The second of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom’s ‘Fight Camp’ series is headlined by an intriguing all-British world title showdown on Friday night, as rising Yorkshire star Terri Harper defends her WBC and IBO super-featherweight titles against Liverpool’s former amateur standout Natasha Jonas.
Remarkably, and somewhat surprisingly, the 130lbs showdown is the first ever all-British female world title fight. However, the narrative behind the bout is as well worn and as old as boxing itself, pitting a promising young lion in the shape of the 23-year-old Harper against an experienced operator in 36-year-old Jonas, who is probably drinking in the last-chance saloon.
Denaby resident Harper starts as a hot favourite – currently 1/9 with Betfred – while Jonas is rated a 7-1 outsider (draw 25-1). The recent form-lines of the two boxers provide ample justification for such odds. Both women have fought ten times as professionals, with Jonas’ sole loss in 2018 – a three-knockdown, four-round crushing – coming at the fists of Swiss-based Brazilian Viviane Obenauf, who Harper has since widely outpointed.
Since that shocker, Jonas, a World amateur championships bronze medallist in 2012, has rebounded with three straight wins although she has been honest enough to admit “they weren’t against anyone of any great quality”.
Nevertheless, Jonas insists the demons of the Obenauf defeat have been exorcised. “The defeat is something that happened,” she told Boxing Social recently. “I’ve learned from it, you have to move on, if you keep hold of it and get emotional about it, it’s not going to improve you in any way. You learn from it and move on. That’s what I’ve done.”
Jonas certainly has the pedigree to triumph, but the image of the frailty she displayed under consistent fire against Obenauf is hard to banish, and has clearly given Harper confidence.
“I know it’s a cliché but I’m definitely in the best shape of my life for this fight,” the reigning WBC and IBO champion has declared. “I believe it’s Tasha’s last opportunity to prove herself. The pressure’s on her, it’s got to be.
“I believe I’m going to have a hard few rounds… but then I believe my fitness [will tell] and I’m going to break her down slowly but surely.”
Trainer Stefy Bull concurs with his fighter’s analysis. “Terri’s a good pressure fighter. Obviously, Natasha’s shown that she can be stopped and she’s suspect when she gets hit. We’re not making any secret of it, we’re going to be busy and setting the pace. It will be an exciting fight.”
In contrast to Bull’s supreme confidence, trainer Joe Gallagher has seemed uneasy, hinting at something of a siege mentality in the Jonas camp during fight week, criticising the IBO and members of Sky Sports TV’s commentary team for “bias shown” against Jonas.
“We understand the games that’s going on at the moment,” he told Boxing Social. “It is what it is… Back off her [Jonas], she’s here to do a number on Friday night.”
Will the perception of bias fire Jonas up and propel her to new heights as a pro? Or is Gallagher’s rhetoric a sign that desperation is creeping into her camp? Only time will tell.
One factor that is probably in the Liverpudlian’s favour is punching power. Harper has stopped five of her ten opponents, whereas Jonas has stopped seven of nine, including one and four-round victories against Monika Antonik and Bojana Libiszewska respectively, fighters who extended Harper to points early in her career.
With this in mind, Jonas’ best chance might be to surprise Harper with a fast and aggressive start and try and force an early stoppage. The longer the fight goes on, the more likely it seems to favour Harper’s fitness, work ethic and youth – she is, after all, the younger fighter by a 13-year margin.
Taking all things into account, it’s hard to see conventional wisdom and the bookmakers being wrong. I see Jonas boxing well early on, maybe stealing a few rounds with her neat skills, before Harper eventually finds her rhythm and takes over from round four or five onwards en route to a fairly comfortable points victory.
Chief support is a potential cruiserweight barnstormer between Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith (10-1, 9 KOs) and Cardiff’s Nathan Thorley (14-0, 6 KOs) for the former’s Commonwealth strap.
Billam-Smith’s sole career loss was a tight and debatable reverse against Richard Riakporhe, since crowned British champion. Thorley, although unbeaten, has mixed in far inferior class, facing only two opponents with winning records since turning over in 2015.
The Welshman has fought for most of his career at light-heavyweight, and the fact he was floored by Emmanuel Moussinga in a 2018 scrap is a concern given that the Cameroonian-born journeyman usually campaigns at middleweight.
All things considered, Billam-Smith is likely to finish proceedings with a conclusive stoppage sometime before round six, although Thorley may enjoy some success first as the reigning Commonwealth champion is not the hardest to hit.
Elsewhere on the card, Anthony Fowler (12-1, 9 KOs) – the very definition of a Marmite boxer – should have too much seasoning and strength for Tewkesbury’s Adam Harper (9-1, 0 KOs), who most likely lacks the pop and power to keep the Liverpudlian at bay.
Finally, prospect Ivan ‘Hopey’ Price (2-0, 1 KO) is expected to win well against Jonny Phillips (5-4, 2 KOs) at featherweight.
The unbeaten Aqib Fiaz was yesterday forced to withdraw from his lightweight bout with Kane Baker due to illness.
Main image: Harper and Jonas square up. Photo: Mark Robinson, Matchroom.