Meet British Boxing's First Female Superstar

Since taking up boxing five years ago, Natasha Jonas has a handful of titles, is in pole position for the Olympics squad and thinks that Amir Khan and Frank Warren are chauvinists...
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Since taking up boxing five years ago, Natasha Jonas has a handful of titles, is in pole position for the Olympics squad and thinks that Amir Khan and Frank Warren are chauvinists...

On November 13 2010 at the Liverpool Echo Arena, on the same evening that David Haye drove the final stake into the heart of Audley Harrison’s career down the East Lancs road in Manchester, a British amateur Lightweight defeated their opponent with the final punch of the fight to win the GB Championship by a score of 11-10. Wearing the blue of Great Britain, Natasha Jonas, the fleet-footed Southpaw from Liverpool’s famed Rotunda Club, not only further enhanced her claims to represent Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, she did it live on the BBC. It was the first time the public service broadcaster had ever shown women’s boxing, it was in front of her home crowd and it was against Amanda Coulson, her biggest rival for that coveted Olympic spot.

All this tells you, despite what her birth certificate says, that Natasha Jonas has balls. It’s just a shame that even in 2011 she’d have to whip them out for members of the British Boxing Glitterati to give her the credit she deserves. “I can’t understand it, especially from Amir Khan,” she tells me, “I was incredibly disappointed when he said that women should leave fighting to the men. He knows how hard it is as an amateur and he’s also opened a gym that has female members. What him and Frank Warren have said is incredibly chauvinistic, how can they tell me whether I can fight or not?”

And how can they? Since taking up boxing five years ago, Natasha is a four time ABA Champion, and has also won a gold and two silvers at the EU Championships. Despite her anger at the comments from two men who should definitely know better, the 25-year-old is undeniably in love with the sport and the enthusiasm that crackles from the receiver in her Scouse lilt is infectious. The only female member of the legendary Rotunda, home to Tony Bellew and the fighting Smith Brothers, she initially only signed up to female classes to keep fit but was soon moved up to spar with the men.

“It was a bit daunting at first to be honest,” she says. “They’d never had a girl and it was a bit awkward, but Stephen Smith (now Commonwealth Featherweight Champion) came over and said ‘I’ll be your partner ‘and because he was one of the popular ones that helped me out a lot. I didn’t take advantage in how hard I could hit and neither did they and I haven’t looked back really. They’ve all been incredibly supportive, to them I’m just a fighter from the Rotunda.”

What Amir Khan and Frank Warren have said is incredibly chauvinistic, how can they tell me whether I can fight or not?

Young, talented, bright, attractive and humble, Natasha doesn’t, at first glance, look like a fighter. But as demonstrated in her comments, she is incredibly protective of women's boxing and admits she felt the weight of expectation when she found out she was to fight on the BBC.

“There was pressure,” she says. “Two weeks before I was incredibly nervous because I hadn’t boxed in Liverpool for two years let alone on the BBC. But in the day leading up to the fight I started to calm down, then I walked into the Echo Arena and was overwhelmed by the reception I got. It was unbelievable.”

Not so overwhelmed that it affected her performance. Exciting to watch, Natsaha can take it as well as dish it out and her footwork, both laterally and moving in and out, is highly impressive and she is rightly proud of what her performance means for women’s boxing. “It was an honour to fight on the BBC and we were all desperate to put in a good performance to show people that women’s boxing is good to watch, “ she says.” Frank Warren and whoever make these comments often say them without ever having seen us perform. The exposure was hugely important and I was so happy with it.”

Despite not being a boxing fan before she started training, Natasha has, like all fighters, become a keen student of the sport and has immersed herself in its history. “I’ve read a lot of books about boxing now,” she says, “and I love watching the really old fights, I’ve seen Hagler v Hearns and all the big ones from the 70s and 80s, but I love the old black and white stuff, people like Rocky Marciano and Archie Moore.”

