Natasha Jonas: “It will take something really special to beat her, but I do believe I can.”

Natasha Jonas: “It will take something really special to beat her, but I do believe I can.”

The narrative leading up to her fight last August with Terri Harper was that Natasha Jonas was too old, weight-drained, too inexperienced. The criticism was savage and unforgiving, Jonas written off, the perfect foil for the potential superstar she was about to face. Jonas had commercial value in her name but largely perceived to have nothing left to offer at world level. A shock defeat to Viviane Obenauf in 2018 left the Liverpool fighter fighting a seemingly never-ending battle for respect and world titles. Dreams were shattered, plans were scrapped, a win over Obenauf would have landed Jonas a fight with Katie Taylor.

Jonas made no excuses, and she just quietly went away off the radar to rebuild her fragile confidence. Three subsequent wins got her back on track, and finally, Jonas had her opportunity. Harper needed an opponent to defend her unified WBC/IBO super-featherweight titles, a stepping stone to further unification fights somewhere down the road. Jonas was available, a safe option, so safe the customary rematch clause wasn’t inserted into the pre-fight contract. But Jonas ripped up the script and was only denied by the judges in a fight which made even the harshest of doubters about the validity of women’s boxing eat their own words. It was a fight of the year candidate, Jonas nearly ended the fight in the 8th round and despite Harper showing her own impressive skills and heart, Jonas looked the likely winner after 10 exciting rounds. Harper escaped with a split-draw, a rematch looked certain.

But Harper went another route, Jonas was offered a three-fight deal, but the finer details of the offer weren’t deemed acceptable, and Jonas was left out in the cold, waiting for a call that never came. But finally, her patience has been rewarded. Jonas will face Katie Taylor in a rematch of their classic amateur fight from the 2012 Olympics. After her extended wait, Jonas wasn’t likely to turn down an opportunity of this magnitude:

“I always take my opportunities when they come, I didn’t want to go backwards I wanted to stay at world level so I am not going to hide now.”

The three-fight deal Jonas turned down left her frozen out with nowhere to go. Harper wanted to unify her division and with all but one of the champions tied into Matchroom contracts, Jonas was very much on the outside looking in, and thinking any chance of an immediate big fight had gone:

“I thought I had kind of missed the boat if I am honest and I thought I would have to put myself in a mandatory position and wait for Harper which would have been 2 or 3 fights down the line.”

Jonas turned down the Matchroom offer because she wasn’t offered enough money for the Harper rematch. Jonas felt it was commercially more attractive after their first fight last August. The money offered for the other two fights wasn’t the problem it was the terms offered for the Harper rematch, the entire deal fell through because of one sticking point. Jonas at 36 doesn’t have time to waste, she knows the clock is ticking, but nevertheless, Jonas has no regrets about turning down the deal and being left kicking her heels in frustration:

“It was annoying but I had no regrets because I stuck by my principles I stuck to what I believe in rather than go against myself. I still see comments that you should have done this or that, but I was never fighting Harper next anyway. It was either going to be Heather Hardy or Maïva Hamadouche, the Harper rematch was 2 or 3 fights away so I am in no worse position now than I was then. I have lost out on paydays but it was never about that it was about principals.”

The contract for the Taylor fight is a one-fight deal with the obligatory rematch clause this time inserted, if Jonas manages to inflict the first defeat on Taylor’s record. Despite the confidence in her own abilities, Jonas is under no illusions about the size of the task in front of her:

“I have to be what I was against Harper and more. That is not being disrespectful to Harper when I say that but Taylor is on a different level, pound for pound she is the best female fighter on the planet. It will take something really special to beat her, but I do believe I can.”

