile, April of 2018 to be exact, since I last posted Sweet Science Snippets, formerly known as…Snippets On Arguably The Hottest Topics In The Sweet Science This Week.

I’m looking to get back to posting this feature regularly. For those that do read it, thank you and enjoy!

Check out some past Weekly Snippets and then scroll down for this week’s edition…..

Past Snippets…..

https://standing-8.com/2018/04/30/sweet-science-snippets-2/

https://standing-8.com/2018/03/07/sweet-science-snippets/

https://standing-8.com/2017/03/13/snippets-on-arguably-the-hottest-topics-in-the-sweet-science-this-week-20/

This week’s Snippets….

Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite……

Joshua “Don’t Blink” Greer Jr. (20-1-1, 12 KOs) brings a pillow to press conferences and in the ring that reads, “ZZZ  Night Night”. The pillow is a prop to signify what he will do to his opponents….put them to sleep.

On Friday night, his past pillow actions almost went the way of a cautionary tale. He was dropped by challenger Giovanni Escaner (19-4, 12 KOs) at the end of the third round. It was a shot right on the nose that was more of a surprise and wake up call than anything else.

Greer went on to recover and stop Escaner by a wicked body shot in the eighth to extended his knockout streak to seven.

Vote Mikaela For Mayer!!!…Of The Ring

Mikaela Mayer (10-0 4 KO) did what she does best on Friday night….box beautifully and win. In a workmanlike effort, she took a unanimous decision over Yareli Larios,79-73, 78-74, and 80-72. 

Larios was scrappy and just skilled enough to get under Mayer’s length early looking to land counter shots. Mayer is too skilled though and adjusted her approach after a few rounds and then began to impose her will en route to the win.  

You know what you will get with Mayer, an excellent active jab which sets up everything, a powerful left hook, a disciplined body attack, overhand and straight rights, and a killer instinct. Ya, pretty much the whole package. Very well schooled.

If there was one area that she could benefit from, it would be to use her size and fight tall. There were many times in this fight where she fought small, allowing her shorter opponent to have some success.  

One things for sure….can’t wait to see her again.  

Look for her soon in Standing-8’s sequel to March 2017’s  article- Million Dollar Ladies, The Resurgence of Women’s Boxing. https://standing-8.com/2017/03/27/million-dollar-ladies-the-resurgence-of-womens-boxing/

How’s The Weather Up There? En Fuego….

At 6’7, Sebastian “Towering Inferno” Fundora (12-0 8 KO) is not your typical super welterweight. In watching him Saturday night, I observed qualities rarely seen by a tall fighter. He covers his midsection well. The belly would be an area for a shorter fighter to exploit but Fundora uses his elbows well in protecting his core. As soon as he throws his punches, his arms move back defensively. No doubt, instinct that was ingrained in him early.  

On Saturday night, he dusted Donnie Marshall (10-1 6 KO) in less than three rounds. He dropped Marshall with an uppercut and then unloaded a barrage of punches to force the stoppage after Marshall returned to his feet. 

Does Fundora have things to work on? yes, but again he’s young and he can learn the things that will make him better. The positive here is that he already knows the things that are hard to learn. So, in that sense, he is well ahead at this point in his career. 

A few more observations that jumped out at me. 

  1. His ability to take a punch. Because of his height, most fighters will have to punch upwards which will take a bit of sting off of their assault as opposed to a fighter throwing shots at parallel or just above parallel rage.
  2. Bad intentions. He appears to have a mean streak and knows what to do with a hurt opponent.  

Byrd Box

Channeling their inner Byrd scoring system, the judges for Omar Figueroa (28-0-1, 19 KOs) v. John Molina Jr. (30-8, 24 KOs) must have been told this before the fight….. “Under no circumstance are you allowed to take off your blindfold. If I find that you have, I will hurt you. Do you understand?”

Molina Jr. fought his ass off. His body of work clearly won the majority of the rounds. Figueroa did well in spots but it was clear that his layoff and ring rust were his demise.

