The FightPost Interviews: Terri Harper
Some may label Terri Harper an overnight success, but the foundations were laid very early in her teenage years. Even at the tender of 14, Harper knew a career in sport was already beckoning:
“I remember thinking if I don’t make in sport I would have done something wrong. I’ve always loved sports, be it basketball, football or whatever. I had other options including economics and went to university to study for a sports coaching degree and I graduated with that in 2018.”
But a boxing career nearly didn’t happen, Harper’s first love was football:
“Football was my first sport really, I did that from being really young. I can remember crying when I had to switch from playing with boys to having to play in a girls team because I was older. I was there for a good few years, and then I had to make a decision because I was trying to juggle the two sports, and I chose boxing.”
Harper 23, began boxing was she was only 11 and had 17 fights as a junior, including winning 3 national titles, but then surprisingly she left the sport for a brief period. A short-lived return at the back end of 2016 as a senior didn’t produce the same initial success she had as a junior:
“I had two fights, lost them both by a split-decision and that’s when I came away from the sport again. I believed I was robbed, and I thought why I am doing this.”
Not for the first time frustrations with a judging system that badly needs a revolution, drove a talented fighter away from the sport, thankfully in this case only temporarily.
In July 2017 Harper was still training on and off with her dad, a return to boxing wasn’t on the agenda. But with women’s boxing starting to flourish, Harper’s was contacted by local trainer and promoter Andrew ‘Stefy’ Bull who reached out to her completely out of the blue to ask if she wanted to turn professional:
“I always knew there was something missing when I gave it up, and then I got a message randomly one night, saying what do I think about turning pro. He said women’s boxing was on the rise with the likes of Katie Taylor and when he said that, I jumped at the chance.”
At the time Harper was at university and working at her local chip shop in Denaby in South Yorkshire.
“I was there 4 years, and I always got ribbed when I turned up at the gym smelling of chip fat. It was hard juggling my studies and boxing, but you have to do what you have to do.”
Harper was lucky she had support at home and a rare skill to make a little money go a long way:
“I’m not really high-maintenance, I was still living at home with my dad and he let me off without paying any board. I was just getting by, and when I look back I think how did I survive on just £70 a week and still going on holidays.”
Harper only became a full-time pro last year after brief spells working in a care home and doing some personal training. The speed of which Harper has risen to the pinnacle of her sport is quite remarkable:
“Andrew always had this dream of getting me to a world title, but even he’s surprised at how quickly I have got here. He always thought I was naturally gifted, but I always lacked a bit of self-belief but that’s coming now. I’m feeling confident even now I am stepping up in class and I’m starting to feel really confident in my own ability.”
Despite the praise of those around her and the ever-increasing confidence levels, women’s boxing despite its recent surge still struggles from a lack of depth in the sport. When still at the novice stage in normal circumstances, fighters can seemingly be pushed to the world stage, before perhaps they are ready. But Harper didn’t have the concerns you might have expected:
Harper only had her first professional fight in November 2017, and despite winning the IBO version of the world super-featherweight title in July 2019, she was still only 8-0 as a professional. But her immense talent was already shining through, and after some highly impressive performances, Harper was pushed to the next level.
A solid win over the Natasha Jonas conqueror Viviane Obenauf late last year, saw her matched with Eva Wahlstrom for her WBC title in Sheffield last month. Wahlstrom had only lost one fight, a decision loss to Katie Taylor, and despite a long career, she was still considered a real step up for Harper:
“I wasn’t really worried because I knew how much I had improved in such a short space of time. There were odd times in the gym if say I had a bad spar, then I starting thinking is it too soon or will it be too much pressure on me, but I coped with it really well against Eva.”
Harper will make a quick return in April in her hometown of Doncaster when she will face former Olympian Jonas, who has rebounded from her shocking defeat to Obenauf with 3 solid wins last year. Harper is full of respect for Jonas:
“She is someone I looked up to when I was a young amateur and she was one of the best around. It will be a good tough domestic fight, and with her being a southpaw it brings something different.”
I can remember seeing Harper live in Nottingham in April of last year on a Matchroom card, and her class was obvious. The performance in Sheffield on the Kell Brook undercard against Wahlstrom was of an exceptionally high standard, but also with the knowledge, there is much more to come.
Despite being unbeaten and the unified IBO and WBC champion Harper is still a relative novice, and I don’t believe we have yet scratched the surface of how good she will eventually become.
The Jonas fight will be a far tougher fight than many expect, but if Harper comes through that and keeps winning, a fight with Katie Taylor sometime next year is a real possibility.
Already the potential Taylor vs Harper matchup has the look of a fight where the torch might very well get passed.