Natasha Jonas: “I’m not scared of challenges; I think they bring the best out of me.”
By Lucy MacDonald
When I interviewed Natasha Jonas last week, she was still set to fight Ewa Piatkowska. When news of the late opponent change broke, I wondered how much of the interview would remain relevant and, it turns out, quite a lot of it. There may well have been a change in Miss GB’s opponent, but the dream of a world title remains the same.
Piatkowska was forced to withdraw from an opportunity to leave the UK armed with the WBO world super-welterweight title after contracting COVID-19. Jonas’s replacement opponent was quickly announced, Uruguay’s Chris Namus.
A last-minute change to the opposition can often pose a challenge for a fighter, especially in a clash of this magnitude. However, for Natasha Jonas, a challenge is not something she is unaccustomed to. In fact, the very opposite, with her having made the leap from lightweight to super-welterweight, to fulfil her desire of finally becoming a world champion.
“I’m not scared of challenges; I think they bring the best out of me. I know it is a big risk but, to be fair, there were very limited places I could go.”
Life is all about taking risks. If you never take a risk, you will never achieve a dream. Everyone at some point in their life will take a risk, but most of us will not have millions of spectators around the world watching on as we do so.
In a sold-out Manchester Arena, the 37-year-old will make a third time lucky attempt to be crowned a world champion. Already the first-ever female British boxer to compete at the Olympic Games as well as being one of the greatest ambassadors for women in sport that this country has ever known, Jonas has one remaining goal.
“I’ve been so close, twice, and that annoys me, but it spurs me on. It gives me the motivation and drive to do, and to be, better.”
In elite level sport, as we see time and time again, the margins are incredibly small. When Jonas battled it out with Terri Harper at Matchroom HQ in August 2020, we saw another example of just how small those margins are.
The fight went the distance and, after ten rounds of relentless action, Mark Lyson’s scorecard of 95-95 caused the bout to end in a controversial draw. Harper therefore retaining her WBC and IBO world super-featherweight titles.
Many spectators, including some of the commentary team on the Matchroom show that evening, had Jonas winning that fight. Being so close to that world title dream could leave you feeling discouraged, but not Jonas, who took only motivation and further drive to achieve away from the experience.
That drive and motivation led to another major title opportunity against the undisputed world lightweight world champion, Katie Taylor. The pair reprised their Olympic rivalry at the Manchester Arena in May 2021 in an epic fight of the year contender. Once again, the fight went this distance. The scorecards were close, but Taylor retained the belts via unanimous decision.
As she said herself, challenges bring out the best in Jonas. The Liverpool fighter pushed Taylor to her limit, who is widely considered to be the best female fighter on the planet.
Being such an incredible talent and skilled fighter has proved to be an issue for Miss GB over the years. In a way, a complement to her ability but in no way a benefit to her career.
“I am a lot of risk with no reward and that puts people off. It doesn’t benefit me to be that. When you’ve got a world title, there is a risk, but there is also a reward there. You’ve got a persuasion and that will help in the cause to bring something to the table.
“It winds me up to death as a person who wants to fight but, as a boxer, I know what the business is like. I do get why but me, being that person, it doesn’t help.”
For the former WBA international super-featherweight champion, becoming victorious this Saturday brings with it that forever-craved world title reward.
Her opponent, Chris Namus, a former IBF world junior-middleweight champion, knows that world title-winning feeling. At 34-years-old, and having boxed as a professional since 2007, Namus is the more experienced fighter. She is of a similar height, weight, and stature to Jonas’s initial opposition in Piatkowska, and Jonas comes prepared for whatever the Uruguayan aims to bring to the ring.
The camp leading up to this fight, in Jonas’s own words, “couldn’t have gone better.” Finding the right sparring partners has been crucial. Boxing with the additional weight was initially quite tough Jonas admitted, but she is now feeling comfortable at the weight and, following the success of this camp, feeling confident – vowing to do her sparring partners justice.
