By Anna Whitwham

IT TAKES a kind of steel to come back from a loss and let it live on paper. To move beyond its fact into possibility – and hope. When I meet Mikaela Mayer, a little over a week after that fight in Liverpool, and that split decision, she is full of smiles, radiant in the Nevada sun against a wallpaper bursting tropical green leaves.  Even through the Zoom screen, her presence is a force – it was her skill and ring IQ and athleticism that helped me understand about levels in boxing. Her fight with Hamadouche is still a lesson to me in how to box and fight. That there is an unusual flair in being able to do both.

Mayer can and does do both – the first female boxer to sign to Top Rank – now braving it on UK boxing turf, and one who now has to decide if returning to the UK to fight is worth the professional risk after another decision by a panel of judges that has altered the course of her career.

I was there in the excitement and bedlam, for the burgundy and The Beatles. I got caught up in the crowd – there was real tension – I had a heated moment when cheering for Mayer in a row of Jonas diehards. Her ring walk to Love Me Do was inspired, funny.

She is bright, easy and open. We joke about the interview going on YouTube because she isn’t wearing make-up. There is that female, sisterly feel – I tell her she looks great and immediately the interview is like conversation. There is no sense at all, that Mayer feels sorry for herself – no blame game. No squabble. No being on the wrong side of fate. Mayer just wants to go again. She knows how good she is, and how far that will take her.

She does talk of her frustration over these last days, and I’m struck by how human her response is, how vulnerable she is on reflection – “the feeling of uncertainty of what’s next. That hurts too… to be wondering about the next stage, I should have a belt around my waist.”

I don’t want to tread old ground too much, when so much seems to be moving forward. Mayer has already had promoters reaching out to her – before she left the UK the phone was ringing. I refer to it as a decision, rather than a defeat. She acknowledges that, “It doesn’t feel as upsetting or scary as my first loss. I went into this fight as the challenger and I’m still the challenger.” I say it was stunning to see a fight at such a high level. Mayer knows her selling power against Jonas – “it was very inspiring and fun to be a part of this matchup and this build up again, against two fighters with names like me and Tasha.”

The fight was thrilling. Two stylish, power-house boxers. Olympic athletes. One of those fights that circled the conversations of people who didn’t usually watch boxing. Mayer is an especially big deal in our household. My daughter and her dad – and even her grandad – are all big fans. My nine-year-old daughter was allowed to stay up late so she could watch the fight – and once, when she came to watch my white-collar fight, she told me I should be more like ‘Mikaela’.

The buzz around Mayer shows how much leverage she has. A fighter who draws a crowd and money – and knows what she’s worth. Mayer is a businesswoman too and wants the right money – even as challenger. There is the logic of a Jonas rematch in the spring, which would hugely hype both boxers, but there are names if she takes another route – Ryan, Harper and McCaskill. Big names in the sport, and in the business. Chantelle Cameron comes up, and I can see Mayer delight in the idea of them meeting in the ring. It’s almost gleeful – the idea of having so much fun with a fellow fighter.

“That would be a banger. We both like to fight. That’s on my list to get done before I hang it up.”

Mayer and Jonas exchange punches during their fight in Liverpool on January 20 (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

We discuss women’s boxing and where it’s going, and I remark that it’s interesting how collaborative it all feels when I hear her talking. That despite the women all fighting against each other in the ring there is a strong sense of community – a collective push within the current pool of female fighters – to get the better deals, the better pay. To be able to ‘cherry-pick’ a little more.

It surprises me how few of Mayer’s Olympic co-athletes have found promoters. And perhaps it’s because she herself has come out of the Olympics that she has a sense of camaraderie or sisterhood – she wants all female fighters to do well in this business. Women’s boxing has come a long way. But clearly, there is still a long way to go.

Mayer knows how it works, “there’s only a few who are making quality money. Women have to be smarter; they have to work harder. They got to take more risks. Hopefully in the process we can change the narrative of boxing.”

We talk a little about her first moves into boxing. Raised in LA she found a Maui Thai gym. She had one hundred dollars in her bank account and spent it on membership. “I wanted to be good at something… after doing stupid stuff.”  She started training with women and then asked to train with men too – “I wanted to be there so much.”

She was good at it – it became a passion.

We find humour in being hit in the face. I make it clear I am not comparing myself to her as a boxer, but as a woman, and when I walked around with bruises from spars, I’d get stares and remarks. Mostly I was asked why I wanted to do it to my face – wasn’t I worried about breaking my nose.

She nods, laughs. “My love for it trumped any vanity. Even when I started, getting a black eye it just felt sort of badass. I’m doing something meaningful. I’m doing something fun.”

I felt the same. Owning my bruises felt like I was in control of the way I got to hurt and heal. Her comment about vanity shifts expectations about femininity and what that can look like. That her love of the sport was more important than looking pretty feels an empowered statement.

She remembers being confused by the girl “who cried and hyperventilated” after being punched – “When I got hit, it just kicked me into gear.”

Mayer is hopeful, not just about her next steps, but about women’s boxing too.

“This generation of women will have made their mark.”

At this point my daughter wanders into the room. She has been desperate to say hello since the interview began. Mayer’s face lights up – she connects immediately – turns all her focus to her. She asks if Sylvie wore her fight colours when she watched it on TV and laughs when she pauses to find the right answer. When the call ends Sylvie puts on my gloves and shadow boxes uppercuts in her school uniform. She asks when she can go and see Mikaela fight – as if they are friends – and I tell her, “soon.”

Whether or not the Jonas rematch takes place – and I hope it does – there is a strong sense that the night in Liverpool won’t define, or defeat Mayer.

Mayer doesn’t do victimhood. A boxer who owns her body – being hit – healing. She can box, and she can fight. I don’t feel sorry for Mayer. She’s got a strong team, knows exactly what she’s doing, and how to map out her next steps – she makes good decisions. She will keep helping to lead the new narrative in women’s boxing.

“It’s absolutely here to stay. We’ve made sure of that.”