THE day that Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) has been working toward for the past six years finally came on Saturday at the Americas Qualifier in Buenos Aires. The American lightweight clinched her berth in the 2016 Olympic Games with a gold medal victory in Argentina. She was one of four victories on an undefeated day for the United States. Bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.) and Olympic champion Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) both joined Mayer atop the medal stand with victories in their gold medal bouts and flyweight Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas) earned a win in her consolation match.
Mayer entered the Americas Qualifier with a renewed intensity and focus and it was clear in all four of her bouts. She had a difficult bracket to navigate with Pan American Games champion Caroline Veyre of Canada and former conqueror Kiria Tapia of Puerto Rico standing in the way of her Olympic dream. Yet Mayer wasn’t deterred by any of the obstacles and she approached the tournament final and qualifying bout with Mexico’s Victoria Torres in the same manner. Mayer entered the bout with confidence after defeating Torres last month on a World Series of Boxing card and she came out firing in the defining bout. She connected with a straight shot in the opening seconds and everything flowed from there. Mayer controlled the bout, landing clean punches without allowing Torres to connect with shots of her own. She racked up rounds one through three and went out in the final round to lock down the victory. Torres came out swinging in the final round but Mayer used her aggression against her, catching her with straight punches as she came in. At the end of the four rounds, Mayer heard her name announced as the gold medal champion and 2016 Olympian.
“I just can’t believe that after all these years and steps that this was the final step and now it’s over. I’m going. It’s surreal really because there’s always been another step that I have to focus on. Nothing ever really seemed to end because if you don’t focus on the next step, you miss your opportunity so I had to stay focused on what was next. Now, next is the Olympics,” Mayer said. “It’s a crazy feeling. I knew I had it (going in to the last round) because I was landing the cleaner shots. Everything I’ve done has led up to this moment. I used a little bit of all my knowledge. Everything built up to this moment. I peaked at the right time. Billy (Walsh) helped me so much in the last five months, getting together the punches that I do best and making me confident in those basic punches. The thing he said going in to this was ‘intensify and simplify’ and that really stuck with me. The other thing that he said was ‘care so much that you don’t care’ and that takes the pressure off and reminds you to just go in there and do what you do best.”
Two boxers accustomed to hearing the national anthem played in their honor competed following Mayer’s big win. 2012 Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) took the ring with an additional edge following a late wardrobe change but she channeled her intensity in the ring in her bout with Canada’s Ariane Fortin-Brochu. She began to settle in to the bout in the second round, firing off her prototypical power shots and landing fast combinations. The pace slowed a bit in the final round but Shields finished out the tournament with another unanimous decision victory to win gold in the Americas Qualifier.
“I feel like the stuff that happened before the ring (with her uniform) kind of affected me in the first round. I didn’t start out the way I wanted to, using my jab. I wanted to go out there and use my power,” Shields said. “I feel good now. I’m glad that it’s done with and I can look forward to the World Championships. I’ll have tougher and taller opponents so I look forward to that.”
As a two-time Olympian, Shields looked to provide guidance and advice to all of her teammates through the tournament and preparation. “We don’t usually fight with the men. So this qualifier, I tried to give them as much advice as I could. Keep it short and sweet. I was able to get other people mentally together and keep myself mentally together so I will take that in to the World Championships,” Shields said.
Former junior and youth world champion and Youth Olympic Games gold medalist Stevenson closed the tournament for Team USA and he made sure to make his Americas Qualifier finale a memorable one. Stevenson faced host nation boxer Ezequiel Alberto Melian of Argentina in the bantamweight championship bout as the loud Argentine crowd attempted to cheer on their boxer. Boxing on hostile ground is nothing new to the 18-year-old and he went right to work in the final bout of the early session. Showcasing his newfound power, Stevenson landed numerous single shots, snapping Melian’s head back with long, straight punches and unleashing hooks. A cut over Melian’s eye opened during the bout and Stevenson showed no mercy in going after it. The barrage continued across all three rounds before Stevenson was named the victor and Americas Qualifier champion by unanimous decision. The final round victory moved Stevenson’s undefeated international record to 23-0.
“I feel great, I’m happy I got my spot most of all and I like the way I finished. I didn’t have a set game plan for this fight. My game plan was to have fun because I already qualified so this fight was almost like sparring, like I’m in the gym,” Stevenson said. “The increase in power is coming naturally because I’m getting older I guess. I used to box like a junior, now I’m starting to get older and I’m starting to pick up on my strength. I’m starting to actually hurt people when I hit them so it’s great.”
Fuchs kicked off the day’s action in her consolation bout with Brazli’s Grazieli Jesus De Sousa. Fuchs looked to bounce back from a difficult loss in her semifinal bout and she accomplished that mission. Fuchs fired her guns early and often in the four round match, peppering De Sousa and evading shots fired back across the bow. She continued her strong boxing throughout all four rounds and fully lowered anchor in the final two minutes to win a strong, unanimous decision and conclude the Americas Qualifier with a victory. While Fuchs did not qualify for the Olympic Games in Argentina, she can clinch a berth if she finishes in the top four at the World Championships in May in Kazakhstan.
“It felt good to get my composure back and get back to class. Class never dies. Technique can kind of fall out then and there in fights sometimes but class never dies so my world class talent came back. My mindset was a little different (today). I was a little calmer and focused on the fight and not the win so I think that’s the main difference,” Fuchs said. “Going back to my jab, I kept throwing it and kept it in her face to keep her distracted. I got back to my boxing more instead of just coming forward like I did last fight. I learned how to more control my mindset going in to big tournaments like this and not focusing on the future but focusing on the moment in front of me.”
The United States team won nine medals at the Americas Qualifier in Buenos Aires, taking four gold, one silver and four bronze as well as clinching five Olympic berths. Five American boxers qualified Olympic berths in Argentina – light flyweight Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas), bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.), lightweight Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.), and middleweights Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) and Charles Conwell (Cleveland, Ohio). The non-qualified American men will have two more opportunities to confirm their Olympic berths at world events in June.
USA Boxing Women’s National Team Head Coach Billy Walsh (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and coaches Joe Guzman (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Kay Koroma (Burke, Va.), Benny Roman (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Augie Sanchez (Las Vegas, Nev.) led the American team in Argentina.