In the mid-1990s, Christy Martin led a surge of interest in women’s boxing. She was regularly appearing on the pay-per-view portion of Mike Tyson cards and was becoming a can’t-miss fighter.
Martin was a legitimate talent and was deservedly inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame for her efforts earlier this year. But in Martin’s era, sadly, women’s boxing never grew past the curiosity stage.
The depth of talent was incredibly shallow and promoters treated most women’s bouts as sideshows.
Thankfully, however, those days are gone for the women’s fight game, though there remains a considerable uphill fight for full equality. There are more elite women’s boxers than ever and when a women’s fight is put onto a card, it’s a legitimate addition and no longer done as a sideshow attraction.
With fighters like Claressa Shields, Savannah Marshall, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Seniesa Estrada, Mikaela Mayer, Alycia Baumgardner, Jessica McCaskill and others, the women’s game is filled with talent. Better yet, they’re all seeking out the best challenges.
So while in men’s boxing, there’s always a question about if/when a fight the fans want to see will happen — these days, it’s Terence Crawford and Errol Spence — that doesn’t occur in women’s boxing.
On Saturday in London, Mayer’s vision for what she wants the women’s game to become will blossom when she meets Baumgardner in a super featherweight unification bout on an all-women’s card that will be streamed on ESPN+.
She’s with Top Rank, easily the industry’s leading promoter, but until recently, was the only female on the roster. Top Rank signed Estrada after Estrada developed issues with Golden Boy, her previous promoter. But before Top Rank added Estrada, it sought Mayer’s blessing.
The women’s game can’t truly grow, though, unless all promoters make a full commitment. Lou DiBella has long done that, as has Matchroom Boxing. But other promoters have been slow to the party.
Mayer knew being the only female on the Top Rank roster made her unique, but she was always in favor of expanding.
“When Top Rank first signed me [after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil], I definitely had it in my mind that I would still have to sort of prove to them that I was a worthy sign,” Mayer said. “Because they weren’t in the market for women’s boxing, and I was sort of like a risk, right? I was just kind of a guinea pig. And so my goal was to prove to them that not only was I worthy, but women’s boxing is here to stay. And I wanted them for years to sign another female.
“It took a little bit longer than I had hoped and I had expected, but I’m glad they finally did. I think Seniesa is a great sign. She’s an awesome, down-to-Earth person. But it just shows you that the market in America is just tough. It’s just really, really tough. I’m not a promoter, so I can't go into detail about that, but I hope that I’ve sort of done my job to an extent. I feel like maybe I’ve done my job and proven to them, in some way, that there is a market here for women’s boxing. And hopefully Seniesa isn’t their last sign.”
Mayer has more than done her share. She’s 17-0 with five KOs and holds the WBO and IBF super featherweight belts. She’s consistently sought out the best fights, has been an outspoken advocate for the sport and acquitted herself well working as an analyst alongside Top Rank’s Crystina Poncher on some of its streaming cards.
Fighting the hard-hitting Baumgardner, who holds the WBC title, is the kind of bout she long sought. She could have held out and gotten her own date, but felt it was more appropriate as the co-main event to Shields and Marshall, who are fighting for the undisputed middleweight title in the main event.
Experience against elite opposition may be Mayer’s greatest edge. Baumgardner is 11-1 with seven KOs, but she’s faced a number of opponents with losing records. That doesn’t mean she can’t fight — just look at what she did to Terri Harper in a title fight last year — but it means that Mayer has that first-hand knowledge of what it takes at the absolute highest level.
Mayer said she sought to fight Baumgardner in Las Vegas several years ago, but the Nevada Athletic Commission turned the fight down as an unfair match.
“I’ve said this, she has not been tested,” Mayer said. “She has not been tested. Now she did her thing against Terri Harper. Great for her. I never thought Terri Harper was that good, anyways. I always told everyone that I’m levels above Terri Harper. I also don’t think that was the best Terri Harper that night, but whatever. She did her thing against Terri. You can’t take that away from her. But she has not been tested the way I have. She has not gone up against styles, and former world champions, and world champions the way that I have.
“That’s why I say that I feel like I’m levels above her. Top Rank has done a great job at moving me and giving me different styles and opponents over the last 17 fights. And I’m ready for this fight. I don’t know if she's ready for this fight. Once she’s taken out of her comfort zone and she’s taken into the deep waters that I’m going to take her into, we'll see. We'll see if she can swim, honestly.”