Natasha Jonas reflects on 2013 and The Olympians
Natasha Jonas may have been making regular appearances with her new colleagues on the Sky Sports boxing team but the first British female boxer to ever compete in an Olympic Games still considers a boxing gym to be her real place of work.
The 29 year old Liverpudlian is gearing up for a huge 2014 with the Commonwealth Games being swiftly followed by the World Championships. Unlike last years Olympic Games, there are no official qualifying competitions. The team will be picked on form meaning a long, intense year performing at the highest level.
“There’s no qualifying this year, we’re just gonna get selected depending on whose performing the best at the time,” Jonas told Livefight. “There are a couple of tournaments in-between those two as well so that means that whoever goes to the Commonwealth Games might not be selected to go to the World’s. It’s gonna be down to whoever’s performing the best at the time.”
It would be easy to imagine that, as a veteran of high quality international competition, Jonas would be very relaxed and confident of making the cut for both major tournaments. That isn’t the case and the emergence of a new rival seems to have given her an additional boost.
“I don’t think you can ever be sure of things. There are always things you have to be working on and you have to earn your place. One of the young development girls, Sandy Ryan [a 3 time ABA champion at 60kg], I personally think is really talented. I think she’ll be coming on to the podium squad soon. That’s not for me to decide but personally, I think she’s really talented.
“It’s been pretty quiet this year. Major tournaments wise, there hasn’t really been a lot. I think the biggest one for us this year was probably the European Union tournament. It’s been a funny year. We had the high of the Olympics which created a big buzz but then there’s been a big drop with nothing to bring you back up.
“People’s perception of women’s boxing has changed and their attitude towards it has too. You’ve always had some people who have supported it, people who were borderline and people who were against it. Those people are probably more willing to accept it than they were before.
“There’s been an increase in young girls that want to be boxers. At our club alone [the Rotunda ABC in Liverpool] there are three girls that have been carded. That’s a fair number considering I’ve been the only one there for the last eight years!”
As 2013 draws to a close, Jonas is ideally placed to weigh up the early career progress of her former Team GB team mates who are now seeking success in the paid ranks.
Olympic super heavyweight gold medallist Anthony Joshua, 3-0 (3 KOs), is the highest profile 2012 Olympian to enter the professional stage. So far, Joshua, 24, has recorded three quick victories and impressed everybody with his speed, power and aggressiveness. A shoulder injury curtailed his 2013 campaign but next year promises to be huge for the Londoner.
“No disrespect to [Richard] Towers and [Lucas] Browne but I watched their fight [for the Commonwealth heavyweight belt] and thought I’d put him [Joshua] in with either of those now,” Jonas said.
“His story is fantastic with the way he’s turned his life around, the only way is up for Anthony Joshua. What I love about ‘Josh’ and Luke [Campbell] is that they haven’t been caught up in the hype. Other people are caught up in the hype around them being Olympic champions and saying that they’re gonna do this and that but they’re so level headed. We’re hyping them up but they’re saying “Woah, hold on. I’ve got a long way to go.” I like that.
“He knows he’s got such a long way to go. He’s set himself a goal and he’s focused on achieving that goal. He’s not worried what’s going on around him and he’s not believing his own hype. You could be looking at titles for him next year.”
Luke Campbell, 4-0 (3 KOs), is arguably the biggest surprise of the Olympians. The bantamweight gold medallist has shown lightening hand speed, vicious body punching and the very welcome ability to end matters early. The rangy 26 year old southpaw has started his career at lightweight but looks physically capable of moving through the weight divisions.
“For me, Luke’s going from strength to strength. I didn’t think his style – and the same with Callum Smith – would suit the professional sport but they have both really shocked me and are taking it by storm. Especially Callum. It’s unreal.
“Luke actually boxes better now that he’s got more weight on him and he looks like he’s hitting harder. He’s always been big for the weight - as in tall – but there wasn’t really much on his shots. Now, he’s planting his feet. His legs and arms are bigger. He’s got more definition muscle wise and his punches are strong and fast. He looks solid.”
Callum Smith, 9-0 (7 Kos), has had an incredible year. The 23 year old picked himself up from the disappointment of having his Olympic dream derailed by some, let’s say, incompetent officiating and administrating to race through his first full year as a professional. Barely a month seemed to pass without the talented super middleweight recording a first round stoppage. He also enters 2014 in possession of the English and WBC international titles.
“He’s always had good shot selection and been a good boxer but I just didn’t think his style would really suit the pro’s and I wondered if he’d be strong enough but since he’s moved up in weight, it’s phenomenal.”
Team GB captain Tom Stalker, 5-0 (2 KOs), has had a frustrating start to his professional career. No sooner had the 29 year old light welterweight begun to find his feet and create his own style in the professional ring than he suffered a shoulder injury which has kept him out since June. The likeable Stalker will be hoping to make up for lost time in 2014 and is scheduled to appear in February.
“Tom’s one of those people who will try and do things ahead of time. He needs to let his injury heal and then come back. He’s itching to come back and Tom’s a million miles an hour,” Jonas said.
“I don’t think people’s expectations of Tom were high but I think Tom’s expectations of himself were high. He’s fought at the very top of the amateur sport for God knows how long and has got high standards and he’s moved over to the professionals. Although it’s still boxing, it’s like rugby league and rugby union and he’s had to learn some new skills.
“He didn’t wanna go in fighting bums and knocking people out. Because of that, after his first two or three fights when he hadn’t knocked anybody out and the other Olympians had he panicked himself a bit b y thinking ‘I’m not doing as well as I should’.
“Tom has to start thinking about what’s best for Tom and doing it for himself. Some fighters can focus on one thing and go for it whereas Tom can let what others are saying get to him. You’ve gotta kinda learn to brush that off.”
2012 bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo, 4-0 (2 Kos), agreed professional terms with US promotional powerhouse Golden Boy and has split his time between the UK and America. The 25 year old middleweight has a crowd pleasing style and although he has been able to appear on a couple of Matchroom shows, he seems intent on raising his profile on both sides of the Atlantic.
“With Ogogo, if it wasn’t for injuries, he’d have been on the undercard of Mayweather fights. That’s massive for any young up and coming boxer, especially one fighting in the USA. That’s where you wanna go if you wanna make the big money. It’s where the big paydays are and – let’s be honest – that’s what it’s all about!
“He speaks really well and comes across as a likeable person on telly. He’s always had more than boxing to fall back on.
“They are all learning. People think that boxing is boxing. It’s not. Professional boxing is a different thing.”