South Yorkshire’s first female pro boxer ready to make history

Terri Harper
Terri Harper

A single speculative text message was all that was required to create a fresh milestone in the boxing annals.

Next Saturday night Terri Harper will make history with her professional debut at Doncaster’s Dome.

Terri Harper

Terri Harper

The first female pro boxer from her town. The first from her county.

And all it took for history to be made was one text, designed to tempt her back into the boxing ring.

“I brushed around on social media saying I was looking for a female but all I wanted was Terri to take the bait,” trainer, manager and promoter Stefy Bull said.

“But she never bit.

Terri Harper with trainer, manager and promoter Stefy Bull

Terri Harper with trainer, manager and promoter Stefy Bull

“Terri had been with us since the start of our amateur club, when we were in Mexborough and working with Paul Durose.

“I’ve seen her go from a kid to a grown woman.

“I’ve always known she was naturally gifted and she’d always spring to mind. I’d think ‘it’s such a shame to see so much talent going to waste.’

“I sent her a random text message out of the blue after Katie Taylor had boxed one night and said ‘don’t you ever think about it?’

“She sent a nice message back saying she’d been thinking of coming to see me for a long time.

“I think things were meant to happen. I’m a strong believer in things happening for a reason.

“That’s how it came together and we just got going pretty fast.”

In the space of a few short months, Harper has climbed back in the ring and readied herself for her debut.

She looks ready too.

Social media videos show her looking sharp and quick in training.

And when we meet at Bull’s new gym, just a few hundred yards from Harper’s home in Denaby Main, her vest shows off strong arms that will soon be put to good use.

The tattoo of a female boxer at the top of one of those arms shows a strong bond for the sport in which she will now ply her trade.

And it was the love of boxing that drew her back.

“I’ve always enjoyed boxing,” the 21-year-old said.

“I did it for years as an amateur but then I kind of fell out of love with it. I got a bit bored.

“But then I’d see it on the TV and think ‘I wish I was still doing it.’

“I was thinking about coming back for a while and then Bully messaged me.”

When Harper walked away from boxing at the age of 16, she appeared to be on the cusp of great things in the amateur ranks.

Already a three time national champion, a matter of weeks before calling it quits she had won a silver medal at the European Women’s Youth and Junior Championships in Poland, losing out in the final to a Russian fighter after some questionable judging.

British coaches had their eye on Harper. A future Olympic appearance was a distinct possibility.

She admits it all got a bit much at a time when she was finding herself.

Harper came out, started a relationship with a woman and got on with a life away from boxing.

She is now in the final year of a sports coaching degree at Sheffield Hallam University. She also works with children with autism and learning difficulties at Fullerton House School in Denaby.

In short, she has matured. She is a lot more sure of herself – even if she does remain shy in an interview scenario.

Harper is back in earnest.

“Terri, her dedication has been brilliant,” Bull said.

“She’s in the gym every day and she’s coming on leaps and bounds.

“For me, she’s the quiet one. She could be the future of women’s boxing.

“She’s 21. All the main pros about now are in the 30s and are going to be done in a few years.

“With Terri, I’m going to keep her in four rounders. I could take her up to ten or 15 fights doing that.

“She’ll learn her trade with me. No fast track. I’m going to take my time, let her develop and enjoy it.

“I’m quietly confident I can turn her into a star. She could be the face of women’s boxing.

“She’s got star quality.

“She can fight, she’s polite, she’s pretty and she’ll get on with anyone.

“I think if people do meet her, they’ll warm to her. And when they see her fight, they’ll be impressed.”

Her first chance to impress comes next Saturday night.

Bull has put together another strong card which features a couple of excellent ten round contests.

But Harper’s debut is undoubtedly the most intriguing piece of the fight night puzzle.

All eyes will be on her.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m nervous but I’m more excited than anything.

“I’ll be on my way to uni and I’ll just get butterflies thinking about it.

“I’m ready to get in the ring and experience it.

“I’m excited for the buzz and how the crowd gets behind you.

“And I’m excited to fight in front of people that never got to see me before.

“My old maths teacher from De Warrene has bought tickets.”

With more than 100 tickets sold personally for her debut, support is not something which Harper is lacking. All except one person.

“It’s only my Nan that doesn’t like it,” she said.

“She’s coming to terms with it though.

“All the family love it. Even my grandad wants to come and watch.

“I’m going to have a lot of support.”

I last interviewed Harper when she was 16, just after she had won her European silver medal.

Equally as quiet and shy, she spoke of emulating Nicola Adams, who had won her first Olympic gold medal earlier that year.

In the five years since, the landscape of women’s boxing has changed dramatically.

The amateur system is swamped with female fighters but it is in the pro ranks where the biggest impact is being made.

Adams is now a pro, along with several fellow former Olympians, who appear regularly on major boxing shows.

Leading the way is Ireland’s Katie Taylor, a phenomenally talented fighter who became world champion a fortnight ago on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s latest heavyweight title defence.

Such success has given Harper new aspirations.

“Since Nicola Adams at the 2012 Olympics, there’s loads more women in boxing,” she said.

“And now all the Olympians are going professional like Katie Taylor and Savannah Marshall. It’s inspirational.”

Bull breaks a moment of silence with a considerable claim.

“I truly think that Terri Harper can be a world champion. She will definitely fight for a world title.”

Bold, yet there should be no doubting the validity of Bull’s claims, particularly given the prizes he has guided his crop of boxers to over the past couple of years.

“If she was male I would saying she can be British champion at least with her natural ability,” he adds.

“Because there’s no British or European titles for the women, it’s straight up to world level and I think she’s good enough.

“It’s all about timing. She’s young. I’ll develop her and not rush it but she’s got all the attributes.”

I ask how such talk makes Harper feel. She answers in her typical low key manner.

“It makes me excited for the future,” she said quietly.

“I’m not going to rush anything.

“Sometimes I doubt myself and it’s nice for someone to say that.”

Once again, the future is in Harper’s hands. And history is attached to her name.

n Tickets are still available for the November 25 show at The Dome. Call 07976328015.