Terri Harper kept hold of her WBC, IBO super featherweight titles with a draw against Natasha Jonas in a whirlwind ten-rounder that headlined Eddie Hearn’s second Fight Camp show but could elevate women's boxing in the UK to a new level.
Harper looked good early, when she hurt and cut Jonas, but the 36-year-old former Olympian stayed tight and badly rocked Harper in the eighth. It was Jonas who landed the cleaner punches throughout, but the 23-year-old Harper was the busier and could have had a good final minute of the last round to thank for holding onto her belt.
One judge, Ian John-Lewis made Harper the winner by 96-94, John Latham went 96-95 to Jonas and Mark Lyson scored it 95-95. The referee was Victor Laughlin.
It was a close fight, with three or four rounds that could have gone either way. Both said they would be happy with a rematch. “A million per cent I would do that again,” Jonas said.
It was the first all-British female world title fight and a wonderful advertisement for women’s boxing. Harper’s white vest was stained pink from Jonas’s blood for most of the fight, but the action was intense and of an impressively high level. This fight was originally scheduled for a leisure centre, it took place in Hearn’s back garden. The rematch will fill an arena.
“I know I hurt her, she hurt me a few times, but that’s boxing,” Harper said. “I am disappointed with my performance, but I have got to think I am 23-years-old and only had 16 amateur fights and that was my 11th competition on the big stage. It was a very big night.
“I went out there and dug deep. I want to thank Tasha for an excellent fight, it was a big learning fight for me.
“Tasha has always been someone I looked up to. I could tell the class she had.”
Jonas started well, walking Harper on to a pair of left hands as she moved in close in the first. Harper had more success in the second, although Jonas countered well when the champion dropped her lead left. Jonas also ended the round with a nasty cut over her right eye.
Harper upped the pace significantly in the third forcing some early frantic exchanges, which Harper seemed to get the better of. Jonas landed some good counters in close, but when Harper opened up, she threatened to overwhelm her.
Jonas’s blood was all over Harper’s vest by the end of the fourth round, which Harper again was able to dictate, although Jonas found success when she worked away up close.
The fifth and sixth were real toe-to-toe rounds – Harper was the busier, Jonas often landed the cleaner shots. At the end of the sixth, with Jonas backed up on the ropes, the two carried on trading after the bell.
Harper had the better of the seventh, as Jonas started to show signs of tiredness, but early in the eighth, Jonas landed a long left and a right hook that staggered Harper, who held on after being caught by another left. Swarming close, Harper tried to outwork Jonas, but the Liverpudlian landed some short hooks.
Once again, Harper got on the front foot in the ninth, but she looked ragged when Jonas opened up and caught her on the way in. Harper piled forward in the last, but Jonas stood firm and kept working away to the final bell.
“I had myself one or two up, but it was history in the making and it was an honour to share it,” Jonas said. “I thought I put on a good performance and I am gutted I am not going home with the belts.”
Harper admitted she was hurt in the eighth round. “I felt my legs go a little bit,” she said. “I held on a little bit, tried to recuperate, and knew when I got back to the corner, I had to suck it up a bit and dig deep for the last two rounds.
“I knew she was a tough opponent, but I didn’t expect her to come out like that. I’ve got a lot to learn and I learnt a lot from that.”
Jonas was the first British female to box (and win) at an Olympic Games, so was well aware she was making history again.
“All eyes were on women’s boxing and we made the people and the public proud and anyone who was sitting on the fence or against women’s boxing now enjoys it,” she said.
“I am so happy. She is the world champion, I knew I had to come with a good performance and take it from her. I did think I did that but it wasn’t to be and if I had to draw with anyone, let it be a British world champion.”