Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Jonas-Mayer: "Run It Back!"

One of the most consistent subjects in the sport of Boxing over the last several years  is Women's Boxing. The single word that comes to mind that can describe the last several years, which cannot necessarily be shared by their male counterparts? “Progress.” 

Perhaps one of the main reasons for that is the old adage of “The Best Fighting The Best.” Something that has been consistent for women in the sport has been the willingness to not only pit the best fighters against each other, not only unify weight divisions in the process, but also do so in such a way where the various political elements that be in Boxing, as well as egos of the fighters and their respective promoters do not stand in the way of such “Progress,” which has only accelerated the sport’s growth for women. The latest example of this took place on January 20th where IBF Welterweight world c'mon Natasha Jonas met former unified Jr. Lightweight world champion Mikaela Mayer at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England.

A fight that not only brought together two of the top fighters in Women's Boxing, but also two rival promoters in Ben Shalom of Boxxer and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, Inc. While there are times when such collaborations do not necessarily result in the most competitive fights, Jonas-Mayer would prove to be an exception.

For ten rounds, Jonas and Mayer engaged in a battle of wills where neither fighter backed down and gave the other much ground. Often when fights like this are fought in Women’s Boxing, a contributing factor to a fight that ends up being so closely fought is the two minute round length. Only recently, have women’s bouts begun to use the standard three minute round length and world championship distance of twelve rounds that men’s bouts are fought under. This would prove to be a fight that needed three minute rounds and likely would have also benefited from two extra rounds. 

An element that surrounded this fight was that the challenger Mikaela Mayer was fighting for the first time in the 147lb. Welterweight division after previously competing in the 130lb. Jr. Lightweight division where she was a unified world champion. What stood out to this observer from the start of this bout was Mayer looked like a natural Welterweight that could potentially move up to either Jr. Middleweight or Middleweight and compete effectively. One other aspect that stood out was in this fight, rather than using angles and lateral movement that had been a focal point of her style in previous fights, Mayer applied more of a come forward, pressure approach against Jonas. 

Although the pressure of Mayer clearly made a difference in that she was the one bringing the fight, she tended to walk straight forward and not approach Jonas from angles. This created a scenario where Mayer was throwing and generally was the fighter landing first, but it was the champion Jonas landing crisp counter punches on Mayer as she came forward. From the perspective of this observer, Mayer’s pressure approach and combination punching was dictating how the fight was being fought, but her inability to avoid being countered periodically, made many of the rounds tight and competitive. Nevertheless, the consistent pattern of Mayer not only coming forward, not only landing first most of the time, but tending to do so in combinations of punches gave her an edge in many of the rounds on my scorecard.

What made this fight challenging to score was, despite the pattern being established of Mayer coming forward and forcing the fight, Jonas landed the harder punches when she did land, and those punches were clear and easy to see. One aspect that can at times be overlooked when a fighter is moving up in weight beyond how said fighter will look physically at a higher weight, is how that fighter will respond to being hit by opponents that in theory are naturally stronger and at times bigger. For her part, Mayer was able to take the best of what Jonas was able to land and keep coming forward.

At the conclusion of the ten round world championship bout, I arrived with a score of seven rounds to three or 97-93 in points, in favor of Mayer. While that score might appear lopsided, many of the rounds were close and could have really been scored either way depending on one's perspective. The pattern of the fight of not only Mayer’s aggression, but more specifically, what seemed to be effective aggression throughout, is what I based my scoring on. As is the case in most fights in Women's Boxing however, because of the short two minute round length, it made things close where a round could be decided by moments in a round or who might be able to land solidly before a round ends, to give the last impression not only on fans, but more specifically and importantly, the three official judges scoring a fight.

It was not surprising to hear a split decision announced in this fight due to the way it was fought. Although I felt Mayer did enough to win several of the rounds, it will often boil down to not only as I have said countless times when it comes to close fights, what a judge prefers in their own criteria based on clean punching, effective aggression, ring generalship, and defense, but also moments that can sway opinion one way or the other in close rounds, particularly in fights where the rounds are only two minutes in duration. Ultimately, it would be Jonas, who would get the nod on two judges scorecards to retain her IBF world championship with the deciding scorecard being only a one point difference between a winner being determined and the fight being declared a draw. 

While I felt that Mayer did enough to win and there will be no doubt accusations of potential bias from some fans due to the fact that this fight was held in Jonas’ hometown as well as fans at times allowing favoritism to influence their opinions, it was a close and competitive fight. Perhaps subtle differences are the reason for the outcome.

What does yours truly mean by “Subtle Differences?” Natasha Jonas did seem to land the harder punches of the two fighters. Even though Mayer seemed to be the one forcing the fight and outworking the champion, which could have swayed opinion in Jonas’ favor. It may have also been “Subtle Differences” in terms of what Mayer was unable to do that resulted in Jonas getting the decision. For example, in addition to not approaching Jonas at angles as she came forward, Mayer did not faint with her upper body and did not move her head as she was coming forward and looking to cut the distance between herself and the champion. This not only allowed Jonas the opportunity to land counter punches, but because Mayer was also not throwing as she was coming forward or throwing from too far a distance, it gave the champion room to maneuver in order to land those shots, despite being outworked.

How could the outcome have been different? In most of her flights, Mikaela Mayer usually does everything in terms of offense behind a consistent jab and this in addition to using angles and lateral movement tends to give her the upper hand. It should not be overlooked or dismissed that in addition to moving up in weight, this was also the first time Mayer had faced a southpaw in her career. When an orthodox boxer faces a southpaw, the jab as a weapon tends to be taken out of the equation for the conventional fighter simply due to the difference in stances and the fact that it is at times easier for a southpaw if they know what they are doing from a tactical standpoint to counter over the jab of the conventional fighter Boxing out of the orthodox stance.

There is one weapon a conventional fighter has however, that can even things if they know how to use it tactically. The right hand. Mayer did land several right hands throughout this fight, most effectively when she was able to lend combinations, but in addition to the lack of head movement, faints, and angles, she did not lead with her right hand and that may have made a difference, particularly if she were able to bait Jonas into throwing a punch where she could have dodged using faints and/or head movement and come in behind her right hand as she came forward in trying to close the distance with pressure as opposed to coming straight in without throwing something to keep Jonas on the defensive or throwing punches from too far a distance and leaving herself open to being countered, which Jonas was able to take advantage of throughout the fight.

Nevertheless, Jonas and Mayer were able to provide not only a great flight, but also the latest in a growing list of examples as to the growth of the sport for women. A great fight deserves an encore. “Run It Back!”

“And That's The Boxing Truth.”

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