It’s interesting that she mentions The Mongoose and the Rock as I have a similar obsession with the pair of them, and we also share the same taste in current fighters. “I love Manny Pacquiao,” she says, “to win belts at eight weights is incredible and he is certainly the most exciting for me. I’d love to see him and Mayweather fight, it would be the Rumble in the Jungle for our generation. My heart says Manny but my head says Floyd, it would be captivating. And I’d love to go to the Wild Card gym to soak up the atmosphere. Freddie Roach is the greatest trainer in the world...”

My heart says Manny but my head says Floyd, it would be captivating. And I’d love to go to the Wild Card gym to soak up the atmosphere. Freddie Roach is the greatest trainer in the world.

And what of the fighters who turned professional after the 2008 Olympics? “Frankie Gavin is my favourite, “ she says. “He’s great to watch, loves going to war and is a nice guy with it. I think James DeGale has bought a bit of charisma back to the arena and, from what I’ve seen of Billy Joe Saunders, he looks the complete package.

She clearly knows her stuff, indeed we prattle on for ages about fights and fighters, yet it is when the talk turns to the Heavyweight division that she makes two assessments that show, for all she is a fan, she also possesses an analytical approach that can only be attained from hours in the gym. “People will argue with me here,” she says, “but Mike Tyson, at his peak, is the greatest heavyweight of all-time. It’s not that he is my favourite fighter to watch, but he had everything, the power, the angles, the speed, the lateral head movement, the dead-eyed stare, and I don’t think anyone, not Ali, Frazier or Foreman, would’ve been able to cope with him.”

We then chat about David Haye and how he has a responsibility to save the Heavyweight division, and she is scathing when talk turns to Audley Harrison. “What a farce that was, Audley talked so much in the build-up about what he was going to do that people actually believed him, but I never did, it was a joke, he didn’t even fight. No wonder Heavyweight boxing has gone stale with performances like that. How can you expect people to pay for it?”

I suppose it’s fitting that Natasha announced herself to the wider boxing public on a night that a former Olympian lost his last crumbs of respectability. The Olympics is, of course, the pinnacle for any for amateur boxer and the road to London is a hard one. The fighters won’t know until February 2012 if they are selected to go to the final qualifier and, despite me pressing her on her plans post Olympics, Natasha is far too focused on making the squad to worry about anything else. The training schedule leaves little time for anything else.

“I train full-time with the GB Performance squad in Sheffield,“ she says. “Three sessions a day, four days a week. Running in the morning, strength and conditioning after lunch with a bit of shadow boxing and then sparring late afternoon. The dieting is the hardest thing though, I’ve never not made the weight but you ask any boxer and the most daunting thing is stepping on those scales.”

Mike Tyson, at his peak, is the greatest heavyweight of all-time. He had everything, the power, the angles, the speed, the lateral head movement, the dead-eyed stare, and I don’t think anyone, not Ali, Frazier or Foreman, would’ve been able to cope with him

Beyond the endless jabs, meals of steamed fish and calf-shredding roadwork there is, of course, the unseen side of boxing. The side that makes up 80% of the hardest game, the side that can win or lose you a fight before the bell goes and the side that all great champions master. Did it surprise her how much of it was mental?

“A little at first, but from the moment you throw the first punch you soon realise how important the mental side is. The mind games, thinking quicker than your opponent, realising what will happen three punches from now and second-guessing everything, “ she says. “Then there is psyching out your opponents, it might be a cliché but I’ve won fights beforehand, you can just tell. It goes back to what I said about Tyson. Imagine being stared down by him at his peak? No wonder he won so many fights in the first round.”

Aware that illness, injury or a simple lack of form could prove seismic in the run up to The Olympics, Natasha is open about her strengths and weaknesses. “I’ve got great footwork and consider myself ring crafty, but my concentration has let me down in the past and I work on it everyday, I would kick myself if a loss of concentration cost me my dream.”

The dream, of course, is “to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics for Great Britain.” And I, for one, hope that she fulfills her dream, becomes the poster girl for women’s boxing and rams the comments of Frank Warren and Amir Khan back down their throats.

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