Natasha Jonas: “I want a world title, anyone between 130 and 140 is a target.”

Natasha Jonas: “I want a world title, anyone between 130 and 140 is a target.”

The many long months Natasha Jonas spent in lockdown saw her form an extra special bond with her daughter Mela. Even the frustrations of home-schooling couldn’t put a dent in it. Mela is her inspiration, that extra little bit of driving force behind her return to boxing and the upturn in her career trajectory in the last few months. The young Jonas is a regular in Gallagher’s gym, the unpaid second, an early bout of work experience. Recent pictures of mother and daughter show the love, and a week spent in a Matchroom bubble preparing for her fight with Katie Taylor was a hard one:

“Last week I did no media, I wanted a week away and just have time with my little girl. It’s been a long time not seeing her. I have been a bubble before but it doesn’t get any easier.”

Being in Fight of the Year candidates is becoming a regular occurrence for Miss GB. Jonas’s previous fight with Terri Harper last August was quite rightly voted the best female fight of 2020, and the fight with Katie Taylor earlier this month will take some beating when this years honours are handed out. It was another relentless back and forth war to convince any remaining doubters about the validity of women’s boxing.

The fight was close, extremely close. The three judges had it 96-94 96-95 96-95 all in favour of Taylor. It was won by wafer-thin margins, there were more than a few swing rounds where it was a case of what you like, and for the second fight in a row there is frustration for Jonas:

“I never really watch fights back but the last two I have. I watched the Terri and Katie fights back for the scoring. I think the Harper one has helped me to brush it off, it is what it is. Personally, I had it level. First of all, mentally, I am glad she beat me because if it had been another draw I would have gone ballistic. I am happy that it got settled and that she won. But what annoys me is when I fought Harper it was me who was landing the cleaner harder shots but Terri was putting the pressure on which is why it was a draw, so fair enough. Katie fights Persoon, Persoon puts the pressure on but Katie lands the cleaner harder shots, but Katie wins. I fight Katie, I land the cleaner harder shots but Katie wins because she applied the pressure. So if that’s the case how come Terri and Persoon didn’t win but Katie won.

“The judging riles me because you just don’t know what they want. No matter how you box it doesn’t matter because they can change their minds anyway. I’m not upset by the result, my team are but I’m not. People say I lost because of round 10, but I didn’t, two judges gave me round 10 but they didn’t give me round 8 which I thought was clearer than some of the other rounds. So what the hell do they want.”

It was one of those fights that different people could score it the same, but each person could quite easily reach that conclusion by a number of different ways. Maybe it is down to the shorter two-minute rounds, but a lot of the rounds could realistically have gone either way. I had Jonas winning rounds 3,6,7 and 8 without too much doubt, with rounds 2, 4 and 10 being the swing rounds for me. The Liverpool fighter saw it much the same way but felt she had the better of rounds 1 and 10:

“I believe I won round 1, she throws a lot of shots but doesn’t land very many. I think one judge gave the round to me, the others scored the round even. Round 10 two judges gave it me and one scored it even. Katie came on strong in the last 40 seconds but I won the rest of the round. That is Katie’s greater experience and is something I will take from the fight.”

It was the sort of contest decided by fine margins, maybe each round decided by a few punches. either way Jonas had her moments in another great advert for women’s boxing, but when I asked her why she feels she just came up short on the cards, Jonas said it was a slower than expected start and a regret that she didn’t throw more body shots:

“Maybe a little bit of a slow start, but I’ve always done that. It’s not a great thing to do, as an amateur that was always the problem. The tactics were educated pressure, a high guard and lots of uppercuts. I think it took me too long to throw some body shots, they were certainly having an effect. I definitely hurt her I could hear her wince and I think there was a moment in the 6th where I thought if only I had a bit longer.”

