Harper holds on to WBC title after first defense


Terri Harper held on to her WBC world junior lightweight title in a first defense after an entertaining points draw with English rival Natasha Jonas on Friday.

Harper was left relieved and Jonas disappointed after the challenger hurt the champion in the sixth and eighth rounds of the main event in the second installment of Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp series, held without fans in the garden of the company’s office headquarters in Essex, England.

A rematch seems likely after scores of 96-94 to Harper (10-0-1, 5 KOs), 96-95 to Jonas (9-1-1, 7 KOs), and 95-95. Another option for Harper, 23, is 2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer (13-0, 5 KOs), 30, from Colorado, or Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka (19-0, 2 KOs), who holds the WBO version of the junior lightweight title. But Hearn prefers a Harper-Jonas rematch.

“We have to see that fight again,” Hearn said. “You have to give Natasha Jonas the opportunity. It looks like Brodnicka will face Mayer next anyway. It was so close, backwards and forwards, a sensational fight.”

Mother-of-one and 2012 Olympian Jonas, 36, from Liverpool, said she felt she should have got the decision. “I thought it was level going into the eighth,” she said. “I won the ninth clearly and I thought I won the 10th, so I had myself one or two up. I’m just gutted I’m not going home with the belts.”

Harper, from Doncaster, said: “I was trying to stay on the outside. I’m disappointed with my performance, but I’m 23, I’ve had 11 pro fights and 16 amateur fights, so I’m still learning. I will learn from that.”

Harper won the title in just her 10th professional fight with a unanimous points decision to end Eva Wahlstrom’s five-year reign in February, but she found the first all-British women’s world title fight a lot harder. Jonas turned professional in 2017 after the birth of daughter Mela in 2015, and this was the biggest moment since she boxed (and lost to) Ireland’s Katie Taylor — now world lightweight No 1 — in the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals.

Jonas had to rebuild her career after a stoppage defeat to Viviane Obenauf two years ago, and she came very close to completing a remarkable turnaround by beating a champion 13 years younger than her.

Jonas finished strong, and started strong, winning the first round, but then she suffered a cut near the right eye in the second as Harper started putting together flurries of punches. There were fierce exchanges in the first half of the third and fifth rounds, with Harper’s energy and volume of punches edging it.

Jonas threw fewer punches but was also capable of some quality shots, such as a short left hook in an exciting fifth round. Jonas landed one of the best punches of the fight in the sixth when a long, straight left hand rocked Harper back on to her heals. Better was to come from Jonas in the eighth, when she planted her feet to land big shots, including a left and right hook that wobbled Harper.

“I felt my legs go a bit, and I had to dig deep for the last two rounds,” Harper said. Harper was unable to control the fight like she did when she beat Wahlstrom, as Jonas was better at scoring with punches out of the clinches in the second half of the fight. Jonas landed some great left hooks in the ninth round and finished strong, but she was denied victory by the closest of margins.

On the undercard, Liverpool super welterweight Anthony Fowler looked really sharp as he overwhelmed Adam Harper in seven one-sided rounds.

Fowler (13-1, 10 KOs), 29, has now won four on the trot since suffering his first defeat on points to Scott Fitzgerald in March 2019. Despite being docked a point for a low blow in the second round, Fowler made a terrific start, landing hard shots and punishing Harper with stiff jabs. Harper, who was cut around the left eye in the second round, bravely kept moving forward despite Fowler teeing off on him. In the fourth round, Harper finally crumpled to the canvas after Fowler landed a vicious, short right hook to the jaw. Harper took a count and the bell saved him from what surely would have been a painful end.

Harper (9-2, 0 KOs), from Tewkesbury, was outgunned and outclassed by Fowler. But Harper was not lacking in courage and determination, as he lasted until the seventh round before referee Ian John-Lewis waved off the one-sided fight. Fowler’s performance was only slightly spoiled by the low blows that earned a point deduction in Round 2 and a warning from John-Lewis in the sixth round that if it happened again he would be disqualified.

“I should have been a bit more composed; he shouldn’t have been hitting me with clean shots,” Fowler said. “As we step up through the levels, I need to be better than that. I wasn’t as disciplined as I would have liked.”

Chris Billam-Smith floored Nathan Thorley three times in a second-round win for a first defense of the Commonwealth cruiserweight title. Billam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs), 30, from Bournemouth, won the title in November after recovering from a split decision defeat to Richard Riakporhe just over a year ago, and he will have gained great confidence from his swift dismissal of Thorley.

Cardiff’s Thorley (14-1, 6 KOs), 27, sank to a knee for a count late in the first round after taking a short right hook in a clinch. Thorley then looked as though he was going to be overwhelmed early in the second round when he sank to his knees again from a right hook.

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