Adam Harper made an unexpected return from retirement and now targets Britain's biggest names
By Ed Draper
Last Updated: 06/04/20 3:08pm
It's been a strange 18 months for English super welterweight champion Adam Harper, writes Ed Draper.
In September 2018, Harper defeated Billy Bird on points to win the English title in his 10th professional fight, was then offered a British title shot, before abruptly retiring after an adverse brain scan.
The Tewkesbury boxer then announced his comeback after doctors ran deeper tests, only for the coronavirus crisis to kibosh the return.
In the beginning of the emotional episode, with the euphoria of becoming English champion in Essex still present, it looked like more glory was close at hand.
"I had a big title fight lined up against Kieran Smith, a very, very good Scottish fighter. It was for the WBC international title," Harper told Sky Sports.
"The day before I ended up retiring, I was then offered the (Ted) Cheeseman fight [for the British title]. Matchroom didn't know I'd failed a brain scan and when you're turning down British title fights, I knew it was time to retire and make it public."
After the jubilation of his biggest breakthrough, Harper, who credits boxing for saving him from his homeless and errant teen years, had to close the door on his dream. But he quickly reached some kind of peace.
"I was quite content in retirement," he said. "Very upset, albeit. But content."
A few months later though came a dramatic turn of events. Harper never met his father and had been estranged from his mother for much of his adult life, but when she fell ill with a bleed on the brain, it led to a twist in his boxing tale.
"She's been poorly on and off since I've been 15 or 16. She got ill again in the summer  and it just made me paranoid about my own health. So, I got all my details for my brain scans over the years and then I realised what was there in 2019 was there in 2014 [the year he made his pro debut]."
Harper then went to see an expert for a full review, underwent cognitive testing and an examination in Liverpool, which he passed "with flying colours."
He was then re-issued with a boxing licence, but still there was the decision over whether he would, or should, fight again. Two people had Harper's ear in those key moments. His girlfriend did not want him to, but the deciding vote lay with Harper's big brother, Michael.
"He gave me his blessing to carry on fighting, which is a big thing for me. My brother's the only real family member I have a real relationship with. I never met my dad. My brother's opinion was massive. He's almost a brother, a dad and best friend rolled into one. If he'd have said he wouldn't have supported me, I'd still be retired now."
So Harper's comeback was scheduled for Sunday, April 12 against 40 year-old journeyman Kevin McCauley (15-207-12).
"It was going to be a bit strange I'm good friends with Kev and we're both managed by Errol Johnson," Harper said.
There were already more significant fights on the horizon for Harper too as he planned to re-enter a stacked domestic scene at 11 stone.
"There was talk of Cheeseman, Scott Fitzgerald (British champion) was going to have a warm up fight before his rematch with Anthony Fowler, so I put my name in the hat for that. I spoke to Eddie Hearn myself and then he offered me Kieron Conway on the May 2 undercard of Dillian Whyte (v Alexander Povetkin, now rescheduled to July 4)"
So, who's top of the agenda when normality and boxing returns?
"I want to go in with the big guns. Whether that's Fitzgerald, Fowler, Cheeseman."
While he does not expect punters to back him in any of those match-ups, 31 year-old Harper is not just chasing pay days.
"You don't have to sugar coat it to me. I know I'd be a massive underdog. Fowler had a long amateur career, went to the Olympics and is in great shape all the time. Fitzgerald, I sparred with him in Preston when I was at University up there and I'm not going to lie to you, he got the better of me, but he doesn't live the life."
Harper has accepted he will not be blasting his contemporaries away, but backs his boxing skills.
"It's well documented I haven't had a knock out at 11 stone. I don't bring huge power. But on my day, I think I could beat any of these guys. Even it means me having my best day and them having a bad day, I could beat any of them.
"I truly believe that whether that be Fitzgerald, Fowler, Cheeseman or Conway. I think me vs Cheeseman is a fight of the year candidate and I think I can beat him."
To back-up his braggadocio, Harper points out his only professional loss came in a hastily arranged Commonwealth title tilt versus Michael Zerafa in Australia. That defeat by unanimous decision has improved with age as Zerafa holds a win over Jeff Horn, the former WBO welterweight champion, and the Melbourne man also took Kell Brook the distance.
He may be confident, but like so many boxers, Harper's future is shrouded in uncertainty in the current lockdown.
"I was rocking and rolling, all ready to go for Easter Sunday, but then, obviously, the coronavirus came and knocked it back. I'm in no man's land again. I'm still running every day. But, yeah, it's been unbelievable."
The global pandemic has also put pay to Harper's day job - coaching boxing to wayward schoolboys in Telford, Shropshire. It's a role that's reminded him of how the sport helped turn his life around.
"It's really rewarding working with these boys. I really believe it [boxing] will give them the work ethic and the attitude to do whatever they want in life. Whatever they do, I tell them whatever they put in, they'll get out. Their home life, their decisions, their behaviour all seem to be improving."
I didn't really get the chance to leave on my terms.
Harper is seeing out the lockdown at his girlfriend's parents' house, painting and decorating to repay their hospitality. But he continues running - six miles in 38 minutes in a recent effort - and you sense that however long the coronavirus crisis continues, the wait will not diminish his appetite for a boxing return.
"Financially, I don't need to box for money. You don't make a lot of money. I didn't really get the chance to leave on my terms. I knew there was a little bit of blood left in the stone I wanted to get out. I'm going to say five fights maximum."