Natasha Jonas: ‘I Don’t Just Want To Make Up The Numbers, I Want To Be The Best.’
In the four times, I have spoken to Natasha Jonas over the last year or so, there has been a definite upward trajectory in her confidence levels. The fighter I first spoke to is long gone.
There was an obvious and understandable dip in confidence following that upset loss to Viviane Obenauf in 2018. But gradually that defeat has been wiped away from the surface, a bitter pill, but one which Jonas has learned the harsh lessons from.
Jonas had lost to Katie Taylor in the 2012 Olympics at the quarter-finals stage and a rematch with Taylor was being talked about prior to the Obenauf fight. Looking ahead is always dangerous and there is little doubt Jonas paid a heavy price for doing exactly that.
When initial talk of retirement was replaced by a desire to put things right, Jonas set out on that long road to achieving what she came back to the sport for. With a career still unfulfilled, ‘Miss GB’ returned and is now within touching distance of that elusive fulfilment.
Three comeback wins earned her a fight with the WBC and IBO super-featherweight champion Terri Harper. The original April date fell foul of the Covid-19 pandemic but this coming Friday, Jonas will finally get her date with destiny.
With the full lockdown experience behind her, and with it the joys, frustration and pain of home-schooling, Jonas is now winding down her preparation for her world title opportunity in Matchroom’s Fight Camp. The structure of her normal gym life was something Jonas had missed in lockdown:
“When you are caught in the everyday rat race, you think I can’t wait for a day off, but when you have all that time off I was so glad to be back just to get back some kind of normality, I swear I will never moan again.”
Jonas sees the time away in lockdown has one of great benefit to her:
“I’m in a much better place physically and mentally. I was still training, running, cycling and stuff. But I just had a lot of quality time with the baby and I have learned a lot about myself and I have been reading lots of books on sports psychology, it was all good.”
Despite elite gyms being opened for some time now, other aspects of ‘normal’ life are not. Jonas has had to adjust slightly to her normal regular routine:
“The only thing that has been different is swimming. We normally do swimming in camp, but in the track work we have done to replace the swimming, we have seen the improvements in the work we have done there, the times and recovery. So what we have lacked through not doing swimming we have made up for on the track.”
Reports have been highly encouraging from her modified training camp. Sparring has gone well, with the likes of imminent world title challenger Chantelle Cameron providing the type of quality work Jonas will need for the challenge of Harper.
“We’ve covered everything that she might do, if she runs or stands and trade, whatever she does we have it all covered.”
It is a different Jonas to the one I first talked to all those months ago. There is an edge to her voice now, something different, a real genuine belief that she will overcome the long odds against her:
“Every training camp you would be silly not to try and get better, that’s the whole point, keep a record of what you do and make sure you do better the next time. Mentally I am in such a better place. I’ve approached this one differently, I have left no stone unturned, I am going to be the best version of Tasha anyone has ever seen on the night. I can’t wait for it, I am sick of talking about it, to be honest.”
Jonas has brought a nutritionist on board, the first time she has used one professionally, for the most important fight of her life. The Liverpool fighter is already feeling the benefits:
“Don’t get me wrong I am not stupid, I have been on Team GB so I know what a good diet looks like, and I have got the knowledge of how it should go. But working with Scott Robinson, he is just a genius. I eat more now than I would have done if I had done it myself.”
The fight with Harper means everything to Jonas, that defining moment in an already illustrious and successful life in boxing:
“It’s why I came back to the sport, big nights like this. I’ve always said that whatever I do I don’t just want to make up the numbers, I want to be the best at what I do. As an amateur, there were things I wanted to achieve and I didn’t achieve them. This would be the icing on the cake and I can finally let it go.”
Pre-fight hype often gets out of hand, and while Harper and Jonas are being ever-respectful to each other, the respective camps are certainly doing the talking for their fighters. Stefy Bull and Joe Gallagher have been very vocal in the run-up to Friday’s fight.
“It’s not a lot to do with me, to be honest, Stefy is his own man and so is Joe. I don’t believe Joe is being disrespectful to Terri. I don’t get involved in it, it’s not my cup of tea, it is what it is, but I don’t entertain it. I respect her highly what she has done, being negative about someone is just not me”
Harper, younger, unbeaten and the reigning unified world champion is viewed by many as a near sure thing to beat Jonas. Odds of around 6-1 seem to indicate victory is remote for the former Olympian. But the more you listen to Jonas you sense her confidence isn’t one of delusion, it is conviction. Everything seems to have come together at the right time, those odds might be a long way off the mark.
The defeat to Obenauf cost Jonas plenty, but not everything. On Friday night, in a fight that means so much, everything is once again within her reach.