Terri Harper continued the invasion of former junior lightweights ruling the 154-pound division.
A brilliant performance was turned in by the 25-year-old Harper, who became a two-division titlist following a ten-round, unanimous decision win over Hannah Rankin. Scores of 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93 all landed in favor of Harper who claims the WBA/IBO junior middleweight titles in Saturday’s DAZN co-feature from Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, England.
Harper contended throughout the buildup to be the bigger fighter—literally and figuratively—despite moving up three weight divisions. That move came only after beginning to compete at lightweight after her WBC/IBO junior lightweight title reign came to an end in a knockout loss to Alycia Baugardner last November in Sheffield.
The pre-fight weigh-in saw Harper reveal a muscular frame, weighing a career-high 152 pounds though still 1.4 pounds lighter than Rankin who sought to make the second defense of her WBA/IBO title reign. The 25-year-old from Denaby Main imposed her will early, working her jab and punching in combination. The effects were immediate, as Rankin was left with swelling around her left eye.
Rankin looked to take the lead in round two, pumping her jab and attempting to rough up Harper on the inside. The tactic enjoyed mild success, though a right hand by Harper opened a cut over Rankin’s already swollen left eye. Blood dripped along Harper’s shoulder blade and back as the two fought through a clinch on the inside.
Harper mixed up her attack in rounds three and four, boxing smartly during the moments when Rankin stalked and landing with conviction when able to draw the defending titlist in desired punching range. Rankin let her hands go whenever the two were at close quarters, though not before Harper buried a jab in her face.
Rankin fought through a stream of blood in round five, standing her ground and forcing Harper to box from the outside. Harper was fine with the distance, popping the Scot with a left hook and right hand from long range. Rankin enjoyed success with a similar combination once drawing Harper inside.
A much-needed momentum shift came for Rankin in round seven. Harper was still successful with her right hand but was caught coming in as Rankin connected with a right hand of her own. The sequence left Harper with reddening under her left eye and with moments of retreat as Rankin aimed to go on the attack.
Harper returned to boxing in round eight, offering constant movement as Rankin went on the hunt. The slowed action paved the way for a furiously paced round nine, which began with Harper shooting a right hand down the middle. Rankin didn’t flinch, cutting off the ring in hopes of landing a game-changing punch. Harper never bit, circling around the defending titlist and defending well against Rankin’s straight right.
Harper closed the show in style, asserting her dominance in the tenth and final round. Rankin sensed a knockout was needed, but it was Harper who connected with the more telling blows. The final 30 seconds saw Harper switch to southpaw, cracking Rankin with a left hand at close quarters to put an exclamation point on a brilliant performance.
“This year was supposed to be a learning experience year,” noted Harper after improving to 13-1-1 (6KOs). “This opportunity came and we had to take it.”
Rankin’s brief reign comes to a close as she falls to 12-6 (3KOs).
Harper joins former 130-pound rival Natasha Jonas on the 154-pound title stage. Jonas moved up in weight earlier this year, claiming the vacant WBO belt in a second-round knockout of Chris Namus and then winning the WBC belt in a ten-round decision over Patricia Berghult earlier this month.
The win by Harper could set up a potential rematch with Jonas, against whom she fought to a ten-round draw to defend her WBC/IBO junior lightweight titles in their sensational August 2020 battle in Brentwood, Essex.
Headlining the show, Maxi Hughes (25-5-2, 5KOs) defends his IBO lightweight title against former IBF featherweight titlist Kid Galahad (28-2, 17KOs), who moves up in weight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox