'I see now that I belong where I am' - Terri Harper's new self-belief makes her a dangerous prospect on her ring return

Three hundred and sixty four days.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 10:23 am
Updated Thursday, 11th November 2021, 10:24 am
Terri Harper with her titles at the Keepmoat last month

It has been 12 months of frustration for Terri Harper with injury woes putting the brakes on her rapid rise to the top of boxing’s female ranks.

On Saturday night, almost one year on from the fight that began her journey through surgery and recovery, the Denaby Main fighter will once again step through the ropes.

A defence of her WBC and IBO super featherweight crowns against American Alycia Baumgardner awaits at Sheffield Arena and a gateway to the world title unification fights she hoped to have already had by this stage in 2021.

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Terri Harper celebrates after beating Katharina Thanderz in her last fight

Harper was due to face Hyun Mi Choi in May in a bid to add the WBA title to her haul, with the goal of claiming all the world belts at her weight.

But in the final sparring session of the camp, she damaged the hand she had surgically repaired following an injury in her last outing, when she stopped Katharina Thanderz at Wembley Arena last November.

It was a bitter blow for a fighter who had claimed two world titles in little more than two years following her professional debut.

And she admits she feared the worst for her prospects of continuing her exciting career.

“I remember the night of the spar when my hand went again and I knew the fight would be off, I was thinking to myself that I’d ruined my boxing career,” she said.

“I thought that was it. I was done and would I have to go back to a nine to five.

“I can remember just feeling gutted and thinking I’d ruined my chances.

“I laid in bed that night looking for jobs and seeing what was out there. I’ve got a car on finance and I was thinking I’d have to give that back.

“There were loads of crazy thoughts until I went to see the surgeon the next week and he said it was fixable.

“That made me really appreciate everything in the camp, going through the hard days of training and when you’re sick of the dieting.

“I appreciate it all now because I really thought it was all over.

“I’ve done a lot less complaining.

“This last year I could have mostly sat at home feeling sorry for myself but I haven’t and I’ve got straight back to work.

“I’m coming back in a tough fight.”

Opponent Baumgardner has suffered one defeat in her 11 fight professional career and makes a significant step up to face Harper having not shared the ring with anyone of the 25-year-old’s calibre.

Though widely expected to emerge from the contest still holding her titles, Harper has pledged she will not overlook the American this weekend.

A long awaited clash potentially awaits with Mikaela Mayer, who beat Maiva Hamadouche last weekend in a thriller to unify the WBO and IBF world titles.

Such a fight would put Harper in rarified air at the elite of the sport, something she admits she would not have been entirely comfortable with in the past.

But in a year out of the ring, she says she has become much more self-assured and feels she has finally accepted she belongs at the top.

“The biggest thing for me is my mindset, my mental toughness,” she told the Free Press.

“I feel like one of the things that has always held me back both growing up and in boxing has always been my mindset and my confidence.

“During this time I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and reading a lot of books on mindset.

“I can honestly say it’s changed me as a person and I’ve got this whole new confidence.

“There is no arrogance, it’s just this new self-belief that I’ve got now that I’ve never really had before.

“I am seeing now that I do belong where I am. I used to think I was lucky to be in this position, not winging it but it was all too good to be true and it’s all going to get taken away from me.

“But it’s not and I’ve worked hard to be in this position and hopefully everyone can see that.”

Armed with the right mentality, Harper has also hugely developed her fitness as her working relationship with Sheffield-based sports scientist and boxing expert Danny Wilson has flourished.

“It’s been massive,” she said. “The numbers don’t lie. I’ve been hitting new PBs and the numbers are through the roof.

“Just comparing how fit I am for this one compared to the Choi camp, I’ve made a lot of improvement in that short space of time.

“It’s crazy what we’ve managed to do in just six months.

“It’s a great journey that I’m on with Danny and everyone at Boxing Science.

“I’m 25-years-old and I’m not even in my prime yet.”

Saturday night will represent a homecoming for Harper on a couple of fronts.

She returns to the venue where she claimed the prestigious WBC crown in February 2020.

But also being back in her home county allows for her passionate support out of Denaby to turn up in numbers once again.

“I had a lot of support during lockdown with everyone in the village getting behind me and watching it on TV,” she said.

“Now I’m excited that my first fight back is back at Sheffield Arena and everyone can get out and watch me in the flesh.

“It’s a bit of normality as well.

“The whole village I think will be there on the night and I think it’s going to be a great night.”

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.