‘Hasn’t it changed?’ – Couch reflects on emotional Jonas ringwalk

Hall of Famer Jane Couch walked Natasha Jonas to the ring for her fight with Mikaela Mayer in Liverpool on Saturday and when she pushed through the curtain, one thing went through her mind.

“Hasn’t it changed?” joked the British pioneer. 

Couch will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June, not just for what she did inside the ropes but outside them, too. She took the British Boxing Board of Control to court in order to earn women the right to box as professionals in the UK, and she endured hardships and legal battles through the years.

“I was boxing on all the big shows in America, against [Lucia] Rijker, same bill as Roy Jones, same bill as Naz [Naseem hamed], Lennox [Lewis], Micky Ward,” Couch explained. “But what got me when I came out [on Saturday] was the cheer, and I looked up and I saw the banner that said, ‘Jane Couch, Fleetwood Assassin’ on it, and I thought, Fucking hell.” 

“I was never given the chance to do it in this country.”

While Couch did fight in the UK, she was never afforded the same affection or support that women enjoy today.

She trained in Bristol with some top male professionals, but she was badly treated on the road. Sometimes promoters didn’t pay her, sometimes she had multiple stops on flights to her bouts, landing either on the day before or day of the contest, still needing to do medicals and have her bloodwork done, fighting on little sleep and while hungry.

One time she boxed in a boiling hot outdoor stadium and she hadn’t been warned she was fighting outside.

On Saturday night, which she enjoyed, Couch was left wondering: “Why didn’t they do this when I first got the license? Look how evolved women’s boxing would have been? And to have the promoters’ support… I could have fought them all in Britain so I just wonder why the networks didn’t get involved when I got the license. The girls are getting [well] paid. They have physios. I didn’t have a physio, I didn’t have a dietician, stuff like that, you just got on with it.”

Some things, however, have not changed. Many thought Mayer deserved a close decision in a hard-fought battle with Jonas, but Couch was also no stranger to losing in enemy territory. 

“I’ve been away a few times in Europe and America, and I thought I’d won it,” Couch recalled. “There was many a time, like when I fought [Dora] Webber in Atlantic City, I thought there’s no way I’ve lost that, I’ve won that by a mile, and they gave it to her. You understand the politics, but at the time you don’t. At the time you’re fuming.”

But Couch’s struggle was worth it. In June, she will enter the hall of boxing’s immortals in Canastota and her battles will be logged for generations to come. She will get the recognition she didn’t get back in the nineties and noughties, although she did not think this day would come.

“When I was boxing, and I was boxing for no money or very little money, I always did that fight – like when I was on the Roy Jones Jr bill – I would think, I’ll do this one, the next fight will be massive,” Couch stated. “Then I did that and it wasn’t [massive]. Then I did the next one and the next one wasn’t. Then I didn’t [even] get paid… So you build your hopes up. As I’ve got older, I don’t really expect anything until it happens.”

A film on her life is set to go into production later this year, and Couch wants to be positive. She wants the respect, for people to acknowledge her journey, but the last thing she wants is pity for what she endured.

“People look at you like a victim,” she concluded. “I wasn’t a victim. It was my choice to fight the Board, fight for it [boxing] to be in England, and we had some great laughs and great times along the way. It’s just part of being the first but people just sort of feel sorry for you and I don’t want that. I don’t want it to be, ‘Poor Jane’. Because we had some great nights. We made some great strides with the sport. Unfortunately, it was that time where people didn’t like women’s boxing. But I wasn’t a victim. I had some great times.”