Reporting from Airway Heights, Wash. —
Mikaela Mayer can call on a number of weapons each time she steps into a boxing ring.
She has a good jab, for example, a strong right hand and a long reach that keeps opponents away.
Her most valuable asset, though, may be the giant chip she keeps on her shoulder.
Heading into the first-ever U.S. Olympic boxing trials for women, Mayer thought she was being overlooked in a lightweight division headed by five-time national champion Queen Underwood. But she certainly drew attention to herself Wednesday, putting together the most dominant performance of the tournament in stopping Asia Stevenson of Washington, D.C., in the fourth round of their elimination-round bout at the Northern Quest Resort outside Spokane.
"People maybe underestimated me because I know a year ago I wasn't this good," said Mayer, a former national Golden Gloves champion. "I really came a long way in a year. I think people are seeing that.
"I definitely think I'm someone they're looking for now."
She was certainly someone they were looking at with awe Wednesday. On a night when three of the six matches were decided by one point, Mayer caused four standing eight counts before winning when referee Kevina Franklin halted the one-sided bout late in the final round.
That marked a rapid turnaround for Mayer, who lost to Underwood in her second fight here Tuesday, then got off to a poor start Wednesday when she missed with a wild punch in the opening seconds and stumbled to the canvas.
It would be the last time she was vulnerable all night.
"I don't know. I felt sharp today," she said. "I kind of almost feel like it's finally coming together."
Mayer — at 5-foot-9, four inches taller than her opponent — made good use of a substantial reach advantage to keep Stevenson and her probing left jab at bay in the first round, then took control with a blistering second round that was stopped twice to give Stevenson a standing eight count.
The first came when Mayer, a 21-year-old from Los Angeles, connected with a long right as she backed Stevenson against the ropes. Stunned, Stevenson dropped her hands momentarily and Mayer took advantage, unleashing a withering series of punches that forced Franklin to step in and rescue the fighter.
But 15 seconds later, Stevenson was in trouble again — so the referee stopped the fight again before the bell sounded, mercifully ending the round.
Unfortunately for Stevenson, the next bell started the third round and Mayer kept up the barrage, eventually trapping her defenseless opponent in a corner, leading to another eight count as the round came to a close.
"You don't look for the knockout," Mayer said. "I look to land my punches clean and sharp. If the knockout comes, it just comes. But I don't think you look for it. You've just got to let your hands go and see what happens."
A ringside doctor examined Stevenson briefly before allowing the fight to continue — but it didn't last much longer, with Franklin issuing a final eight count a little over halfway through the final round before finally stopping the bout with 36 seconds remaining.
Afterward, Mayer credited Coach Al Mitchell for the fact she's one of just four U.S. boxers left with a shot at the London Games at 132 pounds.
"Ever since I started training with him, I jump to a whole level every month," she said. "Every training camp I'm just amazed … what he's been able to do with me. He's an amazing coach."
Next up for Mayer is Florida's Tiara Brown, who traded some vicious head shots with Bertha Aracil of Yonkers, N.Y., especially in the final two minutes, before emerging a 12-11 victory. The winner of the Thursday match advances to another elimination match Friday while the loser goes home.
And Mayer said she's not ready to start packing yet.
"This is my one opportunity. I'm in the losers' bracket. I don't have any more easy fights," she said. "I have to keep the momentum, definitely."
In the middleweight challengers' bracket, Franchon Crews, the most decorated 165-pounder coming into the tournament, won a controversial 27-26 decision over Louisville's Tiffanie Hearn, while San Francisco's Raquel Miller celebrated her 27th birthday by keeping her Olympic hopes alive with a 7-6 win over Michigan's Andrecia Wasson.
At the end of the Crews-Hearn fight, both boxers came to the center of the ring with index fingers raised in triumph. But when Crews was pronounced the winner, Hearn dropped to her knees, then strode quickly out of the arena in tears.
Crews, a five-time national champion, will meet Miller in the middleweight elimination bout Thursday.
At 112 pounds, Virginia Fuchs of Kemah, Texas, won a brawl with local favorite Alex Love of Monroe, Wash., 21-16, while Tyieshia Douglas beat Taversha Norwood of Marietta, Ga., in a fight that was stopped with about a minute left.
Douglas, of Baltimore, charged out of her corner to start the final round of what had been a relatively even fight. But Norwood quickly found herself unable to fend off the flurry of punches, sending Douglas on to meet Fuchs on Thursday.
"I have nowhere to go so I have to win this tournament," Douglas said. "No one is taking my last piece of chicken."