“Merciless” Mary McGee (27-3, 15 KOs) is the reigning IBF Women's Super-Lightweight world champion. She was set to defend her title and fight for the vacant WBO title on August 20th against former two-time world champion Victoria Bustos (21-6). That was until McGee suffered a knee injury during a sparring session in preparation for that fight. Facing a 4–6-week recovery period, McGee was forced to pull out of the event.
Until then, the McGee and Bustos fight was heating up well before they stepped into the ring. McGee and Bustos took to Instagram to do some verbal sparring common amongst opponents leading up to a fight. McGee, who is well versed in the art of trash-talking, seemed to be getting the better of Bustos. However, the trash-talking instantly took a wrong turn when Bustos called McGee a “little monkey” and followed it up with an emoji of a gorilla.
In America, the word monkey has been used as a racial slur to humiliate and offend African-Americans. And Mary McGee perceived Bustos' post to have a racist tone. This post by Bustos immediately circulated on social media. It became the focal point between the two boxers, and the fight no longer became the top story.
I reached out to both fighters to get their version of how this conversation spiraled out of control. I interviewed Bustos first, and her version of events was published earlier last week. Then, the story made its way to McGee. Within 24 hours, McGee posted a series of tweets saying that Bustos' version of the events were lies. The NY Fights team quickly reached out to the champ to see if she would like to elaborate on her statements. McGee agreed to an interview. We spoke about her career, injury, and the conversation between her and Victoria Bustos.
The interview was conducted via Zoom, and instantly I could see that McGee, a 34 year old Indiana native, was serious and ready to tell her side of things. Her serious demeanor turned into a friendly, warm smile as we made some small talk before the interview. As usual, I opened the discussion by asking her to tell us about herself for the readers that may not know who she is.
She explained to me that she started boxing when she was about 13 years old. “I was a cheerleader back then. I liked cheerleading, but the team effort didn't work for me that well. I knew a guy that played basketball, and he introduced me to the boxing gym, and I was like, ‘Wow, I think I like it here.' Because I was always aggressive and liked to fight. So, I was like this might be the place for me,” Mary McGee said.
She also recounted that the coach at the gym didn't think she didn't really want to learn how to box and made her spar within three days to see if she would quit. She vividly remembers those first few days at the gym. “He thought by letting me get beat up, I was going to quit. But it made me hungrier. So, I said to myself, I'm going to get in shape and beat them up. So, I trained really hard for like 8 months, and no one paid me any attention. Then, finally, he threw me in a tournament, and I had to fight three girls. And I won all three fights. And the rest is history.”
Mary McGee earned the moniker “Merciless” from her first trainer, John Taylor, because her fighting style was just that. Taylor noticed that McGee never quit punching, even when faced with tough fighters or situations inside the ring. “I'm always fighting, and I'm always punching. If you watch my fights, you see I never quit, nothing makes me fold, I'm always coming. Even in the fights that I have lost.” (Click “Watch on YouTube” below, to see McGee ply her trade, in her last outing, on Feb. 8, 2020 against Deanha Hobbs.)
McGee had a successful training camp for the Bustos fight, she shared with me. That it is until she suffered a knee injury during a sparring session. “I was feeling great. The guy I was sparring with, Julius Smith, he just came off a knockout win. We went 10 rounds straight, and we were sweating, and the ring was wet. We tried to constantly wipe it and keep it dry, but there was still a wet spot. I was stepping back, and I stepped into a wet spot. My back foot slipped, and when it slipped, my front leg twisted inward, and I instantly felt the pain,” she said.
I asked her if she saw anything in Bustos' fighting arsenal that perhaps concerned her. “Victoria Bustos couldn't bust a grape with a sledge hammer,” said the fighter, chuckling at her own joke. I'm a sucker for a good joke, and I shared a laugh with her. “I'm going to be honest. I don't underestimate any fighter. Because I lost to someone who was 5-3 and I was 17-0, I don't underestimate anyone,” McGee clarified, expressing that she is serious about her business in the ring despite the jokes.
Despite not underestimating any opponent, she didn't show any concern that Bustos had anything that could affect her. She continued, “She is 21-6 with no knockouts. Either you got power and don't know how to use it, or you don't have any power at all. And you're not going to learn how to have power with a fighter like me that got 15 knockouts and knows how to use their power. I'm merciless, you have to give me something to make me respect you, and if you don't hurt me, I'm going to keep coming and walk you down all night. I trained for her, and I badly wanted to fight her because she disrespected me, and I wanted to defend my title. But I believe that would've been one of the easier fights that I had in a while.”
I then transitioned to a more serious matter. I asked Mary McGee to recount the events that led to Bustos' Instagram post from her point of view.
