Echo Arena, Liverpool

Jonas-Mayer super-fight showed all that’s good – and bad – about women’s boxing

The welterweights provided a title showdown for the ages in front of a raucous Liverpool crowd, writes Steve Bunce, but it also showed the issues that remain in the women’s fight game

Monday 22 January 2024 10:06 GMT
Natasha Jonas retained her world title in front of a partisan home crowd
Natasha Jonas retained her world title in front of a partisan home crowd (PA)

Natasha Jonas defended her world title late on Saturday night in one of the best female fights so far.

Jonas won a split decision over Mikaela Mayer in front of an adoring crowd in her Liverpool home. The IBF welterweight belt was just one of the trophies on the night and it was, behind pride, not the most important.

They have been Olympians, contenders at the World Amateur Championships, world champions at other weights as professionals and they fought like two skilled veterans. The mixture is rare in the women’s game, which is a fact and not a criticism.

The pair, who have now fought a total 39 fights, highlighted all that is good and very bad about the women’s sport; for every Jonas and Mayer, there are two or three fights posing as world championship bouts because there is still a lack of depth in many weights.

The quality in the ring at the old Echo Arena was both intense and inspiring; round eight will live in the memory for a long time. It was a round that needed the Rocky theme and it was played out against a howling backdrop of 7,000 people screaming for Jonas. It was the first time a woman has topped the bill at the venue.

It was Mayer’s first real fight at welterweight but Jonas is not a giant in the class; Jonas is slick, smart, fast, brave and used what she does best to get the tight decision. They were both finished at the end as they fell into each other’s arms. The week, the fight and the end were free of any dumb hype. One judge went for Mayer by four points, the other two went for Jonas by one and two points. It was not a robbery but it does deserve a rematch. Only Jonas has that option in her contract. Jonas also has some serious other plans and, at 39 years old, that makes sense.

Jonas and Mayer produced a barnstorming fight in Liverpool (Getty Images)

“I can’t go on forever,” she said. “There is a Katie Taylor fight – that is something that I would like.” There was talk come the midnight hour of a fight at either Croke Park in Dublin or Anfield with Taylor; it was bold but not unrealistic chat. First, there is the Mayer situation to be handled.

“If she is the champion I think she is and she thinks that she is, she will give me a rematch – the fight warrants a rematch,” said Mayer, who kept calm under incredible emotional pressure at the end. “What else could I do?” she asked.

As expected, the first round was fast, and Jonas looked calm and able to measure Mayer from the very start. In the second, Mayer got a bit closer and let her right hand go. In the third round, Jonas started to measure the right and counter. It was textbook boxing, furious, but not wild. Mayer forced Jonas back to the ropes in rounds five and six and seven and then came the eighth. Jonas won that. It was breathless stuff.

Jonas was given a stern test en route to retaining her belt (PA Wire)

The two-minute rounds in women’s boxing makes each round a sprint – that is not up for debate. However, Jonas and Mayer have been in a combined total of 20 ten-round fights with two minutes each round; they know their domain, they know the exact requirements.

The debate is over three-minute rounds and whether they should be introduced in female title fights. It is not a simple argument and it will not be easily solved. One of the issues is the extra money for the extra time and that is something Jonas is keen to remind everybody about.

Jonas was exceptional on Saturday night and so was Mayer. It was a fight that served as a reminder of just how good the game can be – male or female – when the best fight the best in front of a partisan crowd. It was a privilege to be anywhere near that old ring.

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