A heavy favourite, Terri Harper appeared a touch fortunate to hold on to her WBC super-featherweight title with an entertaining draw against an inspired Natasha Jonas at Matchroom’s Fight Camp in Brentwood, Essex, on Friday night. Scores were 96-94 Harper, 96-95 Jonas and 95-95 even.
Conventional wisdom had the tall, rangy champion picking off Jonas and prevailing with her vitality down the stretch. But former amateur star Jonas was not the frail fighter who succumbed to Viviane Obenauf in 2018. Her inside work caused immediate problems and took a startled Harper out of her comfort zone.
Harper’s first title defence was meant to be her coming out party as a major force at 130lbs, but it ended up being a perilously close call as Jonas, crisp and heavy-handed, punished her in the trenches. The first ever All-British women’s world title fight was worth the wait.
“I know I hurt her,” said Harper afterwards. “She hurt me a few times. I’m disappointed by my performance but that was only my 11th competition on the big stage. That was a big learning fight for me. I felt it, I felt my legs go, I sucked it up and dug deep for the last two rounds. I knew she was a tough opponent but I didn’t expect her to come out like that! Massive respect. Tasha is someone I looked up to. I could tell the class she had. Maybe I underestimated her a bit.”
A sporting Jonas added: “I won the eighth clearly. I thought I won the ninth and tenth. It was close. I had myself one or two up. History in the making and it was an honour to share them. She made some statements, which I had to prove wrong, to her but to myself as well. All eyes were on women’s boxing and hopefully we made the public proud. One million percent I’d do that again!”
Southpaw Jonas (9-1-1, 7 KOs) wore an intense look early and started brightly with jabs to the body and a solid left hand. A sharp and focused Jonas buzzed Harper with a left hand in the second though Harper raised her pace accordingly. The Liverpool fighter suffered a cut by the right eye as Harper (10-0-1, 5 KOs) used her feet and regained her composure to become a factor in the fight.
They exchanged stiff right hands in the third as the action intensified. It felt like one shot could change the narrative though one still favoured the youth of Harper at this juncture. Yet Jonas wasn’t going away and enjoyed a better fourth, narrowing the gap and ripping Harper with solid combinations in close.
Jonas was working the body well early in the fifth, but Harper pressed her to ropes and unloaded strongly to end the round. They traded fiercely in the sixth. Denaby’s Harper had the edge in workrate, but one felt Jonas held the heavier hands.
The action was captivating. Jonas’ inside work was more eye-catching, but perhaps the judges favoured Harper’s hustle and reputation as the touted fighter. Jonas’ big shots started to rattle Harper in an impressive eighth.
Harper was struggling and in disarray in the ninth as Jonas sensed her moment, punishing the champion with precise right hooks. The champion had lost her rhythm as Jonas’ brisk combinations held sway, but she dug in during the last and that was enough for two of the judges.
Commonwealth cruiserweight champion Chris Billiam-Smith added to his growing reputation by impressively blowing out Cardiff’s Nathan Thorley in two rounds of a lively show-opener.
Billiam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs) immediately applied educated pressure, doubling up on the jab and showing pleasing variety and a dangerous right hand. That paid swift dividends as Thorley was dropped with a delayed reaction after a right hand to the pit of the stomach and a series of clubbing left hooks in a clinch at the end of the first round.
The champion had the bit between his teeth, tearing into the challenger in the second before a series of bludgeoning right hands sent Thorley (14-1, 6 KOs) down again. The Welshman seemed on the way out but gained encouragement with a big right hand of his own. A shootout broke out. Just as Thorley traded and fancied his chances, a heavy right hand sent him down for a third time. He rose groggily where the fight was waved off by referee John Latham.
An improved Anthony Fowler looked loose-limbed and sharp early on before administering a one-sided beating to the game but out of his depth Adam Harper.
Fowler’s sharp jab posed problems from the opening round. The 154lbs contender reeled off combinations and battered Harper to the body, but strayed slightly low, prompting a warning from referee Ian John Lewis. Harper (9-2, 0 KOs) seemed immediately uncomfortable with Fowler’s pace and power.
In the second round, Fowler was deducted a point for borderline body shot though Harper was cut by the left eye and feeling sorry for himself as the Scouser harpooned him with thudding jabs. A right uppercut had Harper clinging on as the assault intensified.
Fowler’s punishing jab was knocking the stuffing out of him and, in the fourth, a pinpoint right hand finally sent an outgunned Harper to the canvas. He rose, but was battered in the corner and just about survived the round. He should have been pulled out, but wasn’t.
The one-way punishment continued, but neither Harper’s corner or the referee intervened. The fight should have been stopped, but in the sixth Harper was struck low once more and Fowler was warned strongly by the third man. The night seemed to be taking a frustrating turn.
Yet in the seventh, Fowler (13-1, 10 KOs) stayed disciplined and drove Harper to the ropes once more, unloading with vicious right hands when the referee finally stepped in.
In his first six-rounder, Leeds southpaw Hopey Price (3-0, 1 KO) outslicked a willing Jonny Phillips (5-5, 2 KOs) at featherweight. Referee Ian John Lewis scored 60-54.
Heads bored in during the opener as the cultured Price tried to impose his skills and Phillips endeavoured to rough him up and upset his rhythm. The smoother Price inevitably dictated from range with clever feet and his silkier shots but got wrestled and hassled in the clinches. Yet Price kept his calm and boxing brain to coast to a comfortable decision victory in a good learning fight.
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom.