Nine months into her title reign, Terri Harper is still getting used to walking around with a target on her back.
The 24-year old from Yorkshire, England has emerged as the most sought-after foe in a loaded weight division where she is one of three unbeaten titlists. Harper made her way to the table following a 10-round decision win over Eva Wahlstrom this past February, having since fended off 2012 Great Britain Olympian and current top contender Natasha Jonas in a fiercely contested 10-round draw to retain her title.
Next comes a mandatory title defense versus unbeaten Spain-based Norwegian contender Katharina Thanderz (13-0, 2KOs), which serves as one of three title fights this Saturday at SSE Wembley in London. The fight comes as her divisional peers—Mikaela Mayer (14-0, 5KOs), Malva Hamadouche (21-1, 17KOs) and Hyun Mi Choi (17-0-1, 4KOs)—all view her as the next best option on the road to junior lightweight supremacy.
“I won the title back in February. One thing I have to get used to is the people calling me out,” Harper admits ahead of this weekend’s title defense.
“Obviously, it’s the territory that comes with being champion. At first, I took it as ‘Why are these girls calling me out?’ But now I realize that it just comes with the territory and people just want to fight the best.
“I’m not saying I’m the best, but clearly they view me that way.”
Even the close call versus Jonas—where a rematch also represents big business—still leaves Harper as the class among the division, however slim the margin is between the Brit and her fellow titlists.
All are eager to unify, with Hamadouche and Choi seeing their own title unification clash postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Both have since signed with Matchroom Boxing—whom also promotes Harper—and hope to revisit those plans in 2021.
As for Harper, it’s one fight at a time although her out-of-the-ring rivalry with Mayer continues to grow. The two have been at odds since Mayer felt slighted over being passed over as the number-one contender to the title Harper—who was ranked number 15 by the same sanctioning body—was able to first snag.
Mayer—a 2016 U.S. Olympian based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado—has since collected a belt of her own, dominating Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka (19-1, 2KOs) on Halloween. The unbeaten American is eager to earn undisputed championship status, with Harper remaining at the top of her list.
“It’s fuel to the fire. It keeps me motivated and keeps me on my toes,” Harper admitted to BoxingScene.com, choosing to have fun with the growing rivalry. “It’s good and it definitely builds up interest.
“For me, I haven’t really looked much on social media as I’m focused on this fight. But the more Mayer moves her mouth, the bigger that fight will continue to grow. So please keep running your mouth, Mikaela.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox