LOS ANGELES — Mikaela Mayer is giving up her gold medal dreams to chase even bigger fighting rewards.
The U.S. Olympic boxer announced her decision to turn pro Friday. Mayer has signed with promoter Top Rank, and she will make her debut Aug. 5 in downtown Los Angeles.
The San Fernando Valley native finished one victory shy of a medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, losing a tight decision in the quarterfinals. Although the 27-year-old Mayer gained fame and respect from her strong amateur performances in recent years, she wanted more out of the sport that has consumed her life for the past decade.
“I loved competing as an amateur, but I’ve always been the type where my ambition comes from having huge dreams, dreams that scare me,” Mayer told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I just felt I wanted a bigger stage, more of a challenge. But it was a really hard decision for me. I went back and forth with it for months.”
Mayer won national championships in 2015 and 2016 after finishing one win shy of making the 2012 U.S. team for the Olympic debut of women’s boxing.
Although she did well in Rio and raised her international profile, she became increasingly disillusioned by the financial realities of the amateur sport despite her strong relationship with USA Boxing.
“After the Olympics, I felt an emptiness,” said Mayer, who has supplemented her income with occasional work as a model. “I didn’t feel I got everything I was going to get out of the Olympics, and not just because I didn’t medal. I just thought there was going to be more. The Olympics were over, and I was kind of in the same position I was before.”
Mayer decided not to wait around three more years just for a possible shot at gold in Tokyo in 2020.
When she explored her professional options, the former kickboxing student received serious interest from mixed martial arts promoters, and she strongly considered a sport change. But her manager, George Ruiz, asked her to meet with Top Rank, and President Todd duBoef sold her.
“We sat down with Top Rank, and they were the first promoter to make me think they saw the vision,” Mayer said. “Other (boxing) promoters, you don’t believe, you don’t see. Top Rank did, and within a matter of weeks, we got it done.”
Mayer and two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields were the only two American women fighting in Rio. Shields turned pro in November, and she will fight Germany’s Nikki Adler for the WBC super middleweight title next month.
“Things are changing for Claressa and for other women,” Mayer said. “People are seeing what women’s boxing has to offer, and I want to be a part of that. I want people to see that elite women can compete with the best, can put on a show.”
Mayer plans to continue training in Michigan with Al Mitchell, a veteran amateur boxing coach and her longtime mentor. She also will train in Colorado Springs with U.S. Olympic team coach Kay Koroma, who works with Shakur Stevenson, the Rio silver medalist and fellow Top Rank prospect.
Mayer plans to begin her pro career around her amateur weight of 132 pounds, but her 5-foot-9 frame could handle a move up in weight fairly easily for a big fight. Irish gold medalist Katie Taylor turned pro in November at 130 pounds before moving up to 135, and Mayer would seem to be a natural opponent for a future bout.
Mayer’s opponent hasn’t been chosen for her debut, which will occur on the undercard of two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko’s defense of his WBO 130-pound title against Miguel Marriaga.
Mayer would love to follow the paths of Shields and Lomachenko, two standout amateurs who contended for titles shortly after turning pro.
“I want to be a world champion,” Mayer said. “I want to be the best, and I want to fight against the best. This is a bigger stage for me. This is what I wanted.”
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