Terri Harper found a way to turn a negative into a positive.
The two-division and reigning WBA junior middleweight titlist successfully turned away the challenge of former welterweight titleholder Ivana Habazin to earn a ten-round, unanimous decision. Harper won by scores of 98-92, 97-93 and 97-93 in their DAZN-aired title fight Saturday evening from AO Arena in Manchester, England.
Both fighters seemed comfortable in the ring early despite both accepting the fight on short notice. Harper was due to face former longtime undisputed welterweight champ and pound-for-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus, who woke up ill on the morning of their canceled title fight last Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.
Habazin answered the call, with the fight confirmed just this past Sunday. The 33-year-old from Zlatar, Croatia was training with two-division champ Katie Taylor (22-1, 6KOs) and previously linked to a title challenge of lineal and unified welterweight queen Jessica McCaskill before stepping up to challenge for Harper’s WBA 154-pound title.
Harper enjoyed early success, largely behind her jab as Habazin was slow to find her offensive groove. It didn’t take long, however, for Habazin to establish who was the more experienced and physically bigger fighter. Harper–a former WBC junior lightweight titlist—struggled to fend off the former IBF welterweight beltholder, who was able to time the defending titlist coming in.
Both boxers enjoyed separate moments of success in round three. Harper landed a combination as Habazin briefly stumbled, though at least partially caused by her tripping over Harper’s foot. Habazin rallied back in a hurry and landed a clean left hook upstairs.
Habazin carried over that momentum into round four. Harper used more lateral movement as Habazin continued to land the more telling blows, particularly with her right hand as Harper attempted to jab her way inside.
Harper found the separation necessary in round five onward to minimize Habazin’s heavier blows. Constant movement and a steady jab allowed Harper to control the tempo and distance. Habazin was unable to capitalize when Harper opted to stand in the pocket and initiate exchanges, as the defending titlist was quicker to the draw. Habazin was wide and wild with her power shots, which Harper exploited and timed with sharp right hands upstairs.
Despite her success at close range, Harper was urged by career-long trainer and manager Stefy Bull urged his charge to fight smart and not provide any opportunity for an upset. Harper took the advice to heart but found comfort in leaning on Habazin and ripping off right hands and uppercuts. Habazin was able to enjoy minor success during those moments, though nothing close to turning the tide and erasing the scorecard deficit.
Habazin fell to 21-5 (7KOs) as she has lost two of her last three starts. She lost every round in a January 2020 junior middleweight title challenge of unbeaten pound-for-pound queen Claressa Shields and had just one fight in between her title bids.
Harper advanced to 14-1-1 (6KOs) and lodged the first defense of the WBA junior middleweight title she won in a ten-round decision over Hannah Rankin last September 24 in Nottingham. Harper is now 4-1-1 in major title fights spanning two weight divisions and has gone the distance in each of her last three fights all above the junior lightweight limit since a stunning November 2021 knockout defeat to Alycia Baumgardner to end her 130-pound title reign.
Headlining the show, Leigh Wood (26-3, 16KOs) aims to regain his WBA featherweight title and avenge a knockout loss at the hands of Mauricio Lara (26-2-1, 19KOs), who was grossly overweight and forced to vacate the belt.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox