It's never too late: Natasha Jonas interview
Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
As she prepares to challenge for Terri Harper's WBC super-featherweight world title, Natasha Jonas shines a candid light on her past, present and future in conversation with Sonia Randev...
BM: You initially wanted to be a footballer. What made you change to boxing?
NJ: I loved football as a kid and I’m a big Liverpool supporter. I played for Liverpool Women’s team and a local team but got an injury which unfortunately ended my career. I was devastated. I was on crutches and lost contact with all my footie mates. I felt so isolated and alone. It was such a tough time for me having to face the reality that I would never kick a football again. It was heartbreaking. I kind of went a bit off the rails from that point. I had seven jobs in one year! I was going out on weekends and getting drunk, not turning up for work on Monday, sometimes getting back on it.
Football gave me a sense of discipline and responsibility. I couldn’t go out and get drunk, knowing I had training or a game to play. Once that went, I had so much time on my hands. I had one job where I went in on a Friday, went out the weekend and never turned up on the Monday! My injury actually happened whilst in America. I was given a scholarship to play football. Once the injury happened [I could have stayed] there to carry on with the academic side which is something I never had any interest in. I wasn’t the studious type of person. I just wanted to play football. Then coming back to the UK, i did call centre jobs. Most of my jobs were sales or call centre roles. I hated it but I needed something. I put weight on. Got sacked from my last job. It was awful.
Then one day I was at my nan’s and I realised I needed to change my ways. I couldn’t carry on this way. I needed to do something positive. My uncle had a karate gym, so I asked him for the keys. I just wanted to train and get fit again. One day a woman approached me. She asked me to train at her women’s only boxing gym - I was like: do I really want to get hit in the face? But every time she saw me, she kept asking me so I thought if I go I can then say I did it, leave and she won't ask me again. I went and I ended up loving it!
To keep a long story short, I ended up boxing at the Rotunda [ABC, Liverpool]. I was falling in love with boxing and I really pushed myself. I felt I got my mojo back.
After a few months, the coaches and club thought I could really fight. I was 21 at that time and quite confident. I had a fight and beat my opponent and felt that adrenaline run through me. I kept asking them to set me up more fights. I competed at the ABAS and was told that even if I lost I would still make Team England. And so from there the boxing journey really took off for me. All i achieved before turning pro seems like a dream still.
BM: You were the first woman to represent Team GB at the Olympics in 2012. How did it feel to be the first and did you feel immense pressure?
NJ: When we went to China to qualify we knew we had to come in the top eight and I was confident in my ability that I would make the top eight. Any tournament or big stage like the qualifiers and the Olympics itself is pressure. It’s a dream for anyone to represent their country and it’s a pressure I strived on. When we ended up qualifying it was like the world had gone mad. We had officially arrived on the big stage. Everyone wanted to know who we were. The media got behind us but most importantly the country got behind us. It was a surreal moment. Not just being the first woman to qualify but the realisation of what had been achieved. Opening doors for future generations.
BM: You had a successful amateur career. Do you feel there is a big jump between the amateurs and pro boxing?
NJ: It’s certainly different! I feel the competition in the amateurs is of a higher standard. They wanted enough women coming through then but now there are the standard will rise which it has been over the years. It’s a massive jump from fighting say a journey-woman and then going on to fight a big contender. At present we haven’t got Area, Southern, English, British titles set up in the pro ranks like the men because we need more women in each weight to make this happen. Who knows maybe one day this will actually happen. It’s a good stepping stone and creates levels to where you are at with your boxing skill.
BM: You are fighting for your first world title against Terri Harper. What are your views on the fight and Terri?
NJ: I like Terri a lot. Great amateur and great skills but I do feel I'm better. I'm in a good place and mentally stronger so it will be a good fight between two fighters that really respect one another. It was really sweet when she posted a picture of me and her. This is the boxing game. Respect is there but you are there to win so you have to do what you can to win. I would never big myself up by putting another woman down. It’s all business at the end of the day.
BM: Who has inspired you in boxing and why?
NJ: We as boxers get asked this question a lot...Jane Couch. For everything she went through and what she achieved. I am thankful to her.
Manny Pacquiao. What he has done not just in the ring but outside is inspirational.
Amanda Coulson. We had a rivalry for like seven years. I have nothing but the utmost respect for that woman. When I got selected for Team GB, she came over and hugged me. An amazing opponent and woman. I felt like I had taken her dream away but she dealt with it with such class. I needed Amanda to lose sometimes and vice versa. Despite our rivalry, she always cheered me on and I did the same.
This is what makes the sport so special. The mutual respect. We all have a job to do. I love seeing more women get involved. I’m the type of woman that at the end of the day despite wanting to win a fight, I still want to see you eat. Looking at how far the women’s game has come. The buzz across social media and in general over two women are headlining. It’s been really positive. Now that is progress!