She started off by saying, ” I'm going, to tell the truth!” McGee explained that a post was going around suggesting that Victoria Bustos was the champion, not McGee. “So, my friend Claressa Shields commented and said this post should say that the champion Mary McGee is defending her IBF title. So, I commented to Clarissa, ‘Well, you know how they do us. It's cool. Let's see if they show me some respect after I beat her around the ring.' That's what I said to Claressa.”' Bustos wasn't part of the conversation between her and Claressa Shields, in other words. McGee says that Victoria inserted herself into their discussion and said, “I hope you can knock me out because if you don't, I'm gonna make sure you have a hard time.” McGee responded to Bustos that the conversation had nothing to do with her and repeatedly asked Bustos to leave her alone. According to McGee, Bustos continued to tag her in posts looking for a verbal altercation, to which McGee finally obliged her. McGee started to talk-trash back to Bustos. McGee recognizes that the trash-talking was harsh but meant to be funny in nature.
McGee went on to say, “I'm not going to sit here and lie, and make it seem like I'm 100 percent innocent in the situation. I'm not, I talk trash. And if you talk trash to me, I'm cool with it, I'll laugh your jokes off. She couldn't take the stuff I was saying to her, so she came back with ‘blah, blah little monkey.' Anybody from America knows calling a black person a monkey is racist. That's just a nice way of saying the N-Word. If you don't want anyone talking trash to you, don't tag them in any posts. She tagged my name, thinking that I was going to let her say whatever she said and not say anything back. That doesn't work with Mary McGee, and everyone knows that.”
“Perception is reality” is an adage used to describe impact vs. intent. In our interview, Bustos claims not to have any knowledge that she knew that the word monkey and the emoji of the gorilla had any racist connotations attached to them. For the sake of being clear, I asked Mary McGee if she believed that Bustos knew that her post was racist in nature.
Without any hesitation, McGee confidently said, “Yeah! The emoji she used was the black gorilla. Anyone with any sense knows that's not a monkey. They have a monkey emoji, you should've used that, but she used the big black gorilla. Come on now, put two and two together.”
Mary McGee wanted to defend herself regarding Bustos claiming that McGee was fat-shaming people that may struggle with weight or weight loss. McGee, who debuted as a pro way back in 2005, stands firm that all her comments were directed to Bustos' apparent lack of discipline maintaining her weight before a fight.
McGee said, “I told her to put her sweat bag back on. She tried to say I was talking about people with weight problems. No, I'm not! You're a professional boxer, and if you're wearing a sweat bag, any professional boxer knows that you are overweight. You have to lose weight for the fight. I'm pointing out that you're going to be dehydrated, and you're using a sweat bag to make weight. I'm not talking about anyone with weight problems.”
McGee also denies that she called Bustos a transvestite.
“Then she said I'm talking about transgender people. No, I called you John Travolta, saying that your chin is big like John Travolta. It was a joke. I never said anything about anyone being trans, that never crossed my mind. I never said anything about her hair. I posted a side-by-side picture of her and Lord Farquaad from Shrek (see below)…
..trying to show the resemblance because her chin looked like his. Like I said, ‘I'm funny.' Don't bother me if you don't want me jiving with you,” said Mary McGee.
I noticed that Mary McGee posted a picture of a transgender boxer on her Instagram in preparation for the interview. The photo was posted five years ago, and the picture was that of an opponent that she was fighting then. In the comments section, you can see McGee defending her opponent against people's transphobic comments.
“I made that post because the fight happened five years ago. If you go through the comments, you will see that I was defending the girl. I'm telling my fans that it doesn't matter what she chooses to do outside the ring, you guys need to be respectful of her for stepping in the ring with me. I made sure people were respectful of her five years ago, so if I'm homophobic, why would I do that?” said McGee when I asked her about the picture.
McGee says that she has a humorous personality and uses it when trash-talking her opponents like Muhammad Ali did. However, she maintains she's never ventured into inappropriate territory.
I asked Mary McGee to elaborate on what she meant when she said Bustos was lying in my interview. To which the champ responded, “The main lie that eats me up was that she says she sent me a personal message apologizing. That proves to me you meant what you said because you're lying. If you are telling the truth, post the apology.” She would like Bustos to provide screenshots as evidence of an apology that apparently was sent in a private message
“Send the proof! She can't, because it never happened. All she did was block me. All she did was try to clarify that she didn't mean it like that. That they call people in her country (Argentina) ‘monkeys.' They call people of darker skin monkeys, and they're not even as dark as me. So, you're calling them monkeys because they are dark. They understand how offensive that is for a person of darker skin,” said McGee.
In her interview, Bustos claims that she greeted McGee with open arms to Argentina, escorted her to her hotel, and hugged her. Bustos asked me if those were the actions of a racist person. I asked McGee about that situation.
