TERRI HARPER enters this weekend’s showdown with one-time pound-for-pound leader Cecelia Brækhus in the knowledge that a resounding victory will elevate her to the elite pay bracket.
“Big fights mean big money! It puts that extra fire in your belly,” says Harper, a former chip shop worker who has battered 14 of her 16 pro foes thus far (one draw).
“I grew up on a council estate; I’d be lying if I didn’t say money motivated me. It’s not because I’m materialistic. I just like to be able to treat my family and loved ones, have a comfortable life and a nice home – that’s all I want.”
In addition to bolstering her bank balance, scalping the 41-year-old Norway-based Columbian – a victor in 26 of 28 world championship contests down at 147 pounds – will see humble Harper’s status soar, even if the decorated veteran would appear to be on the decline.
“A lot more people will be talking about me after the fight with Cecilia,” predicts talented technician Terri, who triumphed in two WBC super-feather title fights before springboarding four divisions to bag a WBA belt at 154lbs last September.
“But also, it’s about using this big stage and social media platform to inspire the next generation to go out there and chase their dreams. I’m honoured to have people say I’m their role model.
“I wanna be viewed as one of the best in the world. To do that, you’ve got to beat the best and collect all the belts.”
For the showdown with Brækhus, the 26-year-old returns to the Sheffield Arena in her home county for the first time since she conceded her 130lbs belts to the United States’ Alycia Baumgardner after being ‘frozen’ by a single right hand in October 2021.
“I feel like I’ve put the demons to bed. Sheffield Arena is also where I won my first world title – the WBC, against Eva Wahlström – so there are good and bad memories,” continues the darling of Denaby Main, who believes she is now better equipped for global domination.
“I’m working with John Wattam, who does my strength and conditioning sessions. But he’s also a mindset coach. He’s full of little tricks. I’ve noticed a pattern in my last couple of camps.
“With the fights getting bigger, I’ve caught myself getting anxious – the anxiety starts creeping in a couple of weeks before the bout. John gives me tips on how to deal with it, change my mindset and stay positive, and makes me aware that it’s normal to have these thoughts and feelings and how to embrace them and use them to your advantage. We’re just human, aren’t we? Everyone experiences these feelings.”
Harper-Brækhus was initially intended as an hors d’oeuvre to Katie Taylor’s smudged homecoming against Chantelle Cameron in Dublin last May, only for the feted ‘First Lady’ to fall sick just hours before the ring walk.
Four months on, Terri has the fresh advantage of being back in her Yorkshire parish, with the vacant WBO trinket further elevating the stakes.
“In hindsight, Cecilia pulling out of the first fight was probably a blessing in disguise because I’ve studied her a lot more second time around. We’ve got a really good game plan for this fight,” claims the 5 ft 8½ins Steffy Bull-managed champion.
“It’s about not overcooking my brain now. I’m not underestimating Cecilia, and I’m expecting the best version of her. But Father Time catches up with everyone; there’s no avoiding it. That’s why I’ve got to go out there and use youth to my advantage; I’m gonna stick it on her from round one.”
Despite her commendable readiness to contend across the weights, Harper’s craving to win all the titles and embark on ‘big money’ fixtures has been routinely obstructed.
A fractured right hand incurred in her final spar scuppered a May 2021 unification contest with North Korean-born Hyun Mi Choi. Now, with Boxxer-promoted Scouse southpaw Natasha Jonas occupying the remaining pieces of the 154lbs puzzle and a 147lbs portion, all routes pointed towards a rematch to their 2020 ‘Fight of the Year’ 10-round tie.
With both Amazonians since advancing to become two-weight title holders and 39-year-old ‘Tasha’ seizing last year’s British Boxing Board of Control ‘Boxer of the Year’ Award – the first woman to do so – the sequel’s box office earnings should rightly eclipse the original.
Terri has temporarily lost patience in securing ‘Miss GB’ Jonas’ services for another domestic dust-up. However, should she surpass Brækhus, options appear plentiful.
“Jonas is daft for not taking the fight,” claims Harper. “She says she’ll never give me the rematch, but that’s down to them. I told Steffy (Bull, Harper’s Manager) I’m not gonna talk about it in interviews anymore; we look like we’re begging for fights.
“If there are no big fights at 154, I want to go down and mix with the champions at the lower weights, 147, even probably as low as 140(lb), but that’ll be as low as I go. The big fights are on the horizon; I’m at that stage in my career where that’s all I’m looking at. I can’t just be fighting anyone.
“I always remember getting down to 9st 4lbs when I was sparring, but my best spars were around 10st 5lbs to 10st 7lbs. That’s where I was performing best in the ring. At 147-154(lbs), I can be focused on my training and fuelled for my sessions. At 9st 4lb, I was tired before I even trained!
“Sandy Ryan is a great champion. Chantelle Cameron has the rematch with Katie Taylor; that’s got to happen first.
“It’s funny; I remember (Mikaela) Mayer giving me grief online for years – I used to let her get in my head. But I watched her the other day and thought, ‘I can beat Mayer all day long!’ So that’s another fight that I’d like to happen.”