Standing-8 had it 2-2 after 4, 3-3 after 6 and 6-4 Molina at the end. Yes, you can make a case for a draw if you gave the swing/close rounds to Figueroa or even a one or two point edge for him; however, the fact that the three judges gave Molina only 1, 2 and 3 rounds respectively is an outrage.

Molina clearly won more than 1-3 rounds. It took forever for the cards to be tallied and read and we all know what that means…. and they didn’t disappoint.

“If you hear something in the ring, you tell me. But you never ever take off your blindfold. If you look, you will die. Do you understand?”

It’s clear they did. 

Leo The Lion

Featherweight champ Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1 19 KO) did what he was supposed to do to a three week late replacement for the injured Miguel Flores, he dominated. 

With his trademark body punching, Santa Cruz softened his game, tough opponent, Rafael Rivera (26-3-2 17 KO), early and often. He popped his straight right solidly and his defense was a bit sharper than I remember seeing from him in the past. 

His trademark uppercuts were on full display and he backed up Rivera constantly, who clearly has an inability to work off his back foot. He was tailor-made for the champ. 

Standing-8 scored the fight 119-109. Official cards, 119-109 X3. 

Nuff said…

Back To the Gypsy That I Was….

Tyson Fury (27-0-1 19 KO) signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank/ESPN on Monday under the watchful eye of promoter Frank Warren, Queensberry Promotions. Deal is contingent upon two fights a year. 

Unclear now is the rematch with Deontay Wilder (40-0-1 39 KO). Wilder advisory, Al Haymon, the guy everyone wants to thank but is about as common a sighting as a Yeti, is a servant leader who would flourish in any business. He prefers to leave the spotlight to those that he leads. 

It has been said that Haymon and other promotional companies have reportedly not played nice in the sandbox. Hopefully not another cold war….just when boxing, more specifically the heavies were heating up….say it isn’t so…

Playing the Dozens….AJ Dislikes Oxymorons

Anthony Joshua (22-0 21 KO) and Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (23-0-1 20 KO) will face each other on June 1 at Madison Square Garden. If the build up and the fight match today’s opening news conference, we are in for a wild ride. 

Joshua and Miller did their best of “playing the dozens”. 

You had “the push”, “your mama jokes”, bitch references, drug references, knockout threats, etc… 

Good times…Keep is Classy San Die….uh, New York….

 

Antonio Vargas and Mikaela Mayer are Eliminated at the 2016 Olympic Games

AUG. 15, 2016, 10:07 P.M. (ET)

The United States boxing team dropped two tough bouts on Monday at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. American flyweight Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.) celebrated his 20th birthday and was hoping to celebrate with a second round win but he dropped his second bout of the Olympic Games in a match-up with Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov. Lightweight Mikaela Mayer(Los Angeles, Calif.) competed in her second bout of the tournament on Monday as well and lost a close decision in a hard-fought battle with Russia’s Anastasiia Beliakova.

Vargas took the ring in the early session at Riocentro Pavilion 6 looking to earn a spot in the quarterfinal round. The squad from Uzbekistan has enjoyed tremendous success in the 2016 Olympic Games and it continued in their flyweight match-up. Vargas started the bout looking to box from the outside and catch the elusive Gaibnazarov. He continued to stalk his opponent in the second round but Gaibnazarov built a two round lead in the match-up. Vargas was even more aggressive in the third round, landing a strong right hand midway through the round that caught the attention of the crowd. Yet he couldn’t make up his deficit and lost a unanimous decision to Gaibnazarov. 

“He was an awkward fighter, awkward southpaw. I’ve fought very few styles like that. It was kind of hard to hit him at times. It’s two different styles. His is more European, he keeps his hands out so it’s something different for me. It was a good fight. I did what I could,” Vargas said. I thought it was a close fight. I wasn’t mad when he won the fight. God has gotten me this far and I’m real grateful. I’m keeping my head up. I’m just really grateful that I got here. Not too many people get to see they’ve been in the Olympics. God has blessed me enough to experience this feeling and I’m just going to go and support my team.”

