In the world of boxing, Mary Spencer is a unicorn.
Given that the oft-repeated mantra is strike while the iron is hot, Spencer didn’t turn pro after her appearance in the 2012 Olympics, or even after approached to enter the punch for pay ranks in 2017 with the goal being to face two-time Olympic gold medalist and former opponent Claressa Shields. Anyone else would have. Spencer had other things to do.
“I just did it in a time that worked for me,” said the Ontario native. “I first got the idea to turn pro when I met with some coaches from Detroit and they had wanted me to turn pro, and the plan was to fight Claressa. They asked me in 2017, but I just started a project that I was doing in Northern Ontario, opening up a boxing gym. I took a look at what they were proposing, and I liked parts of it, but I was in the middle of something, so I went back to what I was doing.”
Some things are more important than fame, glory and money, and Spencer lived by that mantra. The first indigenous woman to represent Canada in women’s boxing in the Olympics, the member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation needed to give the kids of the area a place they could call their own and one where they could learn the importance of staying in shape, discipline and learning a craft, and she did that. When it was done, she moved to Montreal in 2019 and got back into the gym herself.
It was time. The plan was to turn pro, but she had to get her chops back after a few years off. When she did, the fighter with three world amateur championships began her quest to do the same thing in the pros. And after signing with Eye of the Tiger promotions, she debuted in August of 2021 with a 29-second knockout of Maria Esquivel Zamora.
Spencer is now 7-0 with five knockouts after a 63-second finish of Cynthia Lozano earlier this month. If you’re doing the math at home, that’s seven fights in 13 months, and her team is already looking at a world title shot at 154 pounds sooner rather than later.
“It feels like everything is coming together,” said Spencer. “I guess the main thing that I was hoping for in my first year was just to get as many fights as I've had, so I'm happy with that.”
Is it safe to say the 37-year-old isn’t planning on sticking around too long?
“Hey, I don't mind sticking around for a bit - I just want to get going,” she laughs. “I want to get it started quickly.”
Already five fights into her 2022 campaign, with another bout expected on December 16, Spencer already had Canada wrapped around her finger, but the rest of the world is getting involved, considering all the boxes she’s checking for future pro stardom. First, there’s her amateur background, which includes wins over 154-pound champion Natasha Jonas and 168-pound champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn. Then add in her level of competition as a pro thus far, which went from abysmal in her first three fights, to solid, to world class, as she’s defeated former world title challengers Yamila Esther Reynoso and Lozano, as well as former world champion Chris Namus in her last three bouts. Finally, there’s the power that has garnered her a 71 percent knockout rate, which is rarely seen in the ladies’ ranks. So yeah, fight fans should be paying attention. As for that attention ramping up to 2012 Olympic levels again for Spencer, she’s good with the way things are at the moment.
“I'll definitely do my part to tone it down as much as I can because I don't enjoy that part,” she said. “It sometimes can take away from the fight, and I am ready to go through it again, but I definitely won't go through it the same way.”
What she will confirm is that while she had been away from the sport for a while and has any number of directions she can go in outside boxing, now that she’s back, she’s all the way back.
“There's other things in life, but I don't know what they are right now,” Spencer laughs. “When it's on, it's on. When I took time away, I shut it off, and that's why it wasn't easy to just drop everything and come back to boxing. But when I'm boxing, I'm in the gym or I'm talking about boxing or I'm training or I'm watching boxing, so it's either on or it's off.”
And with it being “on” for Spencer, it’s also on for the sport of women’s boxing, which has had its best year ever in 2022.
“It's making a breakthrough, but obviously, it's nothing new,” she said. “I remember being a boxer and Christy Martin was doing her thing in the pros. It's not like it was the first time that anyone's ever looked at women's professional boxing. But, it's finally creating some depth in certain weight categories that wasn't there. There was always the one-off stars or a couple people that were stars, but now we're working on some depth. When I was an amateur, I was an amateur for a very long time, but amateur fighters didn't necessarily think of the pros like, 'Oh, when I'm done here, I can't wait to move on to the pros.' Not the same way that the men do. It's just this new thing that women are going from the amateurs to the pros and bringing that experience and that skill from there, and it's really changing. It's exciting to see depth in weight categories and good matchups and good fights. Seeing a good fighter is one thing, but watching a good fight, that's what it's about.”
So no regrets about not making the move to the pros earlier, maybe five years ago in 2017?
“No, I don't wish that I had done it five years ago,” Spencer said. “What was going on five years ago in women's boxing? I have no idea. Right now, I think, is when it's exciting to be a boxer - for women, anyway. So, I'm happy to be here right now and I think that following your own path and when time makes sense, it's gonna automatically make sense in the big picture. So, I'm happy with when I started.”
It’s been a fast start for the unbeaten Spencer, who now makes her home in Montreal. What will be the next steps in 2023?
“I have no idea,” she laughs. “I just kinda go to the gym, do my thing, and then someone tells me when I'm fighting. I know that my promoter and manager (Split-T Management’s Brian Cohen) are excited to make things happen, so I don't give myself one more headache. I let them worry about it, and when they tell me, then that's it. I'm not exactly sure what they have planned for next year, but I know they've been surprising me and doing a great job, so I just leave it alone.”