Reporting from Airway Heights, Wash. -- Apparently Cinderella isn't ready to leave the ball.
Fighting for the fifth time in as many days, a bloody and worn Mikaela Mayer hung on for a victory, defeating N'yteeyah Sherman by a point at the women's U.S. Olympic boxing trials Friday, setting up a final-round rematch Saturday with pre-tournament favorite Queen Underwood of Seattle.
At stake is the chance to make history by representing the U.S. in the first Olympic boxing tournament for women in London this summer.
"Everybody's dream, it's almost come true for me," said Mayer, a 21-year-old from Los Angeles.
And like most dreams, this one has had parts that have been a little hard to believe. Like Mayer, with no margin for error, fighting her way through the losers' bracket here by winning three consecutive elimination bouts. Or Mayer, her nose bloodied during a wild first round, executing the strategy of trainer Al Mitchell perfectly by circling away from Sherman's powerful right hand for the rest of the fight.
"When you get in front of her, she's very strong. So the game plan was to stay to the right and just fight her jab and not fight her right [hand]," Mayer said of Sherman, a 19-year-old from Ohio who dominated Mayer when the two met at the Police Athletic League tournament last October.
Sherman also counter-punches very well, rarely giving Mayer an opening. So by the third round Mayer, though even on the scorecards, looked tentative and unsure.
Inside, however, she said she was neither, winning the round easily and giving her a lead to protect in the final two minutes.
"I was actually confident it was going to go my way. But I knew it was going to be close," she said. "You know amateur boxing. It could go either way. But I was pretty confident that I did enough in the last round."
Just barely, with Sherman winning that round but Mayer winning the fight, 26-25.
Whether she has enough left to do it again Saturday is still to be determined. Mayer has never fought this many times in a week and Friday she admitted fatigue was becoming a factor.
The night before she said she applied both ice and heat to her aching body, hydrated and tried to rest. What she didn't do was wash her blue boxing shorts and singlet, something she hasn't done all week.
She may have no choice this time, though, since the shoulder straps were covered with blood after Friday's fight.
"That's the first time I've had a bloody nose in a long time," said Mayer, who admitted she isn't superstitious about washing the luck out of her uniform -- especially not when it's sporting her own blood. That's not exactly a confidence-booster for a boxer.
"I think I'm going to clean it," she confessed.
Underwood, meanwhile, was resting Friday. A five-time national champion, she rolled unbeaten through the winner's bracket, fighting only three times --including a win over Mayer in her second bout here.
Plus, given the tournament's double-elimination format, Underwood can lose Saturday and still qualify for the world championships by beating Mayer the next night. The top eight boxers at the world championships will qualify for the London Games.
Mayer hardly sounds like a fighter with her back to the wall, though. After all, she's never lost consecutive fights to the same woman -- a fact she took comfort in Friday.
"I take my losses very seriously and I learn a lot from each loss," she said. "I think that's because I really go back and I study what I did wrong and I make sure I don't make the same mistake twice."
Also advancing to the final round was flyweight Tyrieshia Douglas of Baltimore, who beat New York's Christina Cruz, 22-14, and middleweight Tika Hemingway of Pittsburgh, who routed San Francisco's Raquel Miller, 21-6.
Douglas will fight six-time national champion Marlen Esparza on Saturday needing a win to force a winner-take-all fight Sunday for the 112-pound title. Hemingway needs a similar result against unbeaten teenager Claressa Shields at 165 pounds.