The fight in 2012 was something very special, with an incredible atmosphere, rock concert levels of noise, 113.7 decibels recorded on the night. It was one of the highlights of those London Olympics, a great wave of expectation filled the arena, Taylor and Jonas let nobody down. Injury prevented Jonas returning for another Olympic cycle, but now finally, everything has aligned to repeat their titanic first encounter. Despite losing in London, Jonas doesn’t think that fight has much bearing on the outcome of the rematch:

“There is a bit of pride and revenge, but I think we are two different boxers now. I don’t think she has improved since then but I think I have. I think my power and shot selection has improved since 2012. I’ve added more shots to my game, I sit down on my shots more now I am a lot more powerful. Sitting down on your shots doesn’t really benefit you as an amateur it is more point-scoring but as a professional it does and that benefits me and there are more rounds also. I am one of those fighters that starts slow and gets better, so having 10 rounds to work is better for me.”

After two rounds Jonas was right in the fight, a good second round had left the scores virtually level, before Taylor pulled away to win 26-15 at the conclusion of the fight. Jonas still has vivid memories of the fight:

“I can remember sitting in my chair after two rounds and thinking I can leave losing on points or I can just go for it. So I thought right I am going to go for it, and whatever happens I can say I have given everything. That’s why the points gap started to open up because I was getting a bit desperate and she was smart enough to wait and capitalise on that. In the amateurs, you can lose the first two rounds and they can just sit back but that is not the case now. If I lose the first two rounds I have still got eight more rounds to catch up.”

When Katie Taylor sent that direct message on social media to Eddie Hearn asking if he wanted to promote her, the name of Natasha Jonas wouldn’t be far away from any subsequent conversation. A rematch of that classic Olympic fight was a natural, an easy sell with little or no promotion needed. Everything seemed to be falling in place for the two to once again meet, but with Taylor seemingly next, Jonas suffered that shocking defeat to Obenauf in 2018. But with the rebuild complete, Taylor and Jonas will finally get that opportunity to square off once again:

“As soon as I turned professional everyone was already saying the rematch, the rematch and is probably one of the reasons Eddie Hearn did sign me. The loss didn’t help and delayed it but the draw with Harper put me back up there again.”

Much like her fight with Harper last August, Jonas is expecting to be a pretty heavy underdog, few will give her a chance, but the critics will add extra motivation for the fight with Taylor:

“When I am the underdog the pressure is off me and I perform better. I have already seen Matthew Macklin saying Taylor is the wrong fight for me, but I said you said that last time and look what happened. I am just waiting for people to start saying she is too fast, too strong and I will just say, we’ll see. I think I love it on the sly, it gives me extra motivation.”

Jonas 36, is slightly the older fighter of the pair, but she believes age is irrelevant. Taylor despite being the younger fighter at 34 is the fighter with more miles on the clock, in a fighting sense the older fighter. Jonas could be the fresher fighter, having started later in the sport and having that time away from boxing when injury ruled her out of competing at the 2016 Olympics:

“Age isn’t really a factor, she is only a bit younger than me anyway. Katie started boxing when she was 10 I think, I didn’t start until I was 21. Age wise there isn’t much difference but when it comes to punishment on our bodies she has been at it a longer than I have.”

When Jonas was on the hunt for an opponent, she said anyone with a belt is a target. Having secured another world title challenge and this time at lightweight, Jonas feels not having to make the super-featherweight limit will be an additional advantage in her favour:

“I will definitely be stronger at lightweight, those extra few pounds are extra pounds I don’t have to get off.”

As good as Jonas was in the Harper fight, Jonas still feels there is plenty of room for improvement and is not resting on her laurels as she prepares for her moment of truth:

“I think the cut eye in the Harper fight changed everything because it was said it was done with a punch. So I had to go into a different gameplan to protect the eye and not be stopped on a cut. I think the inside work could have been better and in some rounds, I was waiting a bit too long, and I need to hold the centre of the ring more. Obviously my finishing, I do believe I should have finished Harper in round 8, so having that killer instinct to leave no doubt, we will work on that. I just have to transfer what I do in the gym to the ring.”

The disappointment of Fight Camp in August when she felt didn’t get what she deserved could in the end pay dividends. With the odds yet again stacked against her and on the back of the frustrations of the Harper draw, Jonas could very well be inspired to produce a memorable performance against the Irish superstar. The size of the task is huge, but by no means impossible. Jonas proved everyone wrong against Harper, don’t rule out something similar against Taylor.

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