Reporting from Airway Heights, Wash. — For three rounds Tuesday, Mikaela Mayer gave the country's most celebrated female boxer all she could handle.
But for two minutes in the middle of all that, Seattle's Queen Underwood was unstoppable. And that made the difference, with the five-time national champion rolling to a 27-20 win over Mayer on the second night of the U.S. women's Olympic boxing trials at the Northern Quest Resort outside Spokane.
"I think I lost it … when I decided to stay inside with her," said Mayer, who choose to go toe-to-toe with an aggressive Underwood in the second round and paid for it by absorbing repeated blows to the heads and body. "Overall I think I did good. I think I can do better."
She will have to if she wants a shot at making the team for the first-ever Olympic competition for women this summer in London. With Tuesday's loss, Mayer fell into the losers' bracket in the double-elimination tournament, meaning she'll have to win three fights in as many days — starting with Wednesday's bout against Asia Stevenson of Washington, D.C. — just to stay alive.
And if she does that, it is probable she will have to beat Underwood twice over the weekend to win the U.S. berth at 132 pounds for May's World Championships in China, which will serve as the final qualifying tournament for London.
It didn't look as if that would be necessary after a first round Tuesday in which Mayer landed a number of combinations that seemed to startle Underwood, perhaps the closest thing women's boxing in the U.S. has to a star.
The judges gave Mayer the round but Underwood took control of the bout in the second two minutes, outpointing Mayer, 11-5, during a vicious assault. At first Mayer tried to backpedal out of danger. But then she abruptly changed tactics and decided to exchange punches instead.
"Even after the first round I knew it was going to be a tough fight. Queen is notorious for coming back," said Mayer, a 21-year-old former model from Los Angeles. "I stayed inside too long."
Take the second round out, though, and the fight could have gone either way. Told she showed heart by standing and fighting, Mayer, who lost the final two rounds by just two points combined, managed a wan smile.
"It's not about showing heart," she said. "It's about winning. It's all bad. Being in the losers' bracket is bad."
Not as bad as being out of the competition, though. Which is where Long Beach fighter Patricia Manuel, among the favorites at 132 pounds, found herself after a long-lingering shoulder injury flared up Monday, leaving her unable to punch with her right hand.
The injury, a compressed AC joint, had limited Manuel to just one tournament in the last 11 months — October's national Police Athletic League championships in Toledo, Ohio, where she finished a strong second. But she was in obvious discomfort from the opening bell in her first trials fight Monday — which ended in a loss to Florida's Tiara Brown — so her trainer, Robert Luna, made the decision to pull her out of the tournament during the weigh-in for her losers' bracket fight Tuesday against Stevenson.
That allowed Stevenson to advance unopposed.
"I've been through some very difficult times in boxing. And this was definitely one of the hardest," Luna said. "But I wouldn't be doing my job if I [didn't] step back. That was my responsibility. Not just for last night but for her life.
"There's a fine line between being tough and not being wise."
Manuel, 26, who nearly turned pro before women's boxing was added to the Olympic calendar in 2009, said she will return to that path once her shoulder heals, believing her aggressive, physical style will play better in the prize-fighting ranks.
"It didn't end up the way we wanted it to," she said. "But everything we went through and all the people I've met and all the things I've learned, I wouldn't trade this experience, even though it ended painfully."
In bouts Tuesday, teenager Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich., continued to impress by pounding her way to a rugged 31-12 rout of Andrecia Wasson of Centerline, Mich., in a middleweight (165-pound) bout. Also remaining unbeaten in the heaviest of the three Olympic weight classes was Pittsburgh's Tika Hemingway, who beat Louisville's Tiffanie Hearn, 19-15, and San Francisco's Raquel Miller, who eliminated Tiffanie Ward of Hacienda Heights, 23-12.
Baltimore's Franchon Crews, meanwhile, avoided elimination when Virginia's Dara Shen pulled out of their losers' bracket fight with an apparent injury.
In the flyweight competition, Houston's Marlen Esparza and New York's Christina Cruz ran their records to 2-0, Esparza by beating a game Alex Love of Monroe, Wash., 22-12, and Cruz by outpointing Baltimore's Tyrieshia Douglas, 20-15. Michigan's Latonya King was knocked out of the 112-pound competition, falling, 14-13, to Texan Virginia Fuchs, while Georgia's Taversha Norwood advanced unopposed in the losers' bracket.
N'yteeyah Sherman of Barberton, Ohio, joined Underwood as the only other unbeaten fighter in the lightweight competition by outpointing Brown, 32-24, in an active fight, while Northridge's Lisa Porter was eliminated in a 16-13 loss to Bertha Aracil of Yonkers, N.Y.