Despite missing out on a coveted world title, Jonas has plenty of options going forward. Her performance against Taylor should remove any remaining doubt that she is world-class and is far from finished as a viable contender for a world title. Harper has recently undergone another operation on her hand after fracturing it in her final sparring session and has to pull out of her planned unification fight with Hyun Mi Choi. The route back to another world title fight at super-featherweight looked to be a long one with Harper and the rest of the world champions involved in a no way in unification series.

But with Harper sadly out of action for the majority of the year, it leaves the door open for other fighters to get involved in the unification process. While Jonas would certainly be under consideration, she might now have proved herself to be dangerous to be granted an invite:

“A million per cent it opens doors for me. But right now I am big risk with no reward even more so now after my last performance. You can sometimes become a victim of your own success.”

Eddie Hearn isn’t shy of seeing an opportunity, the rematch with Taylor, especially with a crowd is a no-brainer. But there is that chance that he also might see the Harper rematch as another possible fight for later this year, and grant Jonas a fight with Choi sooner rather than later. A Harper-Jonas rematch would do good numbers especially after the fall out from the first fight last August:

“I think Eddie will see the opportunity for money now. Imagine a rematch with Katie in Ireland, Manchester or at Wembley I don’t think anyone will moan. I think Eddie sees the business side of it more than anything. I haven’t spoken to him since the fight but he did send me a really nice message after the fight.”

The options Jonas has are spread across three separate weight divisions, any champion within those divisions is a potential opponent for her:

“For my own sanity, I want a world title, anyone between 130 and 140 is a target.”

There has been some resentment at the prospect of Jonas being giving another world title fight after failing to win against Harper and Taylor. For many, the strength of her performance in that hotly disputed draw with Harper and the one she gave against Taylor warrants a third opportunity. But Jonas has no concerns over any resentment if she is giving another shot at a world title:

“It makes me laugh. if a promoter is willing to get someone a world title it is not their fault. It’s like any normal workplace if a boss offers someone a pay rise or a promotion that person isn’t going to say Karen over there deserves it more give it to her, you take the opportunity that is given. You are a long-time retired in this business, so if I get world title opportunity after another, after another I am going to keep taking them, why would I turn them down. I am in the wrong sport if I don’t want to win a world title.”

Winning a world title means everything to Jonas, her search for the inner peace she is looking for would be over. But even in defeat she can still take comfort from her efforts against Taylor:

“Even though I didn’t win I can still take comfort from my performance. I know how good I am, how well I train and spar, but sometimes it’s convincing others because I don’t always show it in the ring. But the last two fights against fighters who were supposed to blow me away, I have finally proved how good I am and people are starting to accept it now.”

Katie Taylor is widely regarded as the best fighter of her generation, unbeaten in 18 fights, a two-weight world champion the praise is certainly not without much merit. Jonas knew she had to improve from the Harper fight to live with Taylor, and she believes she did:

“I knew I had to be better than I was against Harper, and not being disrespectful to Terri, but I believe Katie is better than her, and not just a bit better a lot better. Katie is arguably the best female fighter on the planet, I don’t know where Terri sits in the rankings but it is a lot further down the list than Katie. So I knew I had to be better and I believe I was better.”

You can win even in defeat, and Jonas has in many ways, achieved that. I spoke to her trainer Joe Gallagher the day after this interview, and he remarked how close she came to winning even as the ‘away’ fighter, which says plenty. Jonas has proved herself on the world stage, and could quite easily have emerged victorious in both fights, especially the Harper fight.

But sometimes I think other things are more important than having titles to your name. The Jonas I first spoke to a few years ago isn’t the same person I know today. The pain of her first professional defeat was still there, self-doubt not knowing if she still belonged in the sport, retirement a serious consideration. But even just a few days after an agonisingly near-miss against Taylor, there is still contentment there, the smile that never leaves, a point proven despite not having her hand raised in Manchester. Mentally Jonas is in a good place, and from where she was, that is perhaps her greatest ever victory.

Jonas turns 37 next month, but the fire still burns and she is a fighter who is still improving. Somehow I don’t think the Jonas story is over just yet.

Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

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