Katie Taylor was given a serious fright by Natasha Jonas and needed an excellent finish to retain her undisputed world lightweight title via a unanimous, but narrow, decision in Manchester.
Early on, Taylor’s hand speed kept her comfortably in front. But after thr third, Jonas started to stand and trade and caught Taylor time and again with bombs. It needed a determined final two rounds for Taylor to ensure the win, but even then it was very close.
Yury Koptsev had it 96-94 for the champion from Ireland, while Michael Alexander and Andreas Stenberg had only a round in it at 96-95.
“What a fight, every time myself and Natasha have fought it has been like that,” Taylor said. “I had a bit of a slow start, but I thought I won the championship rounds and came out with a great win.
“It is top-quality boxing. You have skill, you have heart, you have grit, you have everything you need for an absolutely thrilling fight. Eddie (Hearn) just said he feels sorry for Parker and Chisora following that fight. We were saying all week it could have been a headline fight and that shows why.
“I knew that the rounds were close and I had to win the end rounds. I showed heart and had to dig deep.”
It is nine years since the pair met in the quarter-finals of the Olympics on an extraordinary afternoon at the ExCeL in East London. That day they set a crowd noise record, this time, no paying spectators were present at is what now known at the AO Arena. Such are the times.
Taylor won, went on to claim a gold medal and four years later, after an early exit at the Rio Games, embarked on a professional career that sets the bar for female boxing.
Jonas struggled with injuries after her last meeting with Taylor and retired from the sport after a first-round exit at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. It was Taylor’s success that tempted her to give the professional code a go, but a match with Taylor was never justified until she drew with Terri Harper in a WBC super-featherweight title fight last summer.
The Liverpudlian was still facing a huge rise in class, based on what she had achieved as a professional. She wondered if Matchroom, who had signed her when she first turned professional, believed they were just feeding her to the lions. She saw it, however, as an overdue opportunity.
Taylor had not only unified the world titles at lightweight, but claimed a belt at super-lightweight. She also holds a win over Jessica McCaskill, the American who is undisputed world champion at welterweight. As much as the standard of women’s boxing has risen, it is still difficult to find boxers who can give Taylor a serious test.
Jonas, 36, made a cagey start, hiding behind a high southpaw guard, as Taylor threw enough punches to ensure the Liverpudlian did not get too ambitious. She tried to get her jab working in the second round, but Taylor’s faster hands were catching the eye.
Things livened up in the third as Jonas opened up, catching Taylor to the body and throwing punches in bunches. But Taylor dominated the fourth round, finding her range much better than Jonas and in the fifth, where Jonas had no real answer to her combinations.
Jonas did better in the sixth as she held her feet and landed some heavier shots and there were signs, in the seventh, that things were starting to go her way as the pair exchanged bombs.
The volume of work was coming from Taylor, but Jonas was landing the harder shots. By the eighth she was refusing to take a backward step. Taylor had a good ninth, as Jonas threw too often from out of range.
Both stood toe-to-toe in the last round, Jonas giving as good as she got, but it was Taylor driving forward at the finish, the pair hugging at the final bell.
“I knew it was close, I knew I had to put it in,” Jonas said “I said that every time I have to step up, I do. When she is willing and ready, I will do a trilogy. I feel I belong at this level and I want to stay at it. I want to win belts, I want to win championships, I want to be a champion.”