In all her responses, McGee was serious, but she maintained her confidence throughout her answers. Now, she looked down for a second, and I saw anger emanating from her face as she started to provide the details of her trip to Argentina.
The champ had this to say about her experience in Argentina. “I was treated terribly in Argentina, you can ask my trainer. I never really tell this story because I don't want people to say that I'm making excuses for my loss. (McGee on Oct. 4, 2013 lost to WBC world lightweight titlist Erica Farias.) When we got to the airport in Miami, we couldn't leave because the airline said they didn't pay our reciprocity fee.” (Argentina had a reciprocity fee in addition to the cost of your airline ticket, required for non-citizens of Argentina to enter the county. This fee had to be paid at the time of booking the flight, which was not inexpensive.)
“The reciprocity fee needed to be paid at the time they booked the tickets. The people that booked the tickets were the Argentines, so obviously they knew this. My coach and I had to spend the night at the airport and fly the next day for 10 hours. We fly for 10 hours, then we get there. My coach and manager and I don't know the language. They drove us around the city for 8 hours. People were pointing at me, looking at me. They were shocked. I'm scared, I'm asking why are these people looking at me like this? So, we continued to ride for 8 hours, to a place that only took two hours to get to. How do I know? Because on our way home, it only took two hours to get to the airport. I don't speak Spanish, they don't speak English, so we had a hard time explaining to the people what hotel where we're supposed to go to. So we are riding around with no sleep, no food. Finally, we got to our interpreter eight hours later. Our interpreter said he had been waiting for us for a day and a half. I explained to him what happened. I asked why is everyone pointing at us, I feel scared. He said, ‘Don't get offended. We've never seen black people in person, only on TV.' He said, ‘Don't worry, they think you're a beautiful girl. Some people are amazed.'”
Mary McGee continued relating her memories of the visit to Argentina. “The interpreter that assisted us is gay. People were being offensive towards him, talking trash to him. I had left something at the hotel, so he rode back with me to go get it. While we were on our ride, I asked him what was wrong. He said that the guys were making fun of him for being gay.”
Then, it was fight time. “When I got to my locker room, they put me in the basement. They were coming out of winter, so I'm downstairs in the cold. On my way down there, I looked at the ceiling where they spray-painted the word “niga.” I knew it was fresh because it was sitting on top of a stain.”
She continues with her story. “I told my coach, Look at that. They didn't even spell it right. They spelled it niga. On top of my locker above the wall was niga. I can call my coach if I'm lying. God can strike me down. The whole locker room smelled like someone came in there and pissed all over the floor. There were only two chairs, it was cold, and the door was open. My coach made me keep my sweatsuit in the basement.”
I see a lump is starting to form in McGee's throat as she does her best to fight back the tears as she relives this horrible experience.
She continues, “My heart is so strong that it doesn't matter what happens to me. I'm still getting in the ring and fighting. The whole time I was in the ring, if you noticed the first 6-7 rounds, go back and watch that fight. If you noticed, they never show the rounds in between, because every single second of the break, when my coach should be talking to me, the referee is in the corner threatening me, saying, ‘I'm going to take a point away from you.' During the fight, Erica kept holding me, and he didn't say anything to her. You could see it in my face, the discouragement built on me because of how I was treated. I was treated terribly, so she can stop saying that. I'll never go back to Argentina!”
I acknowledged the seriousness of what she had just told me, and I thanked Mary McGee for sharing an obviously painful experience.
Then, I asked her to elaborate on the Instagram post she made, saying that she would punish Bustos for the comments she made. The tone of the interview was heavy and tense. All the anger, pain, and emotions of reliving this traumatic experience were too much for the champ to contain. Tears started to flow from her eyes as McGee began to answer my question. I, too, felt her pain. And quite frankly, I had to muster every bit of testosterone and professionalism in me to fight back the tears when she was responding.
“Yeah, because I know for a fact, she is a racist,” McGee said. “And one thing I hate is racism on any level. When we were stuck at the airport, my favorite manager was white, and he had cancer. And he stood up all night long to make sure he paid $300 for me and $300 for my coach to leave America for Argentina. After he paid the money, we boarded the plane and went over there so we could fight. For her to come and tell these lies! Tell the truth! If you're going to say something, tell the truth. I antagonized you, I said things to you that I knew would make you mad, but I'm not racist. I do not like racist people at all. I was,” McGee stated, “going to knock her clean out! She had never been knocked out in her life. I was going to knock her clean out. God saved her by getting me injured. I'm telling you, God saved her! Because she was going to suffer in that fight with me! I was not going to stop fighting her for nothing in the world. That was going to be my best performance you ever saw. I remember how I was treated by them. Ana Laura Esteche (a former opponent of McGee who is from Argentina) and I are cool, but that's why I did her the way I did her. I'll never forget the way I was treated!”