He feels that he started to see things late in the bout that would have been beneficial to figure out early in the match in a short Olympic-style bout.  “That last round, I was hitting with some shots. I was a little more calm and just reacting more and coming back and I kind of figured that out in the last round. Figuring out that style in the first round that’s real essential in these three-minute, three rounds,” Vargas said.

Despite the loss earlier than he would have hoped, Vargas has taken a lot from his first Olympic Games.

“I judge it as a learning experience. I expected more from myself but it’s a fight to learn from. I see new styles everyday when I’m out here in worldwide tournaments. It’s a new experience. I’m going to go back and learn from my mistakes and capitalize on what I was doing wrong and try to perfect my style,” he said.

Mayer stepped in to the ring for her quarterfinal contest with Beliakova in the first bout of Monday’s evening session at Riocentro. She started off quickly in the bout, opening the first round with a crisp 1-2 to Beliakova’s head. Mayer looked to land clean, straight shots while Beliakova tried to make the contest more rough and tumble. The American’s accurate punches give her the first round on two of the judges’ scorecards. She started the second round in a similar fashion to the first and looked to use her movement and clean punching to outbox and outwork the Russian. The majority of the judges give the second and third rounds to Mayer’s opponent and she entered the fourth and final stanza needing to win the last two minutes to pull the bout to a tie. She landed several clean combinations in the final 120 seconds but only one judge gave her the final round and she dropped her quarterfinal contest by split decision.

“I’m definitely disappointed. It was a close fight so it makes it even more disappointing because maybe a couple more combinations could have done the trick. I thought I might have pulled it off at the end but I also knew that it was close and I this is boxing. You let a fight get that close and just don’t know who they’re going to give it to. I was hoping they were going to give it to me but they didn’t,” she said. “The game plan was to let that 1-2 go and let her fall in to your jab because she’s not a mover. She puts pressure on despite her being tall and long so I know she’d run into our shots but her punch count is high too so she was throwing when I was throwing. I tried to let my hands go. She’s a good boxer. She’s tall and she’s long but she fights right in the pocket and she puts pressure on which you wouldn’t really expect of a fighter with that height and that reach. Good fight but disappointing.”

With defending Olympic champion Katie Taylor losing her tournament opener earlier in the day, it was clear that the women’s lightweight division was wide open. “At this level, it’s an even playing field and I knew that anything could happen and Katie Taylor going out the first day just proves that anything can happen at this level. These medals are up for grabs,” Mayer said.

Two more American boxers will compete for medals on Tuesday afternoon at Riocentro Pavilion 6. Bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.) will face Mongolia’s Tsendbaatar Erdenebat in the quarterfinals at 11:45 a.m., and light welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell will take on Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov at 12:15 p.m.  

For full tournament brackets and schedule information, click here.

U.S. Result
114 lbs/52 kg: Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, UZB, dec. Antonio Vargas, Kissimmee, Fla./USA, 3-0

132 lbs/60 kg: Anastasiia Beliakova, RUS, dec. Mikaela Mayer, Los Angeles, Calif./USA, 2-0

Mikaela Mayer Starts Her Olympic Journey While Olympic Bronze Nico Hernandez and Carlos Balderas Find the End of Their Road in Rio

AUG. 12, 2016, 7 P.M. (ET)

Olympic village roommates Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas) and Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, Calif.) got their U.S. team off to a strong start in the Rio Olympics but the run ended on Friday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro. Hernandez clinched a bronze medal with his third victory of the tournament on Wednesday but lost in his semifinal bout to Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov this morning. Balderas enjoyed two Olympic victories early in the week to move on today’s quarterfinal match-up with Cuban Olympic bronze medalist Lazaro Alvarez and he put on an impressive showing in today’s action but dropped a decision on the judges scorecards. Female lightweight Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) made her long awaited debut a victorious one in Wednesday evening competition. 

