The silence was deafening. Thanks to strictly enforced Covid restrictions, the contrast in ambiance between Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas’ 2012 Olympic quarterfinal in London and Saturday night’s encore performance at Manchester Arena was dramatic and, for a rematch that carried such significance and was executed so brilliantly by both parties, quite unfortunate.
Nine years ago, both combatants made their ring walks surrounded by a wall of noise generated by more than 10,000 rowdy supporters. This past weekend, only polite applause from the handful of masked staff and spectators permitted inside welcomed world title challenger Natasha Jonas, followed by Katie Taylor who had been the first of the pair to appear before the hysterical crowd within Excel Arena but, as the current reigning and defending undisputed lightweight champion, customarily stepped through the ropes second this time around.
With advantages over Katie of three inches in both height and reach, Jonas was seemingly given a pass on how high her trunks were pulled up, well past her navel with almost no line of demarcation between her waistband and the bottom of her tank top. Nevertheless, Taylor didn’t have to do much more than was necessary to get the better of Natasha in the first two getting-to-know-you-again type rounds, as opposed to their first fight in London which, at four two-minute frames, was half over by this point with little time to waste on the niceties of becoming acquainted.
The pace picked up in the third round as Katie whaled away at Jonas with a succession of right hands in an attempt to punch her way out of a clinch with her left arm pinned in the crook of Natasha’s right elbow. Referee Marcus McDonnell would issue warnings to Jonas on numerous occasions for holding as well as headbutting, but he never made good on empty threats to deduct points for future infractions. To be fair, head clashes are common in bouts between orthodox fighters and lefthanders, and, anyway, some were clearly initiated by Taylor, who does tend to lunge forward with her cranium lowered in battering-ram fashion.
Fists started flying when action resumed, but Jonas bought herself a few moments of respite when she again used her right arm to trap Katie’s left out of view of the referee. Despite being held behind the head after breaking free of Jonas’ clutches, Taylor began to work her over with a variety of body shots and one/two combinations. Natasha, however, snuck in some well-timed counterpunches and was finding a more consistent home for her right jab and lead left.
Katie got tagged with a stiff jab in the opening seconds of the fourth that snapped her head back, but pressed ahead regardless until having her left arm tied up by Jonas once more which resulted in another reprimand from Marcus McDonell. She walked directly into the path of a Taylor left hook and was missing most of her return volleys as Katie employed her graceful footwork to skip out of reach, but Jonas’ jab again caught the champion on the button. All things considered, the fight was fairly even throughout the first half with the slight advantage belonging to Taylor.
To take the belts back to Liverpool, Jonas was going to have to step up the pressure in order to swing the pendulum in her favor. At the midway point of the sixth round, this was precisely what she did. After ducking under a trio of errant punches from Taylor, Natasha blasted her with a short left hook that spun Katie’s head around like Linda Blair. If there had been just a little more space between the two fighters to allow Jonas to have gotten more momentum behind the punch, Taylor may possibly have hit the deck. As it was, even thrown from short range, the blow threw Taylor off her axis and Jonas nailed her with a straight right. As she bounced on the balls of her feet to recover her equilibrium, Katie got nailed by another right jab followed moments later by a hook unleashed with the same hand. Things had gotten very interesting indeed heading into the latter half of the contest.
As technically sound a boxer as Katie Taylor is, she never shies away from mixing it up in close quarters. Just as she proved against Terri Harper, Natasha Jonas loves a good scrap herself and was not only happy to oblige a confrontational Taylor without withering under pressure, but raised some eyebrows by bullying the bully as the seventh round ticked down. Katie’s punches were crisper and more accurate in the eighth as she looked to control the home stretch and secure a decision, as it could not have been more evident that Jonas was going nowhere.
Champion and challenger, both sensing that the verdict hung on their performance in the final two minutes, pushed themselves past the limits of physical exhaustion and went for broke. Taylor ate a few rights from Jonas before landing one of her own as Natasha banged away at Katie’s midsection. The up-tempo pace in the tenth round favored Taylor, who unleashed a heavy volume of shots in groups of three and four while an arm-weary Jonas spent the waning moments of the fight covering up and misfiring with weak counters.
With Jonas’ back to the ropes, Katie got in one last two-punch combo as time expired and the two women embraced in a show of mutual respect after the final bell brought an end to this exciting dustup which was a more than satisfying sequel to the original despite the conspicuous absence of audience participation, the mania of which elevated their first fight to almost mythical status.
The margins of victory were threadbare for Taylor compared to nine years ago, eking out a unanimous decision over her former Olympic foe by a count of 96-94 on the scorecard of Yury Koptsev while only a single point separated Katie from Jonas according to the tallies arrived at by both Michael Alexander and Andreas Stenberg.
Will there be a third act to this rivalry? Jonas’ trainer Joe Gallagher is certainly advocating for a trilogy, opining that Katie Taylor has “unfinished business” with his fighter and that public demand for another go-around will win out over the champion’s mandatory challengers patiently waiting their turn in line or potential super fights looming on the Irish phenom’s horizon.
Now 18-0 and soon to turn 35, Katie has stated her desire to become a two-division undisputed world champion before she retires which hints that another rematch is very likely in play for the near future, this time opposite Jessica McCaskill who reigns supreme over the welterweight division and more than held her own against Taylor back in December 2017 in only her seventh pro bout, losing a unanimous decision to the then-WBA lightweight champion at York Hall.
And then there is Amanda Serrano, who is intent on cleaning house in the featherweight division, which means first dispatching Sarah Mahfoud and Erika Cruz Hernandez, who just recently unseated longtime WBA belt holder Jelena Mrdjenovich, before re-entering negotiations with Taylor for what is arguably the most hotly-anticipated fight in women’s boxing, or boxing period.
Assuming Natasha Jonas is unable to secure a return bout with Katie Taylor, perhaps she will be among the top contenders under consideration to face off against the winner of the super-featherweight unification clash to take place in ten days’ time between WBA champion Hyun Mi Choi and WBC/IBO titleholder Terri Harper, with whom Natasha battled to a much-disputed draw last summer. Not a bad consolation prize for Jonas, or for boxing fans.