Reporting from Airway Heights, Wash. — As Mikaela Mayer made her way into the ring Thursday for the fight that could end her Olympic dream, the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" played at ear-splitting levels over the PA system at the Northern Quest Resort outside Spokane.
It was a curious choice given the song's theme of demise. And it was certainly one Mayer didn't buy into, digging deep in the final round of her 132-pound bout with Tiara Brown to stave off elimination with a hard-fought 23-18 victory.
With the win Mayer advances to Friday's losers' bracket final of the first U.S. Olympic boxing trials for women where she'll meet N'yteeyah Sherman.
But more about Friday later. On Thursday, Mayer was busying reliving her third win in four tries in these Trials ? and her second straight in an elimination bout.
"In the fourth round, I was only two points ahead. So in my corner, they said 'you've got to bring out the dog in you'," Mayer said. "I thought 'Oh my gosh if I don't win this fight I'm gone, I'm done. This is it.'
"So I did bite down a little bit."
Mayer, who has become stronger as the week has gone on, got off to a good start Thursday, mixing a quick left jab with strong rights to the body. But in the second round Brown, of Lehigh Acres, Fla., drew Mayer in close enough to land a withering combination.
Mayer's trainer, Al Mitchell, screamed at his fighter to back up and use both hands, which Mayer did ? though with limited effect.
The pace slowed considerably in the third round with both boxers, exhausted, clinching repeatedly. But Mayer, a 21-year-old from Los Angeles, still had a two-point lead, an advantage she expanded in the last round by holding off several desperate charges from Brown, the silver medalist in the 2011 national championships.
"I let her get closer," Mayer said. "I felt myself getting kind of lazy a little bit."
After the final bell sounded Mayer, who never trailed on the judges' scorecards, raised both hands in triumph. Brown, however, stormed from the ring when the decision was announced.
"I feel very disappointed. I feel I won that fight," she said. "And I think Mikaela feels that as well."
Well, not really.
But while Brown goes home, the pressure continues to build for Mayer, who faces elimination again Friday night against Sherman, another unhappy loser Thursday.
Sherman left from the arena in anger after dropping a 25-24 decision to five-time national champion Queen Underwood of Seattle, who didn't win any of the first three rounds but staged a stirring rally in the final two minutes to remain unbeaten in the tournament.
As a result she'll get Friday off night while Sherman will meet Mayer with a berth in Saturday's lightweight finals on the line. The last time the two met, in the first round of October's national Police Athletic League tournament in Toledo, Ohio, Sherman won, 4-1.
"I'm definitely a better fighter than I was in Toledo," Mayer said. "I have a different game plan going against her. It's really mental now. Especially coming down to the end of the week, we're all getting tired. But I know I can do it.
"A lot of these girls, they may older than me, they may be stronger than me. But I don't think they have the technical coaching that I have. It's that and then I train really hard. Technique, strength and natural talent. I think you need it all."
At 112 pounds, the lightest of the three Olympic weight classes for women, Marlen Esparza, a six-time national champion from Houston, stayed unbeaten with a 13-10 victory over New York's Christina Cruz and will advance to Saturday's finals.
Cruz, meanwhile, falls into the challengers' bracket where she'll meet Tyrieshia Douglas in an elimination bout Friday. Douglas, of Baltimore, rode an aggressive final round to a 31-19 win over Texan Virginia Fuchs, ending Fuchs' Olympic dreams.
At 165 pounds Franchon Crews, a five-time U.S. champion from Baltimore, was eliminated by San Francisco's Raquel Miller, 26-15, while 16-year-old Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich., continued to lay waste to the middleweight division with an impressive 23-15 win over Tika Hemingway of Pittsburgh.
Crews, who was still crying several minutes after her fight, found it difficult to leave the arena. But she displayed uncommon class by signing autographs and posing for pictures with children even as she dabbed tears off her cheeks.
Miller and Hemingway, meanwhile, will fight Friday for the unenviable task of facing Shields in Saturday's finals.