I again started to acknowledge that this was hard to talk about, and midway through my statement, Mary McGee cut me off and said, “Because I never mentioned it before. Because all people will say is that I am making up excuses because you lost. Those types of things scarred me, but they also made me a better fighter. They also made me who I am today. Those people are racist, I'm not going to say all of them, but Victoria is.”
I took a deep breath, and we both composed ourselves, and continued with the interview. I asked her if there is anything Victoria Bustos could do to perhaps repair their relationship? And immediately, McGee responded, “Stop lying, apologize.”
Acknowledging that she had some accountability in all this, McGee said, “I owe her an apology too. Because I hurt her feelings with the things that I said. And if I knew that the things I said would hurt you or break you, I wouldn't have gone that far. But she was coming, and she was tagging me like she wanted that interaction, so that's what I gave her. If I knew that the words I was going to say would push you into who you really are by saying the racist comment… But if I hurt you, all you had to do was say it to me. I'm always willing to admit when I'm wrong. But I'm not going to sit back and constantly lie about the situation and say you welcomed me with open arms. No, I've been to Argentina, and nothing about it makes me want to go back the way I was treated. Stop lying!”
I then asked her if she wanted to say anything to her fans, and/or people who may have formed a negative opinion of her based on what they've read and heard recently. “If they got a negative impression about me, I apologize. I'm not a negative person. I'm a fighter. And being a fighter, a lot of us are aggressive, and a lot of us express ourselves in different ways. That's what Muhammad Ali did as a great fighter. As a great fighter, Claressa Shields does. We express ourselves, and we seek those verbal interactions with our opponents because it also draws fans. I don't go around bullying people or picking fights. I pick fights with people that pick them because I feel that's what the fans want. And if I'm wrong for that, I apologize because I'm not here to hurt anyone. Because I get hurt, I'm a passionate person, and my feelings get hurt too.”
We transitioned from that sensitive and emotionally charged portion of the conversation, and I asked Mary McGee how she was recovering.
She said, “I'm still in crutches and a knee brace. It'll be about a four to six-week healing process. It's been almost two weeks now. I feel like everything happens for a reason. I did hurt her feelings. It could've been a punishment from God for some of the things that I said. Also, I was going to hurt her, maybe God doesn't want me to beat her badly.”
And on that note, we both smiled, reassuring each other that everything would be OK. We exchanged pleasantries, I thanked her for being candid and for answering all my questions. McGee thanked me for sharing her version of the story, and we concluded the interview wishing each other the best.
Like the Victoria Bustos interview, I didn't know what to expect or how I would be received by Mary McGee. But, understanding that she was on the receiving end of a racially charged social media post, I did my best to provide an emphatic, understanding, and safe environment for McGee to be herself, and express to the readers how she truly felt. When it comes to Mary McGee, it seems to me, what you see is what you get. When it comes to business boxing, she is raw, unfiltered, and “Merciless.” And for McGee, trash-talking comes along with the territory, especially if you come looking for it. However, the champ is adamant that she or anyone should never cross a line into inappropriate rhetoric. That's a line she believes Bustos knowingly crossed.
Mary McGee wanted to send a clear message to the readers that she doesn't believe everyone in Argentina is racist. Still, she will never forget how she was treated over there. She keeps in contact with the interpreter from Argentina, and provided me with screenshots of their messages. Before leaving Argentina in 2013, she blessed him with $700. That's a lot of money, given that back then one U.S. dollar was worth seven Argentine pesos. That was a hugely generous and empathic gesture from the champ to let him know that he is loved and worthy of love.
Trash-talking has been part of boxing since the formation of the sport. Muhammad Ali masterfully employed trash-talking to promote himself and to psychologically break opponents before a fight. However, Muhammad Ali crossed the line when he called Joe Frazier an ‘Uncle Tom,” and a ‘gorilla,' like Bustos did with McGee.
The words deeply hurt and angered Frazier. Frazier vowed to punish Ali for saying those words to him, much like McGee vowed to punish Bustos. It took decades for Frazier to forgive Ali for the piercing trash talk, and part of him wasn't able to 100% get past it. Hopefully, it won’t take that long for McGee and Bustos to put this behind them.
Mary McGee is a boxer who is serious about the sport of boxing. Outside of boxing, she is a charismatic and humorous person who has a heart for the people she loves and those who have earned her respect. She also recognizes that she has flaws and can sometimes be ruthless when antagonizing her rivals. But, as she told me in the interview, “Hey, I'm human.”
Sometimes being human means apologizing to someone you hurt even though it wasn’t your intention. McGee left the door open for Bustos to apologize to her and begin putting this unfortunate incident behind them. Now the question is, will Victoria Bustos move forward, thru that door, with her hand out and her heart open to healing?