Twenty-year-old Hernandez clinched the first medal of the 2016 Olympic Games with his third victory of the tournament on Wednesday but he couldn’t extend his winning streak on Friday. Hernandez has lost the first round in all four of his matches at the Olympics and today’s semifinal bout with Dusmatov told the same tale. Hernandez looked to find openings and pick his shots early in the bout and managed to connect with some accurate punches but fell behind after the opening round. He picked up his work rate in the second round but caught a head butt from the shorter Dusmatov that opened a cut over his eye. Although a trickle of blood dripped down his face, Hernandez wasn’t discouraged. The American corner stopped the bleeding and Hernandez came out firing in the third, looking to try and make up the two round deficit he faced. The doctor stopped the bout for a brief minute to check the cut but allowed Hernandez to continue. He finished the bout strongly but dropped a unanimous decision in the semifinal contest. Despite the loss, Hernandez wins a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympic Games following an impressive run through the tournament.

“I didn’t stay on the outside and move enough. I fought his fight instead of my own. I let him come in and make the fight too wild and that’s how I lost.  I think I started doing it (throwing body shots) way too late in the fight, not until the last round. I waited too long. I definitely knew it was close. I thought I lost the first round, I thought the second round was really close. The third round I thought I pulled it off,” Hernandez said. “The corner after the first round told me it’s way too close, you have to feint more and move around and pick your shots. Don’t let him get on the inside and make it rough. I tried, I just let him come on the inside and made it a great fight.”

Hernandez has previous experience with cuts in fights that helped him deal with the one he sustained on Friday. “When I got cut, my vision went a little blurry. I couldn’t really see that well. After they cleaned it up (in the corner), it got better,” he said. “It didn’t really affect me too much. I felt a little bit of blood leak down. It didn’t really hurt. I’m pretty sure it will be sore later.”

Although he certainly wanted the top spot on the podium, Hernandez certainly understands the importance of securing a medal. “It’s definitely disappointing because I wanted to go home with the gold medal. I’m leaving with the bronze but I know USA Boxing is proud of me. All of my supporters back home are proud of me so I’m just blessed to be here. It ended the drought of medaling. It was definitely a great feeling to be the first one in eight years but I didn’t want to go home with the bronze medal. I’m definitely proud that I made it to this level. I’m definitely blessed. I know everyone back at home is proud of me win or lose.”

Now that Hernandez is done competing, he looks forward to seeing his teammates compete to join him on the medal stand. “We are just a young, hungry team, staying focused and pushing each other to become better and go out there and be victorious. We definitely love pushing each other at practice and in fights. Since we were little, we’ve always said that when we get there, we’re going to medal and we’ll push each other until we do that and now we are finally here,” he said. 

While he doesn’t have a concrete plan for what’s next for him, Hernandez certainly gained a lot from his Olympic experience. “This is definitely a whole nother level of experience, the highest level I’ve ever been on. I learned to just focus on your opponent and not what’s around you or in the stands. I’m going to take a little break after this. Talk to my father about it and see what we come up with,” Hernandez said.  

He will receive his bronze medal on Sunday following the light flyweight gold medal bout. Hernandez will appear on NBC’s The Today Show tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. 

Balderas stepped in to the ring just as Hernandez exited for his quarterfinal showdown with a top rated Cuban foe. The American refused to be intimidated by his more experienced opponent and went right at Alvarez. He enjoyed a strong first round but the judges scored the opening three minutes for the Cuban boxer. He continued his strong work in the second stanza as Alvarez looked out outbox Balderas in the second. The American entered the third down two rounds on the judges’ scorecards and couldn’t overcome his deficit. Balderas lost a 3-0 decision in their quarterfinal contest to eliminate him from the competition. 

He felt that the quick turnaround from his previous fight impacted him in the bout.  “My previous fight was very, very rough, very tough. That fight took a lot out of me and those two days of rest that they gave me, it wasn’t enough for me to recover fully. The fight against Japan was very tough. I even felt it yesterday at night. It wouldn’t wake up. My body just felt very beat and tired. I did the most that I could. Things happen for a reason, only God knows why,” Balderas said.

He knew that Alvarez had an experience advantage in the match-up, particularly in the Olympic Games. “He was very long, he had a lot of experience, he knew what he was doing. He was just tapping from a distance, waiting for me to get in. I believe I was putting up a good fight. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was managing the distance, he was tapping away and I wasted a lot of energy chasing him down and trying to catch him with one shot.  I just fell a little short,” he added. 

