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Same but different: Taylor and Jonas promise more fireworks nine years on from Olympic classic

The Irish icon won a thrilling London Olympics quarter-final between them, but the Liverpudlian knows how to tear up a script.

Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas will renew their rivalry this Saturday night, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas will renew their rivalry this Saturday night, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
Image: INPHO

THE SAME BUT different. That’s the general assessment of this Saturday night’s clash between Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas, a sequel nine years — on and off — in the making.

The thousands of fans who supplied their memorable final amateur encounter in a London 2012 quarter-final with an added sliver of newsworthiness — the noise recorded at the Excel Arena that day was the loudest of the Olympics to that point — won’t be present in Manchester Arena this time around. On Sky Sports Box Office rather than on RTÉ or the BBC, the fighters will square off for Taylor’s undisputed lightweight title instead of a spot on the Olympic podium. They’ll also be paid handsomely to do so.

They are, on the one hand, different people now to who they were then. But on the other hand, they’re still Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas, still world-class boxers competing in a different version of the same sport, and when they are scheduled to meet in the middle, you can still expect the spectacular.

“I’ve been asked a lot of questions about that this week, about that fight in London, and it’s kind of forced me to look back on it,” Taylor says. “It was obviously such a great moment for me.

I can’t actually remember much from the fight, to be quite honest, but I do just remember the atmosphere of that fight and the Irish fans can proudly say they broke the decibel levels in the arena that day.

“I think it was the first time that people really saw women’s boxing on a global stage and I think a lot of people were saying that that fight between myself and Natasha was the fight of the tournament, actually. I think we showed everything in that fight: the skill, the heart, the determination — everything needed in a good match, in a good fight. So, for the first time, people saw women’s boxing at its absolute best

“I would have had no idea that, nine years later, we’d be facing each other again in the pro ring, but here we are.”

katie-taylor-in-action-against-natasha-jonas Katie Taylor (R) lands a right hand on Jonas in their Olympic quarter-final in 2012. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The only thing I remember is the pain of losing”, Jonas grimaces, “which I don’t want to do!

“The actual fight itself, there’s not really much we can take from it because it’s nine years ago. We are two different people, two different boxers, and even though it’s the same sport, it’s different. We’re not points-scoring, we’re going more than four rounds, and being a bigger puncher benefits you. In the amateurs, you score a knockdown, you get a point; here, you get a 10-8 round.”

Taylor, who says something very similar about the differences between then and now, stresses that “what works in the pro game isn’t going to work in the amateur game or vice versa.”

When asked on her media call if she also concurs with Jonas that this fight — or indeed any fight involving Katie Taylor — should be a guaranteed headliner rather than a chief-support bout as is the case this weekend, Taylor laughs her way around a yes-or-no answer and says she’s never averse to being the main event. “This fight could be the show-stealer of the whole night, I think,” she qualifies. “It has the potential to be that kind of a fight. When we did fight as amateurs, they were edge-of-the-seat kind of fights and it could be the same on Saturday night, as well.”

katie-taylor Katie Taylor at Tuesday's Matchroom Boxing media event. Source: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO

“I think we’ve just got styles that gel,” Jonas muses.

It’s going to be fireworks. The best version of me versus the best version of Katie: what is there not to like?

Jonas did punditry for Sky on the night when Taylor made her professional debut in November 2016. After Taylor’s explosive destruction of Karina Kopinska, she jokingly winced at the prospect of one day joining Taylor in the professional ring.

However, Jonas herself did turn pro seven months later and it was clear that with their Sky Sports and Matchroom connections, her own venture into the punch-for-pay ranks was being designed to culminate in a climactic showdown with Taylor.

A year into her career as a prizefighter, Eddie Hearn and all parties were disabused of that notion when Jonas was sensationally stopped by Viviane Obenauf, whom Taylor had beaten soundly in her second pro fight.

Jonas, though, picked herself off the floor with three handy wins against journeywomen in 2019 before she ostensibly relaunched her career last August in a fight-of-the-year contender with fellow Briton Terri Harper, the WBC super-featherweight world champion. For the first time as a professional, the Liverpudlian looked legitimately world-class, rocking the champion and A-side and giving Harper a torrid night of it, producing a performance representative of her own glittering amateur career.

Jonas was denied the shock victory and a bolt-from-the-blue world title by the judges, who produced the controversial verdict of a split-decision draw between them. In landing an even more lucrative fight with Taylor for all of the belts up at lightweight, however, the 36-year-old has at least been partially rewarded after the fact.

katie-taylor-after-the-fight-with-natasha-jonas Natasha Jonas pretends to grab Katie Taylor's lightweight titles after the Irishwoman beat Delfine Persoon in a rematch last August. Source: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO

But unlike her and Taylor’s former amateur contemporary Eva Wahlstrom, who admitted after her defeat to Taylor as a pro in December 2018 that she never truly believed she could best the Irish icon and wanted instead to simply ‘test herself’ with a kind of life experience, Jonas moves up in weight for this Taylor fight hellbent on victory, and with the conviction of a combatant who already tore up the script in her last outing.

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She says that, despite her being heavier, her muscle mass is leaner and her body-fat percentage has dropped. She playfully jibes boxers who so frequently say ‘I’m physically in the best shape of my life’ before adding that she genuinely feels as though she is, and stressing that her performance stats in training confirm as much.

And crucially, she believes she is psychologically better prepared for the challenge this time around than she was nine years ago.

“Genuinely, at the 2012 Olympics, I believe she was the only person at that Olympics who could have beaten me,” Jonas says. “It’s just unfortunate that I drew her so early and I do think she was just the better boxer.

“She was the only one who I didn’t want to draw because I did, deep down inside, know that she could beat me.

“Now, I keep saying it: we’re two different boxers and that puts us in good stead for a whole different version of me and a whole different version of Katie.

I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the clout as in the belts! This is intrinsic: I genuinely believe I can win and I wouldn’t say that otherwise.

“The worst thing you can tell me is that I can’t do it because I’m going to prove to you that I can.”

Much of the pre-fight talk by each protagonist about the other has bordered on reverential. These are two women who earned each other’s respect a decade ago.

The closest thing we’ve come to trash talk has been from Jonas’ trainer, Joe Gallagher, who insists Taylor [17-0, 6KOs] “can be hurt” — which is, of course, scientifically true. And his own fighter, with her seven knockouts in nine victories, is not averse to inflicting a bit of pain, either.

Asked about Gallagher’s remarks, Taylor turns her nose up and says: “I don’t think anyone can really get under my skin, to be quite honest. I’m just not the type of person to be offended in any way. Regardless of what’s said before the fight, it’s going to be settled on the actual night by the sweet science of boxing, it’s not going to be settled by what’s been said beforehand.”

If all of their words and the fighters’ shared history are any indicator, it will take a while before the dust settles on the Manchester Arena canvas on Saturday night.

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