April 18, 2021

Will Terri Harper crack under the pressure?

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James Dielhenn

Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn

First-ever all-British women’s world title fight tonight from 7pm, live on Sky Sports

Last Updated: 07/08/20 9:54am

Will Terri Harper be affected by mind games?

Will Terri Harper be affected by mind games?

There was a moment this week when Terri Harper stood glumly and alone, within earshot of her opponent’s outspoken trainer Joe Gallagher whose voice was raised as he listed her frailties and weaknesses.

“I wouldn’t have my fighter there to hear that,” promoter Eddie Hearn reacted. “I don’t think [Harper’s trainer] Stefy Bull intentionally brought her in. She wanted to come in.”

That moment was a stark reminder that Harper, the fast-rising world champion, is also just a 23-year-old who has never had a spotlight shone on her in this way.

Harper accused Natasha Jonas of being ‘unprofessional’

Harper accused Natasha Jonas of being ‘unprofessional’

Her first defence of the WBC super-featherweight championship tonight, live on Sky Sports at 7pm, against former Olympian Natasha Jonas is the first-ever all-British women’s world title bout and that brings the sort of expectation that the champion has never dealt with before.

Three years ago, Harper’s career hadn’t yet begun and she was not even a feted prospect on the amateur scene. In mid-2017, the only battering she administered was in the family’s fish and chip shop in a Yorkshire village.

“Rattled? I don’t know. She has never experienced this before,” Hearn said.

“She’s inexperienced in the ring but inexperienced outside the ring with all the build-up.”

Make no mistake, Harper’s sweet and innocent nature outside of the ring has been targeted ruthlessly by her opponent’s team in the past few days in an attempt to unsettle her. It is a trick as old as time but, again, not one that Harper is familiar with.

Jonas and Gallagher missed their allocated entry time into Fight Camp, enforced by COVID-19 regulations, and arrived late which produced the first angry outburst from Harper.

“It’s unprofessional,” she said.

Exactly the reaction that the challenger wanted.

It has been driven by Jonas’ wily trainer Gallagher, an experienced corner-man whose boxers have faced Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Jorge Linares and George Groves. He is far more experienced at world championship level than Harper’s trainer Stefy Bull and hasn’t been afraid to remind them.

Harper faces Jonas in the first-ever all-British women's world title fight Harper faces Jonas in the first-ever all-British women's world title fight

Harper faces Jonas in the first-ever all-British women’s world title fight

Gallagher shared a rumour that Harper was forced to deny that she had been knocked out in a recent sparring session.

“Joe has been around the block, he’s one of the best in the business. I think he is playing games,” said Bull.

Gallagher ranted on: “She throws an average of 19-23 punches per round in a world title fight. They talk about a great engine?

“Saying she doesn’t get hurt? She got hurt in the first round [against Viviane Obenauf].

“Watch how many times Harper is hurt in a fight, how many times she is shy. Terri has been hurt and she will get hurt in this fight.”

Perhaps the telling line was when Gallagher told Harper’s trainer: “You have to back it up Friday night, and the pressure is all on you.”

The criticism has even began to flood in from America, where divisional rival Mikaela Mayer told Sky Sports: “If I were to fight her? I would take her out of that comfort zone that she is in.”

It is easy to forget in these moments that Harper is a real talent, a world champion in just her 10th pro fight after beating the far more experienced Eva Wahlstrom.

She insisted with a poker face that the “mind games” of the past week won’t deter her tonight.

Harper is mild-mannered until poked, and she hit back: “Tasha has fought nobodies. Who has she stepped in the ring with?”

Harper talks tattoos, food and music

Harper talks tattoos, food and music

Beneath the bravado and the tension are two women at opposite ends of their careers whose desires to take home the world championship are for different reasons. One from the inner-city, one from a quaint village – the challenger in the last-chance saloon, the champion with stardom within her grasp.

Jonas is 13 years older than Harper, from Toxteth in Liverpool and from a successful sporting family – her sister Nikita Parris is an England international footballer.

She is a mother and, while Harper trained relentlessly for months throughout lockdown, Jonas prioritised home-schooling.

Jonas reflected on George Floyd’s death: “I’m preparing my daughter for this world the same way my mum prepared me, and the way my nan prepared her. It’s wrong that I have to do that, but this is the world that we live in at the moment so I’m always going to speak out if I believe I can help change it.”

Jonas’ London 2012 Olympics dream was ended by eventual gold medallist Katie Taylor and, having already lost once as a pro, she knows a night like tonight will not come again.

Harper had quit boxing not long ago after discovering the sport through a reality TV show. She was ready to spurn her talent until meeting her partner Jenna, whose wild ringside support was a joyous part of her world title triumph. Harper has proudly worn a rainbow-coloured face-mask all week. Will she miss Jenna’s support tonight?

Both boxers predict a knockout with certainty not always spoken by female fighters.

“If I land cleanly, she will go,” Jonas said.

And Gallagher added: “They don’t realise how hard Tasha hits. Once she hits, they will be in la-la land.”

The final word to the defending champion who can become a genuine breakout star if she continues her upward curve: “Tasha has never done 10 rounds, she’s not proven that she can go the distance. If I land a good shot on Tasha? Lights out.”