Balderas opened the Olympic Games in impressive fashion for his U.S. squad and he’s pleased with what he was able to do in his first Olympics. “It (the Olympics) was an amazing experience. I’m happy with how far I’ve gotten. I know I could have done better but I’m just going to keep going forward. I’m going to go home, take a little break, talk with my family and we’ll see what the future holds for me.”

Now that he and his roommate are done competing, they will turn their attention to the five U.S. boxers remaining in the tournament. “We started off very strong, the team started very strong. Me and my roommate (Nico Hernandez) got victories and we still have more victories to come. I’m looking forward to watching my teammates fight as well. I think my team will do very good. I did as much as I could. My teammates are very focused. They are very hungry. I know they are very anxious, they’ve been talking about it in the room and they just say they want to go out there and put on a show to prove everybody wrong.” 

The day Mikaela Mayer has been waiting for for nearly 10 years finally came on Friday Riocentro Pavilion 6 as she walked to the ring for her first Olympic bout. Mayer competed in the first day of competition for the women’s bracket in Friday’s evening action. She took on the Federated States of Micronesia’s Jennifer Chieng, a New York native, in her tournament opener. Mayer wasted no time getting started in the bout, exerting her dominance early in the contest. She caught Chieng with clean shots in combination over the first two rounds, even taking the second stanza by a 10-8 margin on two of the judges’ scorecards. Mayer continued to dominate over the final two rounds, mixing in thudding body shots with her skillful movement and accurate straight shots. She rolled through to the end of the fourth round to take a wide, unanimous decision in her first Olympic Games. 

“I think I dominated all four rounds, obviously there’s always something to work on. It was my first fight. You’ve got to get your timing, your space, all that stuff down, get the nerves out of the way. I know I’m going to get sharper as the days go by. Billy’s big on using your distance so since I’ve been working with him, that’s something he’s really been stressing. Really getting my full reach out because I do have these long arms so I should use them to my advantage so if I’m not using them, it’s not worth anything,” Mayer said. 

“My nerves have been pretty good. You always have nerves no matter how long you’ve been doing this. You’re always going to have nerves. They weren’t more than any other fight. I took a second to realize that I’m about to walk out and compete in the Olympic Games. I took that in for a few seconds, not long. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a dream come true for me.”

Mayer fell just short of making the Olympic team in 2012 but she feels that the extra four years have given her a whole different perspective on the accomplishment.  “I came close in 2012 but I really hadn’t been boxing that long. I was only four years in. It means so much more now. It’s been eight, nine years. I really put the time in.  I really had time for this dream to flourish in my brain and it’s really just become who I am. I am this dream so it means so much more now, it really does. The competition has just shot through the roof.  the A lot of these girls are experienced. They are coming in with Olympic medals. A lot of these girls are previous Olympians, multiple world champions,” she said.

She believes that the success she’s had despite her late start in the sport should encourage others to chase their own dreams. “I did start boxing kind of late. I think it’s just proof that it’s never too late to start something new. I’ve poured everything I had in to this from day one. I’m going to put everything I have in to this and see where it takes me. This is where it took me so it’s just proof that it’s never too late,” Mayer said.

Mayer will return for her quarterfinal bout with Russia’sAnastasiia Beliakova at 5 p.m. Brazil time (4 p.m. ET) on Monday, August 15. If she is victorious in her quarterfinal bout, she will clinch at least a bronze medal.

American flyweight Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.) will step in to the ring for the first time at Riocentro Pavilion 6 at 11:30 a.m. Brazil time (10:30 a.m. ET) against Brazil’s Juliao Neto

For full tournament brackets and schedule information, click here

U.S. Result
108 lbs/49 kg: Hasanboy Dusmatov, UZB, dec. Nico Hernandez, Wichita, Kansas/USA, 3-0

132 lbs/60 kg/male: Lazaro Alvarez, CUB, dec. Carlos Balderas, Santa Maria, Calif./USA, 3-0

132 lbs/60 kg/female: Mikaela Mayer, Los Angeles, Calif./USA dec. Jennifer Chieng, FSM, 3-0