On August 20th, 2021, former two-time world champion Victoria Bustos (21-6) will be fighting for the IBF and WBO Women's Super-Lightweight title. Her opponent will be Jessica Camara (8-2), who is coming off an upset win over Heather Hardy on May 14.
Camara got the call two weeks shy of the August 20th date to fill in for IBF titlist Mary McGee (27-3, 15 KOs), who suffered a knee injury during a sparring session towards the end of her training camp. Before Mary McGee pulled out of the fight, I spoke to Victoria Bustos about her career, her preparation for McGee, and the heated social media altercation between her and McGee that culminated in Bustos being labeled a racist.
Bustos, a 32-year-old native of Argentina, told me that she’d never attended a boxing event, let alone considered putting on a pair of gloves, until she was 20 years old.
Bustos explained, “One day when I was on my way home from work, I happened to stumble across a person handing out a flyer to a local boxing match. I had never been to a boxing match before that day, so I was curious. I paid the entry fee and started to watch the matches. I was mesmerized by the environment. I was captivated by the boxers and how they applied techniques and did certain movements to gain an advantage over their opponent. I fell in love, and at that moment I said to myself, ‘I can be a world champion.’”
She acknowledges today that there was a slim chance that the goal to be a world champion would become a reality, given the fact that she picked up boxing at such an advanced age. However, Bustos didn’t let that deter her and used it to fuel her passion and motivate her.
Being around boxing for more than 25 years, I know all too well the hardships and challenges that combat athletes endure. I asked Bustos if at any time during those first years she considered quitting. Her cheerful demeanor instantly turned serious, and she responded, “At the time, I didn’t know if I would ever get the opportunity to fight for a world title, let alone win one. But it was my goal, and I had it in my head that I would accomplish it. Even when I faced obstacles, it didn't deter me from wanting to reach my goal.”
I nodded, acknowledging the seriousness of what she was telling. She explained that life as a woman boxer is difficult, especially in Argentina, she noted. “I don't know about the rest of the world, but it's challenging here. I can't live off what I earn in boxing. The earnings for a woman boxer are abysmal compared to what a man earns. So, the majority of female boxers have jobs. In addition, we have to train and compete as high-level professional boxers. It’s a tough lifestyle.”
The mood lightened a little, and then I asked her how her training camp was coming along. She smiled and confidently explained that it was going well. She acknowledged that Mary McGee was a tough competitor, and that Team Bustos has prepared in every way for this fight.
Not having won any of her fights by knockout, Bustos considers herself a boxer that focuses on being a technical fighter who applies all of boxing’s fundamentals.
We lightly spoke about many things and we even shared a laugh when I asked her what her strategy was for this fight.
“I don't think I am going to share my strategy with you because then my opponent will know what our game plan will be,” Bustos said lightheartedly. The mood turned serious again when I asked her if she was concerned with her opponent's punching power, being that McGee has won 15 of her fights by knockout.
Bustos looked sternly into the camera and said, “I’m not worried about anyone’s punching power. Not hers nor Mike Tyson's. Like I said earlier, each fight is different, and I have fought the best in the world. I have fought great world champions. Someone ‘without power’ can knock you out as well. In boxing, there is a variety of styles that can make it difficult for any fighter. I am well prepared to face anything in the ring.”
Like many combatants before a fight, Bustos and McGee engaged in some trash-talking. The trash-talking was intense and unfortunately took a wrong turn when Bustos used an emoji of a monkey in response to one of McGee’s posts. McGee perceived this monkey emoji to be a racial slur against her and called Bustos a racist. This turn took social media by storm, and the in-ring fight became a secondary focal point.
I asked Bustos to explain the circumstances that led to the charged exchange between her and Mary McGee, pictured below, from her point of view.
This was Bustos’s response.
“I recently made a video and tagged all the boxing social media platforms that were responsible for spreading her accusations. I reiterate I don't even like treading in this territory. Why? Because I am a boxer. I am aware that people will criticize my boxing. Whether they like the way I fight or don't like the way I fight. But in the 12 years that I have been in boxing, I never have (been involved in this sort of controversy) and I invite any reporter and anyone that has a passion for the sport of boxing to investigate my social media platforms. Ask any of my opponents if I have ever had any offensive exchanges with them. Or if I have ever displayed any type of racist behavior towards anyone. It’s been a career spanning 12 years, and I have never verbally attacked anyone. Ms. McGee calls me a racist, but she is not aware of the thousands of ways she verbally attacked me.
“I accept that she criticizes my KO ratio or that maybe she doesn’t hold me in high regard as a boxer,” Bustos continued. “But I will not accept that she told me I have never fought against anyone because I have fought the best in the world. I mention that because she is not only disrespecting me, but she is disrespecting them as well.”
She further stated, “I don't have to tell you this, but I will. She (McGee) criticized my short haircut, but she doesn't know that my hair grows fast and abundantly. So, once it gets to a certain length, I cut it to donate and have it turned it into wigs for kids suffering from cancer. She spewed many offenses towards me, attacking my weight and calling me a transvestite. I responded, saying, you compare me to cartoon characters with awkward bodies and big chins.”
