World champion Terri Harper on the fight of her life and journey to the top

Terri Harper was stacking shelves in the local convenience store last night.

On top of the world: Terri Harper celebrates victory. Pictures: PA

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Why Terri Harper is happy to fight on without a ringside crowd

Earlier in the day she did an online boxing session for kids, followed by an afternoon in the garage in isolation, pounding the punchbag.

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Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, Friday, April 24, would have played out completely different.

On target: Terri Harper lands a blow on Eva Wahlstrom.

The 23-year-old would have been the toast of South Yorkshire, entering her home town Doncaster Dome to a deafening noise ahead of the first defence of her WBC and IBO super featherweight titles.

Harper will have allowed herself a wistful grin at that last night as she moved from the cereal aisle onto the frozen food section.

“A big change,” she smiles, ruefully, when asked about her plans for Friday night.

“My partner works at the Co-Op, so I’ll probably be hovering trying to help her out, stacking shelves.

Champion: Terri Harper celebrates victory over Eva Wahlstrom. Picture: PA

“It only just really sunk in this week, realising it would have been the big fight. It disappointed me a bit, but health and safety comes first.”

Harper was due to meet fellow Briton Natasha Jonas at the Dome, her first fight since winning the world title in February in Sheffield, on a night which changed the course of her life for ever.

Harper beat Eva Wahlstrom by a unanimous points decision to become the second British woman to win a major professional world title.

“That for me was one of the best nights in boxing, the fact that it was such a big night and I didn’t let the occasion get to me,” reflects Harper, who knocked down the Finnish fighter in the seventh round.

“I handled everything really well and was so proud to go in the ring, not let anyone down and prove to myself that I do belong on the big stage.

“When I first got the big contract (with Matchroom) I was a little overwhelmed, asking myself ‘do I deserve this?’

“But I think I proved to myself and everyone else that I do.”

Harper became an ‘overnight sensation’. Her title fight was on the undercard of Kell Brook’s return to the ring but the home-town favourite was usurped.

Stories of Harper working in a chip shop as recently as 12 months earlier merely added to the uplifting narrative of the young woman from a downtrodden old pit village in Doncaster.

“I worked there for four years,” she says proudly of her time working at the local chippy.

That experience, and the fact she was stacking shelves last night, point to a working class grounding, but to pigeon-hole Harper in such a way would be to do her a disservice. There is so much more to this 23-year-old.

If anything, she could have been a world champion a lot earlier in life had she not put her education first.

Harper was a promising schoolgirl amateur, held back primarily by a lack of opponents. By age 16, she had a choice to make.

“I did all my GCSEs, and that was one of the reasons I stepped back from boxing, my studies got on top,” she says, after choosing to concentrate her efforts on college.

“The chip shop was only part-time work while I studied sports coaching at Sheffield Hallam University.

“I’ve always had a passion for sport, football was my first sport. At school, I was always involved in sport and I just love it.”

The boxing fire still burned inside her, and it was an old trainer at her gym, former professional boxer Stefy Bull, who helped reignite it.

“It was just a random day and I got a message off him a couple of years back, he’d been watching Katie Taylor and said women’s professional boxing is on the rise and I would be daft not to give it another shot,” she recalls.

“I’d already been thinking about coming back to the game but that gave me the impetus. I saw it as a fresh start and I jumped at the chance, no questions asked, and here we are, a couple of years later. It’s mad.”

Harper won her first eight fights, enough promise to earn a five-fight deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport to promote her bouts.

“To be fair, I was just happy to be back doing what I loved,” she says.

“I’ll always say I love the small hall bills, the atmosphere in there, I just love being back in the ring.

“But now this, the big contract, being on the big stage, I never would have envisaged that it would happen to me.

“It’s all a bonus and I’m just loving the ride and excited to see what the next couple of years have got in store for me.”

Having Matchroom in her corner helps. Hearn’s company are unequalled in Britain when it comes to promotion of the big shows and getting their fighters in title fights.

They are also playing their part in accelerating the growth of women’s boxing.

“There’s been a massive push for women in sport in general, it’s just sad to think that we’re in 2020 and they’re only just pushing women’s sport,” says Harper.

“But it’s good to see that Matchroom and Sky Sports are really getting behind it. They are making lots of female signings and are putting female fights on most of their cards, they’re pushing the content out.

“Hopefully, we can inspire a lot of young girls. I have a lot of girls on social media contacting me to say they look up to me and that’s a real pinch yourself moment for me.

“That’s really special, and obviously it’s getting girls involved in sport.

“Women’s boxing really needs that.

“We’ve got a lot of depth now. As an amateur, I had 17 junior fights and two senior fights, so not many at all.

“Compared to some of the girls coming up now, they’re getting over 100 fights and that’s more than I could have ever imagined.

“So the depth is there now, it’s building and the quality of female boxers is only getting better.

“After the 2021 Olympics, there’ll be more girls turning professional and that will add even more depth and skill into the professional ranks.”

More boxers means more potential for fighters to take her belts from her, but Harper welcomes the competition.

The coronavirus pandemic may have stalled her momentum, but it has not dulled her apppetite.

“While I’m young and active the busier I want to be,” adds Harper.

“I’m still quite inexperienced so I want to gain more experience. This current period has put a stop to the roll I was on, but with me being young and fit, I’m confident I can get straight back into the swing of things.

“I’m keeping busy with bits of training. I’ve set myself the goal of burning 1,000 calories a day, so Monday, Wednesday, Friday I’m on the punchbag, I run two 10ks a week, I’ve got a spinning bike and I do a circuit class on the Facebook page of Stefy Bull’s gym and I train young kids on a Friday. It’s nice knowing there’s people training alongside me as it gives me a bit more motivation.

“That and the odd shifts at the Co-Op, but being active is better than not.

“Long-term, if I can get over to America and fight that would be very special, but for me the main goal is to collect more world titles at super featherweight and become the undisputed champion, and that’s when I’ll look at moving up the weights and collecting world titles at multiple weights.

“Just a little bit of history each time.”

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