MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Mikaela Mayer won the lightweight division of the U.S. Olympic women’s boxing trials Sunday, beating Jajaira Gonzalez by a narrow split decision for the second time this week.
Gonzalez beat Mayer by unanimous decision Saturday to force the decisive third bout between the two Los Angeles-area natives. Mayer edged her teenage opponent by a 2-1 score again in the rubber match, apparently overcoming Gonzalez’s remarkable punch output with her superior size and technical skill.
”I had to rework my entire game plan” between Saturday and Sunday, Mayer said.
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”I couldn’t just go in there and hope that doing the same thing, I’d come up with the same outcome,” Mayer added. ”We just had to pick up the movement and pick up the boxing skills. I couldn’t stand in front of her. It was the third round where I started to pick up my movements, use my boxing skills and frustrate her, because I knew that was the only way I could hold her off.”
Mayer joined flyweight Virginia Fuchs and middleweight Claressa Shields in earning the chance to fight for berths in the three women’s boxing weight classes at the Rio de Janeiro Games. The fighters still must qualify for the Olympics through the continental qualifiers or the world championships next year.
Shields, the defending Olympic gold medalist, and Fuchs won their divisions on Saturday. Fuchs eliminated Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza from Rio contention, while Shields hasn’t lost a fight in three years.
The 25-year-old Mayer was last year’s national champion, and she was the runner-up to Queen Underwood in the 132-pound division four years ago in the U.S. Olympic trials. Underwood, who failed to medal at the London Olympics, didn’t fight as a lightweight this year.
”I know there’s still more to go, but this is the first step,” Mayer said. ”If I didn’t do this, there is no more steps. This means everything to me. I’m the happiest girl. All my dreams are coming true.”
The 18-year-old Gonzalez has won multiple junior world titles, but was competing for a senior team honor for the first time. Although both fighters are from Southern California, Gonzalez and Mayer had never fought in any competition before the trials.
After her split-decision loss to Mayer on Tuesday knocked her into the challengers bracket, Gonzalez had to fight six times in seven days during the trials, only getting a day off due to a medical walkover. Mayer had two days off before Saturday’s bout.
”I feel like I won,” Gonzalez said. ”I thought I won all three fights. … I was a little tired today. I still thought I did everything I could to win. I guess the judges just didn’t see it that way.”