'There was always something missing': Terri Harper interview
Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Rising prospect Terri Harper twice walked away from boxing before turning pro but now - she tells James Lupton - she is targeting world honours and a clash with Natasha Jonas...
In just her eighth professional bout after a stint away from the sport during her amateur years, Denaby’s Terri Harper aims to be recognised as one of the best in her weight class on 19 July when she faces the tough South African Nozipho Bell for the vacant IBO women’s super-featherweight title.
“Away from boxing, I knew there was always something missing," the 22-year-old tells BM. "I’d find myself shadow boxing in my room, I do really appreciate the boxing now I’ve matured. Now I know I can make a living out of it, it’s not just that I really do love the sport.
"When you’re younger and having to dedicate all your time to training and a strict diet when your mates were doing what they want it gets hard. That’s probably why I stepped away, now I’m older and mature it’s made me realise this makes me different to everybody else.
“I had 17 junior amateur fights, I won three national titles and I had the opportunity to represent England in the European youth championships over in Poland where I won the silver medal. When I came back they offered me to go back out again but I were doing my GCSEs and everything got a bit too much for me in the end and I came away from boxing for a good few years.”
After her school years had passed Harper decided to return to the sport she had left behind, only to walk away once more. Getting the call to go professional put an end to what could have been a decision she would have regretted.
“I came back a couple of years later to Paul Durose the amateur coach and I boxed twice losing both on a split decision so I fell out of love with the sport. That’s when I stood back and had a break. Then Andrew [‘Stefy’ Bulcroft] got in touch to see if I would turn professional and I’ve never looked back since.”
Growing up in Yorkshire, Harper was always a sporty kid from a young age competing alongside her siblings. At 12 years of age, she was inspired to box by an unlikely source - Jack Osbourne. Yes that Jack Osbourne, Ozzy’s son.
“I’ve got two brothers and a sister, I’ve always been with my brothers playing football. I’ve always been sporty. I started by playing football and at one point I was doing boxing and football when I was around twelve [years of age]. I fell in love with boxing. I knew my love for boxing were bigger then what it was for football so I kind of drifted off [football] and went full time into boxing.
“I don’t know if you heard of 'Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie'. It were a TV show, I watched it with my dad and he was boxing on that so my dad was like ‘what do you reckon about giving that sport a go?’ We went to the local boxing gym and fell in love with it ever since.”
After not your average introduction to boxing, Harper was enticed back into the sport by manager and trainer Andrew ‘Stefy Bull’ Bulcroft and sucked back in by the current success in women’s boxing.
“Seeing the success. I were in Blackpool one night and I saw Chantelle Cameron boxing on TV and I thought I wish I never gave it up. The likes of Katie Taylor get success with what they were doing, seeing that us women can now box on TV and get recognised.
"I just thought it’s a waste of talent, not blowing my own trumpet but it’s a waste of talent if I don’t just give it a shot and see how far I could get with it. When ‘Bully’ gave me that offer I said yes straight away. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
“I knew Andrew, he was a professional trainer when I was an amateur and we based in the same gym. When I was training for the Europeans I’d wake up and he would take me out jogging with him at six in the morning. He had a lot to do with my training then.
"When I came back as a professional it made sense as he was looking for a female plus he’s worked with me before so it made sense for him to ask me when I turned over. It’s totally different [to the amateurs], I’m in the gym with the lads, all the banter. You enjoy it more instead of training as an amateur, I don’t know why.”
Harper’s first acid test came against then Commonwealth champion, Nina Bradley, an undefeated fighter herself, in Harper's sixth pro bout. It was a fight she chose herself and was determined to take no matter how apprehensive Stefy was.
“I knew of Nina so I was asking Andrew can he get me the fight with Nina because she was big on social media, obviously Commonwealth champion and I watched a few of her fights and I knew I could win. Andrew was worrying a bit in case we were rushing it a bit too much but I said I feel confident in this one, so he went ahead with it. It was probably the toughest fight I’ve experienced yet but I was successful and came away with the win. I learned a lot from that fight.
“With my previous fight, they were stoppages and I hadn’t really been tested beyond, I think, four rounds. The fight with Nina I knocked her down in the first and second [rounds] and I’m glad she was as tough as she were and came back to push me for ten rounds to really make me realise I am ready for the ten-round championship fights.”
Having successfully claimed the WBC International female lightweight title by overcoming Bradley, Harper's next assignment was against former IBF world champion Claudia Lopez - an experienced South American southpaw who had only been stopped once in 34 previous fights.
“It’s the first time I’ve been against a southpaw and I found myself getting caught with odd shots that I wasn’t used to. I was really taking my time knowing I had ten rounds again. Taking my time and not rushing as I did in the Nina [Bradley] fight, I kind of blew out after two rounds in that one.
"I was just trying to get my rounds in and enjoy it because I knew she wasn’t a daft lass. I said to Andrew when I got out of the ring I could tell she was experienced, so I had a good few rounds testing the waters. When I started to step up that’s when I got the stoppage inside six rounds.”
The impressive stoppage was caught on the big screen glistening under the lights of the Matchroom boxing cameras.
“I like your average small hall show but there’s no better set up than you experience with these TV production shows," Harper explains. "I experienced my first press conference. At the weigh-in we had security taking you through the shopping mall and then you’re looked after in the hotel. It’s just great, it’s a full week with everything based around boxing.”
Harper is aiming to turn Matchroom shows into a second home, confirming that talks are underway for a potential showdown against Miss GB aka Natasha Jonas.
“I know they’re pushing for the Tasha Jonas fight so hopefully, that’s something we can work towards after this. I just need to get a bit more experience because I only had 19 amateur fights and currently I'm going into my eighth professional fight.
"I know Eddie [Hearn] is keen for it, he's spoken with Andrew himself. The last fight with Claudia they wanted to have Tasha but it was two weeks' notice for us and where I’d never fought a southpaw before we knocked it back for a couple of months or whenever it will be.”
Her next appearance on 19 July will be Harper’s next big opportunity to impress. After her original opponent Bukiwe Nonina pulled out Terri will now face off against South African hopeful Nozipho Bell at the Stefy Bull co-promoted show with Ryan Rhodes.
“I don’t know much about her, just that she’s the WBF world champion. She poses the threat of only losing two fights and one being against Ewa Brodnicka, a current world champion from Poland. She’s had more than double the fights I have had, so she has more experience. She looks as though she is tougher and stronger than Nonina, coming forward applying pressure and wanting a fight.
“It seems like we’re rushing but the opportunity’s there so why not go for it? Then we’ll probably take a look at what’s next.”