The decibel level inside London’s Excel Arena on August 6, 2012 was recorded at an eardrum-piercing 113.7 as 10,500 fans were whipped into a frenzy for the Olympic women’s boxing quarter-final match in the lightweight division. To put that into some kind of perspective, this sustained fever pitch caused by a clash between a pair of former footballers who were now two of the United Kingdom’s most highly-touted amateur female fighters—in the exclusive company of Savannah Marshall and Nicola Adams—was louder than the takeoff of a turbo-fan aircraft.
Katie Taylor, Ireland’s budding superstar from Bray in County Wicklow, skipped past the first bracket thanks to having earned a bye at the World Championships in Qinhuangdao, China where she defeated Russia’s Sofya Ochigava. Representing Great Britain, meanwhile, Liverpudlian southpaw Natasha Jonas advanced by taking three of four rounds from Quanitta ‘Queen’ Underwood of the United States, cruising to a decisive 21-13 victory in her opening bout.
“On another day, Ireland would be cheering for GB and GB would be cheering for Ireland,” said Jonas, who was the first British female boxer to qualify for the 2012 London games. “We were rivals once we stepped into the ring and the crowd had to choose who they wanted to win.” The choice was abundantly clear among the fans from the Emerald Isle before the opening bell but, when all was said and done, Natasha would earn their respect. “I think the whole of Ireland hated me for like two days and then after that fight the whole of Ireland loved me.”
Katie Taylor compared the rambunctious atmosphere to “feeding time at the zoo” in her 2012 book My Olympic Dream. “It seemed as though everybody was rattling their cages and making as much noise as they could,” she wrote. Outfitted in red gear, Katie was the first of the combatants to make her ring walk as Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, the bombastic anthem that has long been a staple at massive sporting events, blasted through the Excel’s PA system at full volume. But you wouldn’t even know it.
The crowd noise was so deafening (quite literally, as it exceeded the tolerable human threshold), you could only just faintly make out Freddie Mercury’s sing-along vocals or Roger Taylor’s trademark drumbeats with which spectators always enthusiastically clap and stamp in unison. This assembly of boxing fanatics required no arena-rock musical accompaniment. Not when they came prepared to create their own berserk soundtrack. “I had barely taken a few steps into the auditorium when the crowd exploded into life,” Taylor reminisced, “and while I wasn’t to know at that point, it would soon become a familiar experience the whole way through the week.”
Taylor and Jonas had an unenviable task ahead of them in producing an exciting scrap that would justify the raucous enthusiasm that greeted them. Not to mention the pressure which was already present in knowing that the winner was guaranteed to take home at least a bronze medal. The challenge was not only accepted but exceeded. “The fight itself was cracking,” Katie recalled. “The best I’ve been involved in for a long time and a real hurricane of a contest.”
Soccer chants spontaneously reverberated throughout the stadium at the end of round one which saw Katie assume and maintain control of the bout’s first two minutes, bouncing on the balls of her feet, scoring from various angles behind her left jab, and returning to her corner with a 5-2 advantage.
As she used her footwork to her best advantage in an attempt to weather Jonas’ sudden onslaught, Katie tumbled onto the canvas thirty seconds into the second frame while dodging a body shot. No contact was made and it was clearly a slip. The Kazakh referee rightfully ruled it as such. Moments earlier, Taylor had gotten her first taste of Natasha’s power when she was backed up several steps courtesy of a right hook that was set up by three straight jabs.
Not only did Taylor have her hands full dealing with a sharper and more offensive-minded Jonas in the second round, she was left to her own devices, strategically speaking, due to the fact that the pandemonium in the stands was such that she was unable to hear the instructions being shouted from ringside by her father and then-coach Peter. Instinctively, however, Katie was well aware that she needed to do more than merely batten down the hatches. She had to find a way to make Natasha’s aggression somehow work against her and swing the momentum back in her favor. Easier said than done, as the crowd noise continued to amplify beyond anything you would expect at a rock concert.
“I don’t think the officials fully understood what was happening because they had never seen anything like it at an amateur boxing tournament before,” remarked Taylor, who was cautioned repeatedly throughout the proceedings by the referee and the faithful legions of Irish fans let him hear about it every time. Katie was caught by a lead right while in retreat, then had her head snapped back by a straight left which sent her careening backwards with Jonas in hot pursuit. Katie used her ring acumen to pivot out of harm’s way and spin off the ropes, luring Jonas back to open waters where Taylor initiated her own attack and regained command of the situation. Although the majority of round two appeared to go Natasha Jonas’ way, the judges scored it evenly at 5 points apiece.