Saturday’s world title opportunity came to Jonas’s knowledge in mid-January, after promises made to her by Ben Shalom of BOXXER after signing a long-term promotional deal with the next-generation boxing promotor in November 2021. The brief for BOXXER from her point of view was simple, a fight for a world title, and they were fast to deliver on this promise.
“I told him [Ben Shalom] what I want. I told him what I am good enough to do. I asked him if he could do it, and he said yes. He’s gone out and done that. They [BOXXER] were so reassuring, and I trusted them. I believed in them. I feel supported, I feel valued, and I get on really well with Ben.”
Jonas has been part of some thrilling fights on Sky Sports, two of which being those back-to-back world title contests with Katie Taylor and Terri Harper. Signing with BOXXER means that this can continue. Staying active and being in the best fights possible is something that is of great importance.
The exclusive promotional agreement between Jonas and BOXXER was the right way forward for her career as a boxer, but also brought with it the opportunity to be a pundit on BOXXER’s live shows. Jonas can now play part in all the shows on Sky Sports, whether it be as a boxing analyst or performing on the card.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a contracted job, probably about 2009. That was an added bonus. I’m going to be able to box and I’m going to be getting paid as well.”
For Jonas, her priority is being a Mum. “I am a Mum before anything else.”
That sums it all up, really. Boxing is a day-to-day job, but ultimately, you work to provide for your family. Regardless of whether you work on a shop floor, or you’re a famous athlete, everyone who works is doing it for the same purpose.
The opportunities that BOXXER have delivered for Jonas makes the promotional agreement a no-brainer. A few fight fans had comments to make regarding Jonas’s decision to move on from her previous promotor, Eddie Hearn. Being a highly regarded sportsperson automatically causes you to be subject to the opinions of the public who are, for the most part, clueless as to your personal circumstances and will simply comment upon the limited facts, or one-sentence news headline, in front of them. It is too easy to focus on this negativity, the ability to disregard these comments is useful skill for an individual in the limelight.
Jonas is most certainly a fan-favourite and we enjoy listening to her honest commentary on the BOXXER shows. Even Twitter users, who can usually pick a fault with absolutely anything, have been unable to do so thus far. This in itself says a lot about how good she is as an analyst, and of course just how likeable and respected she is as a boxer.
We, as fans, cannot wait to see her win her first title and we all hope to see it this week, but I could not conduct this interview without chatting to Jonas about the main event of the evening. A match-up that boxing fans have waited to see for around a decade, and had hoped to see about five years ago, is now finally around the corner.
Amir Khan vs Kell Brook, a stand-out grudge match of all grudge matches. Jonas and I spoke of this fight at length during our interview, as people have done ever since it was announced. A highly anticipated, hugely exciting clash. Jonas is of course looking forward to her bout of Saturday night but is also looking forward to watching the main event unfold just afterwards. I asked for her prediction as to how the fight would play out.
“I can’t see past Khan. If he is anything like what he was, I can’t see past him. But, having said that, if Kell turns up, it is going to be a long night. I think Khan has it to throw away more than Kell has to win it.”
The general consensus is that Khan will pick up the early rounds and, if it goes the distance, will win on points. If Brook can find a knockout, it will come in the mid to late rounds. Fans have made their predictions, but, with both men past their prime and being inactive for an extensive amount of time each, even the most royal figures in boxing, stacked with boxing knowledge, are finding it difficult to split them. Jonas is edging towards Amir Khan, but addressed her concerns:
“What happens in boxing is, someone will say for example, “you can’t punch.” So, you go away, you work on your punch power, you go back into the gym, and you train just to show people that you can punch. You try and incorporate speed into your boxing just so you can prove it to people. It is the same with people telling Amir Khan he hasn’t got a chin. So, he’ll stand there and trade with people just to prove that he has. That is my only worry. If he boxes smart, he’ll beat him [Kell Brook].”
Before Khan and Brook do battle, Jonas will be hoping it will be a case of third time lucky.