Natasha Jonas: “I want to be the Natasha who has belts.”
Everlast/Sports Direct have recently joined forces with Natasha Jonas and 51 other boxers in a massive investment in boxing. Jonas will not only benefit financially from the recent deal but also will get help from the brand with some of her planned initiatives going forward. But while Jonas might have one eye on the future there are more immediate tasks at hand.
Jonas was winding down her training for her moment of truth fight with Katie Taylor on May 1st for the undisputed world lightweight titles as we both stumbled and fumbled our way to start our Zoom interview, both having difficulties navigating our way through the new normal of speaking face-to-face. We could hear but see until the correct buttons were pressed, maybe by luck rather than design, certainly in my case, at least this time I pressed record a little sooner.
Jonas had just finished one of her last remaining sessions before her date with her old rival in Manchester, a fight which is somehow only the co-main event on the latest Matchroom/Sky PPV. A couple of heavyweights treading water top the card in a fight where the prize is yet another opportunity on a similar platform for the winner, and for the loser, a road to nowhere in the heavyweight merry-go-round. Taylor vs Jonas, a fight with everything on the line, should by rights be the main event if we judge a fight by the quality and not by the size of the purse the heavyweights in the main event still command.
Jonas is in agreement telling FightPost: “I don’t make the decisions, it should be, I don’t know why, but it’s not.” Decisions are made elsewhere, but with women’s boxing on the rise it does seem a missed opportunity to make Taylor/Jonas the headline act. It is a fight that is a natural sell and for me a far easier sell when trying to convince the paying public that the card is a genuine PPV show. The fight and the two fighters deserve better.
The Liverpool fighter will be heading back into a Matchroom bubble for the first time since her fight with Terri Harper last August. Jonas looked to have done enough to become a world champion in her fight with Harper but left Fight Camp bitterly frustrated after being denied what many felt she deserved in a fight that was a terrific advert for their sport. Jonas only received a split-draw from the judges, the plaudits for her performance little comfort when Jonas should have gone home a unified world champion. There have been other dubious scoring controversies on recent shows, including Taylor being preferred over Persoon in their rematch which raised more than a few eyebrows. Jonas was ringside last August for that fight and she thought that Persoon deserved the win and after her night of frustration with Harper it is an obvious worry heading into her fight with Taylor.
“It is a concern, but it is not something I can control so I don’t worry myself with something that is out of my control. It is like the Harper thing, it doesn’t get changed you just have to deal with it and make it more convincing next time. That is part of my motivation this time to make it more convincing and win the rounds more convincingly.”
Jonas was written off prior to the Harper fight, harshly judged because of one bad night. Jonas was probably picked for that reason, a fighter with the name, but considered the safe option. Little or no danger to what lies ahead.
But in that eerie setting Jonas was inspired, rising to the challenge in front of her. Fighting beyond expectations, denied only by the scorecards, Jonas more than proved her worth. But was that one last great effort never to be repeated, some have said that was her moment, her one chance and she couldn’t reach that same level again. But Jonas believes she can be even better against Taylor:
“I know I can reach that level again, my tests, my numbers, my sparring, my mind, everything is telling me I can. If you stay still in boxing you are not going to progress you have to keep getting better. Against Harper, I didn’t win, so I have to do that again but better. So that is the mindset I have and that is what I will be doing on the night. There is no reason I can’t, testing wise I am better, well better than I was before, I am still in that good place mentally and physically I am better.”
There were doubts from the critics about Jonas making super-featherweight for the Harper fight and also going 10 rounds in a hard fight, a depleted and old body not agreeing with what the mind wants was a narrative many pushed. Jonas showed on both counts that she could. The Taylor fight will be at lightweight a few extra pounds she doesn’t have to shift, a weight Jonas feels she will be even stronger at, although the ex-Olympian tells me she is even leaner for this fight, and this time has renewed confidence in her stamina:
“Now I know I can do 10 rounds, I don’t have to save anything, I don’t have to do that now, this time I know. I believe in my fitness now I know it is there.”
Jonas entered the fight last August battling many things which makes her performance even more astounding:
“Before the Harper fight mentally it was a struggle, financially it was a struggle, I didn’t know when I was going to fight again, so I was coming from a very low place, I didn’t know how well I was going to do. This time I am starting in a much better place, the baseline is better.”
Taylor, while she remains unbeaten in 17 fights as a professional, and quite rightly hailed as the best female fighter on the planet, Delfine Persoon gave her two incredibly tough fights and can consider herself extremely unlucky not to have had her hand raised in at least one of those fights. Jonas was ringside for the rematch last August, and saw Taylor at close quarters and went away with extra belief for her fight with the undisputed lightweight champion:
“I think Persoon made Katie look human. Some fighters have that aura about them and Katie is one of them. We have an expectation of how they are going to perform because of how good they are, you see it and you buy into that. But then someone comes along and wipes that clean and makes them look human.”
Ever since Taylor and Jonas turned professional the intention was to make them rerun their classic Olympic fight. They would have fought in early 2019 if Jonas hadn’t suffered her only defeat to Viviane Obenauf in 2018, but the delay seems to have worked out for Jonas. With lessons learned this is a much more formidable fighter Taylor will face than the one, she would have fought in 2019. Mentally stronger, physically in the best shape of her life, Jonas is primed and feels it is the perfect time for her:
“I would say it is the perfect time to fight her, I am mentally and physically stronger and I think she is beatable now. To be fair we are still very new to the game and we are both still learning. My boxing IQ especially in the last two or three fights has improved.”
Even over our Zoom call, the confidence shines through, the same belief I saw prior to the Harper fight. If anything I see more of it. Quietly but assuredly, without a hint of arrogance, Jonas is heading to Manchester in the best place possible place. Fighters say the right things, trying to convince themselves as much as anyone else. But this feels different, the underdog yet again but a much shorter one than for the Harper fight, even the naysayers now have doubt, and goes into the fight with little pressure on her shoulders:
“I have nothing to lose taking this fight. There are people saying Katie will stop me and so on. But keep on saying that and we’ll see, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I came back into the sport for nights like this. If you can’t get up for nights like this, you are in the wrong sport. I don’t want to be the Natasha who was top 10, I want to be the Natasha who has belts and that is what I came back for.”
Jonas has the obligatory rematch obligation in her contract if she pulls off the shock win and financially it would change plenty, but money isn’t the primary motivation, a win would give her so much more:
“Inner peace, there was that something was bringing me back. I’ve got the amateur accolades, the medals I can show my daughter and stories I can tell about where I have been and what I have done. But there was something missing, maybe it was an Olympic medal, something that I should have done better. But coming back and winning a world title would draw a line under the sand and I can say I am satisfied, I am happy with what I have done and I can either box on or just walk away.”
Plans are likely to already be in place for Katie Taylor, a win to some is a mere formality. Jonas is again here for a reason, an easy sell, one who won’t upset those scripted plans, maybe even to remove her from the Terri Harper line of questioning, a storyline from last summer. An uncomfortable blemish and one that seems to risky to try and remove all doubt.
But Jonas doesn’t see it like that, she goes to Manchester with real ambition and hope. Inside the bubble there is a bubble to burst, a desire to inflict something no other fighter has yet managed.
Victory is far from unlikely, a more than live underdog. I have been told she is looking sensational in the gym, the peace she craves may not be that far away. Jonas came back to the sport for closure and despite the odds, she might be waking up on Sunday morning with everything she needs.