Exclusive interview: Underdog Jonas tells Telegraph Sport avenging defeat at London Olympics would mean she could ‘have peace with myself’
It is a measure of how far women’s boxing has come in the nine years since Natasha Jonas last fought Katie Taylor that the Liverpudlian is adamant that their lightweight world title bout on Saturday should not just be on the undercard of Dereck Chisora and Joe Parker – it should “be the card”.
Jonas is hell-bent for revenge against Taylor, who beat the Toxteth fighter in the London Olympics in 2012, in arguably the biggest women’s world title fight ever to take place in the UK. It has been nearly a decade in the making and Jonas suggests the rematch is deserving of top billing in the Matchroom Boxing card.
“It would be a great thing for boxing and to grow the sport, which the promoter Eddie Hearn does want to do and is trying to do. But we need to be more visible not just on the card but be the card. Where does it get any bigger?” Jonas told Telegraph Sport.
“One of the first comments I saw when [the fight] was first announced was: ‘why isn’t this top of the bill?’ That just goes to prove how far the sport has come. Two, three, four years ago people wouldn’t have been saying that.
“The public are enjoying the fact we are top-class athletes fighting each other at their peak. They want it and they all want to step up to the mark for all the belts and nobody is avoiding anyone.”
Regardless of where it appears, it is a landmark fight. Boldly, Jonas, the heavy underdog, says that she believes “Taylor has not got any better than when we met at the Olympics”, even though the champion has gone undefeated in 17 contests as a professional boxer. “All the pressure is on her,” she added.
A draw on the judges’ cards with Terri Harper in a challenge for the World Boxing Council super featherweight title in August last year – in a contest in which many felt Jonas had triumphed – propelled the 34-year-old into this long-awaited return battle with women’s boxing pioneer Taylor.
Looking back on that day in London in 2012, Jonas believes she “did not enjoy it as much as she should have done”. But the detail is imprinted on her mind. “I could smell it, I could taste it, I get the hairs standing up when I think of it, but this time around I’m just going to enjoy every minute of it. That’s the way I see it,” explained Jonas. That night at the ExCeL Arena in London, a 10,000 sellout crowd made a recorded noise of 113.7 decibels, comparable to a live rock concert or a jet taking off.
“I can literally remember every detail. When I watch back the clips I remember exactly how I felt. Who I could see where people were sitting. I remember every single thing. It’s mad it was nine years ago but I can still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Watching Taylor’s progress and the exponential growth of women’s boxing drew Jonas back into the sport in 2017, knowing that her nemesis who had gone on to win Olympic gold would always be on the radar. “That was the kind of hook that got me back onto pro boxing. Me and her were always on a collision course. A loss in 2018 [to Viviane Obenauf] knocked me back a little bit but the draw with Terri Harper established me at world level. Even though I was very disappointed that night not to get the decision I think in hindsight it’s turned out to be a good thing. It worked out well for me even though I didn’t get the rematch with Terri, because Katie Taylor wanted an opponent.”
Thus, the perfect storm for the second fight, and a promoter’s dream for Hearn. “I’ve always said I need to be better than I was against Terri Harper because Katie Taylor is a lot better. Physiologically, anatomically, spiritually – everything is better and mentally I feel in the best place I’ve been in. I make jokey comments saying I’m like Benjamin Button. My performances are getting better even though I’m getting older. That’s basically the way I feel. Every time I’m asked to step up and get to a level, I do. Being the underdog works just fine with me. I’ve got nothing to prove but everything to win.”
Can Jonas do it? Her life story suggests it could be her moment. Jonas has been there, knows the ropes. Growing up tough in Toxteth, Liverpool, Jonas started as a football player until she suffered a career-ending injury while playing at a US college.
“I grew up in my nan’s house,” Jonas says. “My mum was a young mum. I was allowed to be and go anywhere I wanted to as long as I was with the boys, my cousins. So you play footie, ride your bike and climb trees. I remember playing footie for the first year and I was the last one to be picked. I was the only girl and wasn’t very strong or very good. But over the year competing with the lads you get better. By the end of that year I was the first one being picked over the lads, I was probably better than the lads.
“That was 17 years ago and I haven’t looked back since. I didn’t want to fit the stereotypes of someone from Liverpool or a black woman from Toxteth. People always put labels on what I can do or could do. I always said to myself as a kid I wouldn’t be like that. If it wasn’t boxing it would have been something else because I would have found something else.”
At 17, indeed, she found boxing. Or it found her. Having known Jonas for 15 years, she belies an extremely tough, resilient, stoical spirit. So now Jonas needs to make this “her moment”. What would it mean to be crowned world champion?
“It would just mean peace. There was something that kept me coming back because as successful as my amateur career was, there were things that I didn’t do that I wanted to. If you asked me I couldn’t even put my finger on it, maybe an Olympic medal. There’s something personally intrinsically I wasn’t satisfied with. When I came back to boxing, I knew this was my last chance to have peace with myself. Doing that and being in this event and winning those titles will finally be me able to say: I’m happy.”