The story of The Underdog is a familiar one in boxing. Stories of hard luck, bad decisions and redemption prevail among picturesque pre-fight television montages. Mikayla Nebel’s story was never going to be an “Underdog” story, despite its familiar beginnings.
Never having known her father, Mikayla was raised by her mother, who remarried when Mikayla was four. Shortly after marrying, she had two daughters, Nebel’s half sisters. As her mother focused more and more of her attention on her younger children and new husband, Nebel grew up with the realization that she was likely going to be navigating life on her own. This revelation was the catalyst that brought Nebel to a boxing gym for the first time when she was 16 years old. “I wasn’t going to be a victim of my circumstances,” said the articulate young fighter. “If I was going to be on my own, I was going to know how to protect myself.” Nebel had worked at a local grocery store since she was 14, and began using the fruits of her labor to purchase boxing lessons at Sweet Science Boxing in Columbus, Ohio.
What began as simply an effort to take control of her own destiny became a life pursuit. “Every day I’d become more and more engulfed in my training, in my desire to learn more,” said Nebel. After only seven amateur fights, all of which she won, Nebel made her professional debut in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, the hometown of her opponent. She lost a unanimous decision that was shrouded in controversy, and so began a rocky start to her professional career, losing several controversial decisions in the hometowns of her foes.
After having managed her own career, fighting anyone who was put in front of her, Nebel was at a crossroads. Without excuses, and with a tenacity that would become a hallmark of her persona, she packed up and moved across country to the mecca of boxing, Las Vegas. Alone in in the city at only 21 years old, she sought out Mayweather Boxing Club with the intention of getting in front of someone who could get her career on the right path. It was there she connected with Roger Mayweather, uncle and trainer of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. “From the first day we worked together, I knew I’d made the right decision,” said Nebel of the chemistry with Mayweather. “Every day I’d walk into the gym, and he’d make a beeline to me and ask if I was ready to work. He’d call out the other fighters in the gym, and say ‘She’s got more talent and technique than any of you.’”
In October, 2014, in Washington DC, Nebel secured her first victory in her first fight after joining the Mayweather Gym, validating what had been a tough and bold decision to make the cross-country move. It was during this fight that she caught the eye of Paul Sargenti, CEO of SAFE Security, who would become Nebel’s advisor. “I had the plate, the fork, the knife, the A1 sauce. I was just missing the steak,” said Nebel. “The steak” was a guide to navigate the tough political waters of boxing. Sargenti helped Nebel connect with Arizona-based Iron Boy Promotions who signed a promotional contract with Nebel.
Scheduled to fight on Iron Boy 23, July 25th at Celebrity Theatre, Nebel plans to donate a portion of her purse to Paw Placement Animal Rescue. Her promoter, Iron Boy Promotions, plans to match her donation. “Rescuing dogs is a huge passion of mine, particularly pit bulls.” She has two red nosed pit bulls of her own that she rescued, along with a rat terrier mix that she found and adopted. She spends her free time volunteering at the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas. “There is a huge breed misconception. These animals are raised to be aggressive, and when something goes wrong, they blame the animal instead of the person caring for it.” The passion in her voice is palpable. “I don’t have a car, and when I’m out riding my bike to the gym, I’ll come across a dog, and I have to stop and help. I’ll track down the owners, call animal control, or foster them until I can help them find a good home. I can’t help it.”
It doesn’t take much to see the parallels between rescuing pit bulls and Nebel’s own life. What might have been a predictable outcome was thwarted by determination and the addition of guidance and support. In Nebel’s case, the guidance and support of Mayweather, Sargenti and Iron Boy Promotions, and in the pit bulls’ case, the guidance and support of Nebel herself and others like her.
Nebel’s bright smile and innocent face belie a hard edge, fraught from being abandoned by her father, shut out by her mother, and betrayed by a sport that sometimes values connections over hard work and talent. Nebel has prevailed…not as an underdog, but as the master of her own destiny, navigating the ebbs and flows of her life and boxing career with confidence and maturity. This Saturday, Nebel will demonstrate to Arizona fans her will and desire to leave it all in the ring for the fans and for the sport she considers her destiny.
Nebel fights July 25th at Iron Boy 23 at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. Tickets are priced $30, 50 and 65 and are available at www.ironboyboxing.com or at the Celebrity Theatre Box Office.