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Natasha Jonas steps up to gamble

Natasha Jonas
Lawrence Lustig/Boxxer
Natasha Jonas has a third shot at a belt she craves and Olympic star Frazer Clarke goes pro on the Khan-Brook undercard, writes John Dennen

NATASHA JONAS needs some silverware. The Liverpudlian was the first female British boxer to qualify for an Olympic Games. She was one of the élite talents to come out of the GB programme. A quality professional she was unfortunate to be held to a draw by Terri Harper for an alphablet super-featherweight belt and she also pushed Irish star Katie Taylor close. Well-supported, talented, an Olympian who’s fought the best available opposition, despite all that her career still would feel somehow incomplete if it finished without her winning one of the significant belts. But at 37, Jonas is running out of time.

That’s why, as a natural super-feather or lightweight, she’s gambling by leaping up to super-welterweight to box for the vacant WBO strap at the Manchester Arena on Saturday (February 19). To complicate the risk calculation, a replacement opponent was confirmed with just over a week left to go as Chris Namús came in for Ewa Piatkowska. Namús hasn’t won since 2019 and Jonas is yet to fight in this weight class. A curious ‘world title’ fight, then.

Namús is a Uruguayan who’s been operating at super-welter since 2017. She has boxed good opposition too, losing to then welterweight champion Cecilia Brækhus over 10 rounds in 2016 and was outpointed by leading super-welter Marie-Ève Dicaire. But Namús has also lost to poor opposition. Her most recent fight was in 2020 against Ema Kozin, who was in the UK earlier this month to box Claressa Shields. The latter is the middleweight champion and while Kozin was a hefty underdog, her challenge was still underwhelming. She appeared unambitious and let Shields dominate proceedings. Jonas will have noted too that Namús’ two most recent defeats both came against southpaws like her.

Despite being more accustomed to the weight, Namús is only fractionally taller than Jonas. Natasha does have good punch power at those lighter weights, whether she will carry that power up with her remains to be seen. Namús is likely to have heavier hands and Jonas has been stopped before, caught out by Viviane Obenauf back in 2018. The Briton will want to rely on her footwork and southpaw skills to outbox Namús. But she should be able to win a points decision.

“Nothing’s changed for me,” Jonas said. “She’s still a tall and rangy opponent and probably more attack-minded than Piatkowska from what I’ve seen. They’re very similar in stature and how they box. But it’s all about me and what I do.

Natasha Jonas
Lewis Storey/Getty Images

“It’s a disadvantage to me that she’s a natural middleweight, but it’s an advantage for me that she’s had short notice for the fight. This fight is all about me executing my game plan more than me worrying about hers.”

One of the stars to emerge from the Olympic Games, Frazer Clarke will make his professional debut on the bill. The big man from Burton spent years on the international amateur circuit. He amassed a wealth of experience going to every major amateur tournament and was also a force in the World Series of Boxing, the quasi-pro league that saw élite amateurs boxing in ferocious five-rounders. That is a good grounding for his future as a pro.

The highlight of his career was winning an Olympic super-heavyweight bronze medal. He was GB Boxing’s captain at the Tokyo Games and was an indefatigable presence in the Kokugikan arena throughout the tournament, roaring on his team-mates to success from the stands, a key part of the side that secured British boxing’s largest Olympic medal haul in 100 years.

Clarke has a well-rounded skillset and he packs a heavy punch. He’ll certainly have a role to play in the heavyweight scene over the years to come.

On the last Boxxer-promoted show in Cardiff, it was the English title fight between Sam Antwi and Conah Walker that proved the most thrilling of the night. Charlie Schofield and Germaine Brown will hope to emulate that when they fight for the English super-middleweight championship. Scofield has only lost once in 18 fights, a points reverse Mickey Ellison that Scofield avenged in an immediate rematch. Brown is a perfect 11-0 and has fought the higher level of opposition, beating Dmitrii Chudinov in Minsk. He made his last bout against unheralded Ondrej Buder harder than it needed to be but could have the edge in this well-matched contest with Schofield.

Bradley Rea is only 23 years old and has a knack for delivering excitement. He came through a thrilling fight with Jez Smith last time out and the Stretford middleweight meets fellow unbeaten Craig McCarthy in a scheduled eight-rounder. Rea should be able to continue his momentum with another victory here.

After boxing in Tijuana, Dubai and Las Vegas, cruiserweight Viddal Riley has his first pro bout in the UK on this bill. Riley is known as the trainer of youtuber KSI and for building up his own following on the platform. But he’s always been a good boxer, representing West Ham ABC in his successful amateur career. He takes on 39-year-old veteran, Wilbeforce Shihepo (who has lost to Arthur Abraham and Callum Johnson in the past), over six rounds.

Hassan and Adam Azim, brothers just starting out in their professional careers, get runs out on the bill too.

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