Katie had weathered the storm and, unbeknownst to her as the scoreboard was not visible from her vantage point, put a sizable lead in her back pocket going into the penultimate round. Nevertheless, Taylor was leaving nothing to chance as she came out swinging for the fences in the third and forced the referee to step in at the halfway point to administer a standing eight count to Jonas after she took a hard right hand on the button. A thunderstrike of a left hook beat Natasha to the punch when action resumed and a terrific flurry of combinations and ambidextrous body blows gave Taylor a 9-4 round, putting her ahead by a virtually unreachable distance with just two minutes remaining.
Desperately needing to rack up points, Jonas worked her way inside and let her hands go upstairs and down during toe-to-toe exchanges, but Taylor was simply proving to be too much for her. A right hook by Taylor crashed home just as Jonas was letting loose with a left of her own, necessitating a second standing-eight with a half-minute left to go which essentially sealed the deal for Katie. Taylor and Jonas embraced at the final bell and Katie acknowledged the roar of the crowd for the first time by lifting one fist victoriously with a huge and well-earned smile on her face.
“She’s a super boxer and a fantastic person,” Katie raved about Jonas after their fight. “I had to work so hard. She wasn’t hurt at all. I am just delighted with the win.” Natasha was equally laudatory toward her conqueror.
“I will make no excuses. I have come here feeling the fittest, the leanest, the healthiest, smartest boxer I could be, but she is still the best. I take my hat off to her,” said a contrite Natasha Jonas in defeat, of which she need not hold her head down. “There was nothing else I could do. I could’ve thrown the kitchen sink at her or maybe drive a bus into her. I hope she goes on to win it.”
Win it Taylor would, as she turned in a repeat performance against her World Championship rival Sofya Ochigava in the Olympic lightweight finals three days later, albeit by a nerve rackingly slim margin of 10-8, to ascend to the top tier of the medal stand. Very likely demoralized by a quarrel with her father Peter which caused a rift between them which was both professional and personal, Katie had to settle for a share of the bronze medal at the 2016 World Championships with Mira Potkonen of Finland, to whom she would lose in the opening round of the Olympics that same year in Rio de Janeiro.
Three months later, Katie Taylor made her eagerly awaited professional debut by putting away 24-fight veteran Karina Kopinska in the third of six scheduled rounds at Wembley Arena. Natasha Jonas was asked to sit in with the Sky Sports broadcast team to provide color commentary, sparking a flame which would slowly and, she admits, reluctantly rekindle her passion for boxing.
She had walked away from the sport nineteen months prior after a foot injury suffered in the opening round fight of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which she lost to Shelley Watts of Australia, sidelined her indefinitely. A surgical procedure kept Jonas from competing in the 2016 Olympic qualifiers, presenting her with the conundrum of extending her amateur career to make another run at a gold medal in 2020 or turning pro. Standing at the crossroads at the age of 30 and weighing her options, neither course of action appealed to her all that much at this point in her life and Natasha was content to retire, start a family, and perhaps coach the next generation of female fighters.
Persuaded by Team GB boxing captain Tom Stalker, Jonas laced up the gloves for the first time in two years and stopped Monika Antonik in ninety-two seconds on a June 23, 2017 card in Newcastle. She fought three more times that year, winning each inside the distance, and racked up six straight victories overall before being battered in shocking fashion by Viviane Obenauf, who dropped Natasha three times before her corner threw in the towel in the fourth round. After a layoff of nearly eight months, Jonas rebounded with a points win over Feriche Mashauri and notched two additional TKOs before the calendar flipped over on 2019.
Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas are both coming into Manchester for their May 1 rematch hot off pick-or-choose 2020 fight of the year candidates held during the Matchroom Summer Camp Series in Eddie Hearn’s backyard, with Katie besting Delfine Persoon in their second war of attrition for the undisputed lightweight title while Natasha dueled to a riveting and controversial stalemate with WBC and IBO super-featherweight champion Terri Harper two weeks earlier.
In the film world and fight game alike, sequels rarely live up to the original. A rare few though, let’s say Bride of Frankenstein and Graziano/Zale for example, manage to surpass the expectations imposed upon them by their predecessors. Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas will try to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time, conjuring that Olympic magic to make a madhouse of Manchester Arena like they did in London nine years ago.
Jessica Creighton. Natasha Jonas Retires: British Olympic Boxer Quits Aged 30 (BBC Sport, April 7, 2015)
Kathleen McNamee. Natasha Jonas is Ready for Another Shot at Katie Taylor Nine Years After Their Record-Breaking Olympic Fight (espn.com, March 9, 2021)
Kevin Mitchell. Olympic Women’s Boxing: Katie Taylor Beats Britain’s Natasha Jonas (The Guardian, August 6, 2012)
Katie Taylor with Johnny Watterson. My Olympic Dream: The Gold Medal Winner’s Astonishing Own Story (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
Katie Taylor vs. Natasha Jonas—London 2012 Olympics (accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPNp2XG5v7g&t=305s)
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