“What if I compare you to a monkey? I want it to be clear that the word racist doesn’t exist in my dictionary,” said Bustos. “Of all the things she called me, I want to let her know that she didn't offend me. But maybe she offended someone that perhaps struggles with weight. There are people that struggle every day with their sexual identity to have their voices heard, and maybe they keep quiet because of the fear of not being accepted. And she calls me a racist? She called me a racist to elevate herself to the media and attract followers, and that is not the way to go about that,” Bustos said.
“As boxers, we need to set the example, be inclusive of everyone, and not be exclusive. Our model should draw people to take up boxing, not push them away. I’m ashamed that I must address this. That was my only response to her, and she took it out of context and used it as a publicity stunt. What hurts me is that this has become the focus and not the boxing match. It hurts me to think that the sport of boxing is diminished in some way because of this.”
I could tell that Bustos was upset and frustrated having to explain herself and defend her character. After a brief pause to gather ourselves, I explained to her that in the United States, the monkey has been used as a symbol to humiliate and offend African Americans.
“Did you have knowledge of its offensive nature towards African Americans before you used the emoji to respond to Mary McGee?” I asked.
“No, not at all! It was a moment of a heated exchange between her and me,” Bustos said. “It came at a moment when I was receiving dozens of attacks from her. I believe that this is precisely what she wanted to achieve. She wanted me to stoop to her level because, in 12 years of boxing, I have never been involved in a verbal altercation like this. If I were a racist, would I have greeted McGee and her coach) when they arrived in Argentina a few years ago? Would I have escorted McGee to her hotel and expressed how happy we were to have her there? Would I have given her a hug? Sincerely and from the heart- I told her this in a private message-, ‘if I offended you in any way, I apologize; it wasn't my intention.’ I also believe that her actions towards me warrant an apology from her. You have nothing to lose, nor will you stop being Mary McGee because you apologize. We are human beings, and we make mistakes. They started a snowball effect that that got of hand, and now they can't stop it.”
I then asked her if she had anything to say to her fans. Or to anyone who may have a negative opinion of her because of this issue.
Bustos did offer a message. “I am an honest person and say what I mean. This situation does not define me. What defines me is that I am a boxer, not this kind of rhetoric. As fighters, we should be attacking each other with our skills in the ring, not with verbal assaults. I could care less if it sells tickets. That's not the way I go about the business of boxing. It was never my intention to offend her in that manner. If anybody wants to talk to me about this matter, I’m willing to talk. I’m not going to be shy or hide away from this. So, any reporter that wants to talk to me, I will speak to them. Regarding Mary McGee, the day will come when we are face to face. And that day, she will have to demonstrate everything that she has been saying. She says she is the best of the best. She will have to prove it when we meet. She better not forget that I’m her opponent, and I too earn my respect and living as a boxer.”
I then tried to lighten the heavy feeling of the interview. We talked about her future and what is next for her after this fight. Bustos expressed that she sees herself having maybe one or two more fights after this one. She smiled and got excited when she talked about her future goals. Bustos wants to go back to school, she informed me. That goal has been sitting on the backburner since she started boxing professionally. Also, Bustos dreams of starting a family.
To reiterate, shortly after this interview, Mary McGee pulled out of the fight because she suffered a knee injury. I reached out again to Bustos to see if she had any comments about McGee pulling out of the fight. She confirmed that McGee pulled out of the fight because of an injury and that her replacement was Jessica Camara. Bustos reassured me that nothing about her training routine has changed and that her new focus is Jessica Camara (below).
She spoke highly of Camara and believes she will be a formidable opponent, ready to fight. Bustos in closing sent a message to all boxing fans and asked them to support this event. “It will be a great event. Women's boxing needs your support, and this event is an all-women’s card full of great fights. Please support by watching us. It will be a fun night full of great boxing.”
My Take: This will only be the second time Bustos fights in the United States. She is no longer fighting Mary McGee, but she may be fighting against lingering backlash from her social media post. I went into this interview not knowing what to expect or how I would be received by Victoria Bustos. Given the boiling cauldron that is the social construct of the United States of America, it is hard to keep a lid on our biases, perceptions, and emotions. The lid seems to boil over anytime the flame of racism is fueled.
It’s hard not to form a negative opinion of someone when attached to a statement, a recording, or a social media post containing racist epithets or undertones.
Nevertheless, I did my best to provide an unbiased setting where Bustos felt comfortable enough to talk about the issue from her view. In my experience, the best way to learn about someone is to have a conversation with them.
I asked her some tough questions, and she answered them—nothing more, nothing less. She was bold in her responses. It seemed that she was empathetic to how one could negatively perceive some of that material directed towards McGee. More importantly, she issued an apology to McGee and anyone who may have been offended by her comment.
What I did learn from Bustos during our 30 minute conversation is how much she loves the sport of boxing. Her face brightens up, she smiles, and her chest swells up with pride every time she talks about boxing.
Equally, I can also see how much it shamed her to talk about this issue and the internal agony she has been battling since the incident.
For the last 12 years, Bustos has proudly defined herself as a boxer. Hopefully, the 11 characters of a social media post won’t define who she is for the rest of her life.