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Boxing: Adam Harper attempts to gain Commonwealth light-middleweight crown


There are warm underdogs, there are rank outsiders and there’s Adam Harper – a man who tomorrow attempts to pull off one of the biggest upsets since David got lucky against Goliath.

Harper, trained in Acocks Green, faces the greatest test of his brief, unbeaten eight-fight career. The 29-year-old will attempt to gain the Commonwealth light-middleweight (11st) crown. And he’s doing it the hard way.

To date his stiffest test has been against Chelmsley Wood’s Ryan Kelly, a war that earned the Tewkesbury-born teacher his first significant title.

Now Harper has shimmied the rungs of boxing’s world ratings with such audacious vigour it’s a wonder the fighter – considered something of a loner in the game – isn’t suffering nose bleeds.

Consider the odds stacked against Harper:

* He has travelled on his own to Melbourne for his big chance

* He has not fought for nine months

* The man he faces is thunderous puncher from Down Under, Michael Zerafa, a Pan Pacific champ who has lost only twice in 24 contests – and one of those was to world champ Peter Quillin.

* Australia has something of a reputation for blinkered judging when it comes to its own fighters. If Harper is to win on points, he must do so very clearly.

Add to the mix the fact Zerafa – more powerful and much more experienced – has campaigned at middleweight and you have the ingredients for a very hard night for Adam.

Will someone please put forward a logical argument for a British victory.

We can hope tattooed Zerafa, who wears the moniker “Pretty Boy” on his shorts, is, at 11st, not the force he was, that the hype does not match the substance.

Harper may not carry dynamite in both fists, but his self-belief is stronger than steel. It needs to be.

He’s made regular calls since arriving Down Under, always with the same message: “I’m going to win this, Mike. I’m in the best shape of my life. He’s under-estimated me. I’ve just got to avoid those big punches for the first four rounds.”

Harper may have performed some kind telephonic hypnotism, but I’m actually beginning to believe him. So is the rest of the Lockley household: for the first time, my wife has placed a bet on a Harper win.

One thing’s for sure, he revels in the status of an underdog and feeds off the big-fight atmosphere.

He should have been rattled when original opponent and titleholder Anthony Buttigieg was forced to pull out through injury. Buttigieg looked beatable.

The replacement, Zerafa, is a much more formidable proposition and the 25-year-old is oozing confidence over the outcome.

He told Ringside: “I think it’s a great opportunity and will be a great fight. He’s tough and I respect him, but I don’t believe he’s at my level.

“I believe my speed and power will be a huge factor in the fight. I’ve seen a lot on him and know he has a great workrate and he’s a pressure fighter but, again, I’m a different fighter, with power, speed, angles and high workrate, also. Huge respect to Harper, he has a huge heart and that’s what it’s all about.”

He denied boiling down to 11st will leave him drained. “I was originally at light-middleweight but chased bigger fights so went to middleweight.”

Those words have been distilled into a positive by Adam.

“I’m a lot more than workrate and power,” he said. “I haven’t had this feeling for so long and, my God, I’ve missed it! Roll on Friday night when I get to tear up the script and shove it up everyone who’s written me off again.

“I’ve always wished for these big, big fights and now I finally have one. Name me another fighter who’s doing what I’m doing.

“There’s no coverage, no big-time backing. The underdog story continues and now I’m ready to face and beat 22-2 Aussie superstar Zerafa for this title.

“I’ve trained far too hard for a change of opponent to bother me. Line them up and I will have a crack! Mark my words, you’ll be hearing, ‘and the new…’”

Harper is certainly not being written off by his old trainer, former tungsten-tough light-welter and welterweight contender Malcolm Melvin.

He said: “I wish Adam well, I’ve told him to leave the ring with no regrets. He certainly sounds confident and it is a massive opportunity.”

I picked Harper to lose to Kelly and was left with egg on my face.

This time, with the prospect facing a mountain to climb, I’m more hesitant over dismissing his chances.

His self-belief has had a greater effect than the bookies’ odds. And, remember, Harper takes a good shot.

I, therefore, believe two scenarios may unfold: Harper gains a clear points win or Harper does enough to win but fails to get a fair shake of the stick: robbery on the road cannot be discounted.

But predictions have to be made on the basis the playing field is level. Therefore, it’s Harper on points.

One shot from Zefara, however, could scramble Harper’s senses – and leave my mush again plastered in scrambled egg.

* Craig Cunningham tested the waters of true world class and found them too deep, dropping a lopsided decision to former WBA interim light-middle Jack Culcay.

Culcay, making his debut as a full middle, won last Saturday’s eight-rounder in Guetersloh, Germany, beyond doubt.

Germany has gained something of a reputation for doling out generous decisions to its own, but this was not a victory of the “home-town” variety.

Culcay simply seemed to want it more than the tough Birmingham southpaw, although judge Daniela Otten’s shut-out score of 80-70 seemed unduly harsh on the visitor.

Arnold Golger and Timo Habighorst’s tallies of 78-75 and 79-73, respectively, was more in keeping with the action that unfolded before them.

In many ways, 30-year-old Cunningham’s performance mirrored his last outing – a November points loss to Lukas Ndafoluma.

He found it hard to discover top gear, hard to pull the trigger and, at times, seemed near resigned to his lot.

This was a long way from the Cunningham who overwhelmed Ryan Aston in a war or upset the odds by demolishing Anthony Ogogo.

There was little spite on display – and that is a concern. Manager Jon Pegg offered no excuse afterwards. He, like honest Cunningham, have taken defeat on the chin.

Facing 32-year-old Culcay was always a gamble and, as is usually the case, the bookies got it right.

Pegg, who was not in Cunningham’s corner, said: “Craig wasn’t out of his depth, he was always in there, but there was no fire in his belly. He told me afterwards he could see the shots coming.

“I’d say Craig lost by five rounds to two with one even. There were close rounds where Craig could have put his foot down but didn’t.

“I think his fire has been dampened since the Ogogo fight through matches falling through and all the disappointment that goes with it. You can’t get it back easily.

“I’ve told him to take a few months off and see how he feels.”

Those comments sound as if the Eastside fighter is seriously considering his future. Cunningham lost for the third time in 22 contests, while Culcay now sports a 23-3 record.


Source : BirminghamMail

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