NATASHA JONAS and Terri Harper are poised to compete in one of the first world title fights in the UK as the sport begins to return after the coronavirus shutdown. Harper’s WBC title defence against Jonas was cancelled earlier this year but is in the frame to take place on one of the Fight Camp shows Matchroom are planning to stage in the gardens of their offices.
There will be a host of safety precautions in light of the current pandemic, with no spectators allowed and fighters being isolated in a hotel. “We’re just in a time that no one’s ever been in before. When it stopped everyone [asked] how do you feel? There’s nothing I can do and the same thing with now. When it does start again, there’s nothing I can do about it. So we just have to follow the rules. That’s what we’ve always done,” Jonas reflected. “I think everyone will be on edge because they want to do everything perfect. There’s going to be a lot of tension. There’s going to be a lot of people waiting for something to go wrong to criticise it. I think it is what it is.
“We are taking our own precautions as well. It’s important for me and Joe [Gallagher, her trainer]. I’ve got a little girl and a nan that I look after. Joe’s got his mum that he looks after. You’ve got to be safe. I might not be affected by it but I don’t want to affect anybody else either.”
A date has not been confirmed but boxers need time to prepare adequately for a world title and these are far from ideal conditions for a training camp. Gallagher explains, “You can put star names out in the middle of July but they’ll only be in eight round contests and not in do or die fights. [Eddie Hearn] probably will pull it off. Usually when you say to Eddie, you can’t do something, he goes and does the opposite. What we can’t have is have anyone come away from these shows early on with a coronavirus.
“We’ve got to make sure that the fighters that do turn up and fight for these have been given the opportunity to be in the best shape they can and not be rushed.”
Safety, rather than coming back too quickly to stage these events, is paramount. Even though Gallagher’s gym has opened this month for his pro boxers to train, there remain numerous hurdles. “We need the right type of sparring partners, I think that’s going to be the main concern, getting the sparring and people being willing to travel again. With sparring partners, it’s putting them up in accommodation. What hotels are open at the moment to put them up in accommodation,” Joe noted. “We’re used to bringing people in from Europe. We can’t do that at the moment. So we’re limited… It’s very hard.”
Eliminating spectators and going into isolation are new factors that will affect those competing. “That’s hard. It’s hard for fighters to do that,” Gallagher said. “I’ve seen fighters grow, absolutely grow with a crowd. I’ve seen crowds also smother a fighter as well when it’s been too intense. Sometimes a fighter can perform better, the lesser the crowd and the pressure in a gym environment… There’s been some great kids in the gymnasium who could never transfer it to the pro ring and that big stage.
“[Isolation is] an awful lot of stress added on top of a fighter, that they’ve already got going into the biggest fight of her life, making weight, everything else. It’s just another thing. It really is an added pressure… You can do the best that you can, social distancing, sanitising your hands, wearing masks, everything else. You’re just hoping that other people are like you. Respect your space and everything else.”
Jonas has come back from a loss to Viviane Obenauf to secure this world title shot. “Anybody can catch anybody when you’re throwing punches and I just got caught and I didn’t recover from it. It hurt me… It was the way that I lost that hurt the most. It was big, massive pride and ego thing. It reigned me in,” Natasha said. “But it’s also provided me with a different drive and a different hunger. Like I say, I look at the people who do hold the belts and I don’t think they’re better than me.
“The be all and end all was when the fight [with Harper] was put to me I said yeah. Everybody else who was in line for it wanted a warm up fight first. As soon as it came to me I said yeah and that’s why I got it. I wanted the fight because I believe I can win it.
“She’s good, she’s the champion. She’s got nothing to prove. She’s already got what she’s got, I want to take it from her. She is hungry, she is energetic, she’s fast. I’ve got no issues with her but I just think point for point I don’t think anything that she’s got is better than me.”
This will be the most significant moment of Jonas’ professional life. “It would be the biggest thing of my career so far,” she says. “It means everything.”