Terri Harper versus Natasha Jonas, a breakthrough for women’s boxing that will bring with it greater scrutiny
So said the heavyweight champion of the world, and if it has the approval of the man who holds that office, then it can’t have been half bad.
Terri Harper may be despondent now, feeling like her draw with Natasha Jonas was a defeat, but in the grand scheme of things, she and her opponent played their parts in a victory for women’s boxing.
Indeed, those 10 rounds late on Friday evening – almost so late we didn’t get it on the front page of our Sports Weekend supplement – could be the breakthrough moment women’s boxing has been longing for.
It certainly has had the personalities to help it break down the barriers of mainstream consciousness, Yorkshire’s own Nicola Adams being the obvious choice with that flashing smile and those ferocious fists which lit up London 2012.
And her fellow Yorkshirewoman, Harper, certainly has bags of personality and a great narrative to boot – the 23-year-old having worked in the local chippy in the old pit village of Denaby in suburban Doncaster before making her mark in the professional game, even if that conveniently overlooks the fact she has a degree in sports coaching and is as interesting to listen to as she is as mean to fight.
But all good boxers, all the great personalities, need a nemesis, a rival to bounce off – in the ring and out of it – to help shape their legend and sell those tickets.
Muhammad Ali could have sold snow to Eskimos but even he needed Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Joe Frazier.
Sugar Ray Leonard was one of the greatest fighters of his generation, but only because he never shirked a bout with Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns or Marvin Hagler.
Lennox Lewis had Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
Floyd Mayweather won 50 straight fights but his greatest chapter is the decade-long dance with Manny Pacquiao before the two finally got in the ring.
Harper may have found her nemesis, the rival on which to propel her career and that of women’s boxing, in Jonas, the 36-year-old Liverpudlian who not many gave a chance to before Friday’s WBC super featherweight world title bout, but who is probably no doubt at home right now thinking she should have the belt in her possession.
The fight exceeded the hype, with a little needle between the two fighters in the build-up merely adding to the tension. There is respect between them, but not much love lost.
“We have to see that fight again,” gushed Eddie Hearn, the promoter.
Well Eddie, if anyone is going to make it happen...
This is the man who opened up his back garden to ensure boxing returned during the easing of lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic.
No fans were there on Friday night, just a big audience on Sky Sports and the streaming service DAZN, both of which helped transmit pictures of one of the bloodiest women’s bouts ever fought into homes across Britain and the world.
“You have to do that again,” continued Hearn.
“Jonas deserves another shot at the world title. She was hurt in the second. Harper was buzzed in the eighth. Unbelievable to watch.”
For Hearn it was the perfect outcome, a belting fight that gives him the chance to market the two fighters at the top of the bill in front of paying customers once sport returns to some kind of normality.
Together, the three of them – Hearn, Harper and Jonas – have the potential to elevate women’s boxing to places it has never been before, into the realms of conversation and coverage for so long the reserve of the men’s fight game.
Should that happen, a moral dilemma will ensue.
Because at present, Harper and Jonas have piqued only the curiosity of boxing fans.
Under the unremitting promotional machine of Hearn – one that can sell a world heavyweight title fight in Saudi Arabia, a country with a questionable human rights record – the sport will be opened up to a wider audience and therefore greater scrutiny.
As good as that fight was on Friday night, it was also a little disconcerting to see two women drenched in blood across their faces and their tops. Harper’s white vest looked like Terry Butcher’s headband.
If women’s boxing is going to break into the mainstream it will open itself up to questions like: should women be subjected to this? should they wear headguards? should it be banned?
There is a drive for equality in sport – quite rightly – but it shouldn’t just be fast-tracked into fact with no questions asked.
Boxing is a sport like no other for getting youngsters off the street and giving them a purpose, but at the end of the day, it has violence at its heart.
As impressive as Harper and Jonas were on Friday evening, I watched it as the father of a three-year-old daughter wondering: ‘do I want her to grow up to be a boxer?’
After 10 rounds, as much as the heart on display was impressive, the blood was just too unedifying.
Harper and Jonas should meet again. A bigger live audience deserves to witness their skill, their courage, their technique.
Together they produced a great advert for women’s boxing – and for women’s sport.
The challenge now is to harness that for good, not greed.