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The great tradition of Liverpudlian fighters may have begun way back in time with Nel Tarleton, but it makes for an explosive card in one of the UK’s biggest boxing cities tonight.
Liam Smith sees Hassan Mwakinyo as just another stepping stone towards another world title shot and in all likelihood, he may be right. The Tanzanian has a record of 20-2, with 14 KOs, but the power and precision of the former WBO light-middleweight champion should decide the main event.
For Merseyside-born Smith, it represents a first return to action since defeating Jessie Vargas on the undercard of Katie Taylor’s sensational Madison Square Garden victory over Amanda Serrano.
Yet there is more women’s boxing history to be made on the card beforehand, where Natasha Jonas bids to unify the super-welterweight division. The WBO champion faces WBC belt-holder Patricia Berghult, who is still unbeaten.
Jonas already had a reputation in British circles as the first woman to box for Team GB at an Olympics in 2012 – her fight fell before eventual flyweight champion Nicola Adams – but it is only since gaining her WBO belt with a devastating knockout of Chris Namus that she believes doors have truly opened.
“I felt sometimes there wasn’t many options. Because of the [Terri] Harper performance and the [Katie] Taylor performance [both defeats], I was a big risk with no reward I didn’t really bring anything but me to the table,” Jonas tells i.
“When you’ve won a belt, people are more willing to take the risk because you come with a reward, so winning the title opened the door to more opportunities. Sometimes I was knocking on doors that just weren’t open but now I’ve got my title and platform people are willing to do it.”
Jonas has spent the summer in camp, but with a brief hiatus to watch her sister, the England footballer Nikita Parris win Euro 2022. Since then, the forward has made a shock move to Manchester United – a switch which has gone down predictably well with her family of Scousers.
“She loves to test my loyalties, I’m not gonna lie!” Jonas laughs. “It’s probably a kit the baby won’t be getting. She even had the City [kit] and she had Lyon but I don’t think I can do the Man United one, I’m afraid. She might get a scarf.”
Since the Lionesses’ triumph, and together with the historic all-female card headlined by Savannah Marshall and Claressa Shields on 10 September, Jonas admits “it’s hard not to be motivated and empowered by watching other people do well”, and she is determined to be part of a “huge occasion for women in sport”.
She credits Katie Taylor – to whom she lost her Olympic quarter-final and later lost by unanimous decision as a pro – with proving “we can sell out stadiums” and “we’re slowly breaking down these barriers”.
Yet the reality, highlighted by Serena Williams in her decision to “evolve” from tennis, is that female athletes still face a unique struggle to balance family life and sport. Jonas, whose daughter is now six-years-old, has coped by taking her to the gym.
“I do think if you’re a woman in sport – or any working woman – you need to be supported by friends or family,” she says. “I’ve got such a big and supportive group that help me want to achieve my goals. My little girl’s been away with my cousins and uncle in Spain, she’s been to festivals in Spain, she doesn’t miss out and I don’t have that guilt of her missing out.
“She’s surrounded by love wherever she goes but it can be tough. School holidays, I’ve been in camp for 10-12 weeks, six of them have been were the school holidays, so roll on Monday when she’s back! She does come along to the gym, She always knew what Mum did but she never knew what happened in the gym. Now she sees it, she gets it. She thinks she’s [trainer] Joe Gallagher’s number two sometimes.”
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Gallagher has prepared her well for Berghult, a fighter with “good feet, good hands, very neat and tidy, smart”. The Swedish fighter had impressed as an amateur against Chantelle Cameron, making her just the calibre of opponent Jonas wanted. The 38-year-old had instructed promoter Ben Shalom not to give her any “tick-over fights” and crucially, she is now feeling “respected”.
“I don’t want to slag anyone else off because it is what is, I just felt sometimes I wasn’t valued or pushed or supported” Jonas adds. “I don’t feel any of those feelings with Boxxer, they’ve pushed for the challenges I want. I want to stay at this level, I believe I belong at world level and I want to prove that it doesn’t matter what weight, I’m world-level worthy. I’ve had a good camp, it’s all gone well and I just want to fight now in front of a home crowd, friends and family and get more belts – and the green and gold one was on my list.”
Subject to change
This is an extract of Kat Lucas’ interview with London 2012 Olympian Anthony Ogogo
The night Anthony Ogogo walked to the ring for his last ever fight, he was 27 years old. An Olympic bronze medallist, he had already overcome personal trauma, a torn Achilles, dislocated shoulders and broken ribs to be there – yet the defeat to Craig Cunningham, Ogogo recalls, turned into “the worst night of my life”.
With an 11-0 record since turning professional, it played out in front of one of his biggest audiences too – not just one of the heroes of London 2012, but a man widely believed to be a world champion in waiting. Looking back now, he believes he would have made light work of the greats, won titles, and made history.
“I’m never going to be remembered and in 300 years time they won’t be saying ‘Anthony Ogogo was a brilliant middleweight’,” Ogogo tells i. “I didn’t get the chance to do it. But in 300 years if I had my career I should have had, they f***ing would have been saying that.
“With my ability and how hard I worked and what I’ve got deep down inside me, nobody who knew me or knew boxing would have said I wouldn’t have done it. I was that good and I had everything to be a champion. People ask how I’d have got on with Canelo and at that point, I say I’d have beaten him; and they laugh and scoff, but they didn’t know what I could have done.”
The path he should have followed has been paved by his Team GB colleagues, among them Anthony Joshua, Josh Taylor, arguably the two pre-eminent fighters of the era in their respective divisions. There was a time when Ogogo could not watch them, but now he is “happy for those boys” – even if “it breaks my heart”.
“We’re all working class, council estate kids, and boxing saved them. I’m proud of them. Callum Smith, a world champion, but he was my reserve. It’s very difficult to watch, because those guys lived out my dream. But they also lived out their dream, they can now provide for their families, give their kids a better life than they had. And they worked hard, I don’t begrudge anybody having success, it’s just difficult I wasn’t able to share that with the boys.”
Everlast ambassador and WBO World Champion Natasha Jonas was speaking ahead of her unification bout at this Saturday’s Boxxer event. You can watch it live on Sky Sports
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