Fighters positive about the Covid Card in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jamel Herring had fever, aches and chills for three days before taking a turn for the better. Mikaela Mayer felt nothing, except regret that she wasn’t given a second COVID-19 test to begin with.
Both tested positive for the coronavirus last month, forcing them off ESPN boxing cards they were supposed to headline. Now both are back, seemingly healthy and eager to show off their skills Tuesday night before a national television audience.
“We’re the Covid Card,” Mayer said. “Except we spell it with a KO.”
The two fighters — good friends from their amateur days — fight in separate co-mains at the MGM Grand as part of Top Rank’s twice-weekly cards. They’ll do it without fans, but with an appreciation of getting back into the ring and making a payday for the first time since the virus changed everything in sports.
For Herring, it’s a chance to make up for a pair of coronavirus-caused disappointments in a defense of his piece of the 130-pound title. The former Marine was originally supposed to have a big-money fight against Northern Ireland's Carl Frampton before the virus hit, then was pulled off a Top Rank card set for July 2 when he got sick while training in Omaha, Nebraska.
Now he’s recovered and symptom-free. He’s also negative for the coronavirus, at least according to his latest test.
“It was pretty crushing, but in the end it’s all about safety,” Herring said. “Health comes first and now that I’m healthy this is a big spotlight for me.”
Mayer is a different story, an example of why staging sports in the middle of a pandemic is so tricky. The 2016 Olympian was in Las Vegas getting ready to fight on Top Rank’s first card back in early June when she tested positive for COVID-19.
With no symptoms, Mayer wanted another test to make sure it wasn’t a false positive. But the early protocol for the ESPN fights was that once a fighter tested positive, the fight was off.
So Mayer, who is undefeated in 12 fights, got in her car and drove 12 hours home to Colorado, not only losing a fight but a chance to make a statement for women’s boxing at the same time.
“I was so excited because it was the first boxing event back and I knew there was going to be a lot of eyes watching,” she said. “It was a great showcase for women’s boxing, and then I tested positive.”
Mayer thought she might be a false positive because she had tested negative in Houston before she left for Las Vegas. She did, however, test positive at the time for virus antibodies, indicating she had possibly contracted the virus a few months earlier.
“I felt great going into camp and took the test the week before Vegas, so when I got the call I was totally shocked,” she said. “They said there was nothing they could do, so I just had to pack up my stuff and go.”
Mayer said her trainer, former Olympic coach Al Mitchell, and other members of her team all tested negative, something she found significant because they basically live with each other during training.
Herring wasn’t as lucky. He was in training when he began feeling body aches and fatigue that he chalked up to sparring 40 minutes a day in his final days of preparation for his fight. Then the fever hit, and he knew it was something else.
Herring is no stranger to adversity. The 34-year-old lost a daughter to SIDS a decade ago, and has had battles with PTSD from his time as a gunner on a Humvee during two tours of Iraq. He thought he was taking no chances with the virus, but it got him anyway.
“It could have been a quick run to the store or something like that,” he said. “That makes it even more scary, you’re going on a normal day of living and get hit with that. It shows it can happen to anybody.”
Mayer understands that, too, even as she goes about her plan to bring some credibility and excitement to women’s boxing. Just telling people she tested positive was unnerving at first, she said, because she felt there might be a stigma attached to it.
“For a second I felt, what kind of backlash am I gong to get for this?” she said. “But there was nothing and there shouldn’t be. It’s a crazy virus and we don’t know enough about it. Plenty of people are getting infected and they don’t even know.”