Sykes relishing underdog status

Andrew Harrison
23/03/2016 4:32am

In an unforgiving professional career that has spanned more than a decade, Dewsbury’s Gary Sykes (28-4, 6 KOs) has only once faced odds as long as those he will look to defy on Saturday. In 2012, Sykes – a two-time British champion at junior lightweight - was hand-picked to face American Adrien Broner in Vegas for a fight that ultimately never came off. On Saturday, Sykes will look to gatecrash the domestic lightweight scene against come-backing 20-to-1 on favourite, Luke Campbell (12-1, 10 KOs) of Hull.  

“I love that, because it’s completely taken the pressure off me,” Sykes said of his long-shot tag from his home base in Yorkshire. “I like being the underdog. They just see me as a gimme. They probably think I’m over the hill. They see me as a gatekeeper but I’m going in there...I’m going to do a job.”

That job will involve playing to his strengths. While an argument could be made for Sykes to bull-rush Campbell early in a bid to his unsettle his highly-polished foe, Sykes, now under the stewardship of Sean O’ Hagan [father and coach of featherweight contender Josh Warrington], will be boxing to orders for the first time in a long while.

“That really isn’t my style, to rough people up and stand on their toes,” he admitted. “Even if it was the right gameplan, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I don’t like fighting dirty. We’ve got a gameplan and we’re going to be sticking to it.

“[It will be] an educated performance. A thorough, thought out gameplan. I didn’t even have a gameplan before. My balls would just get me through it but now as I’m getting older, I’m having to think more. I have to start listening and stop trying to do it my own way.”

Sykes’s long-time mentor Julian McGowan retired last year, after Sykes fell short in a British and Commonwealth title showdown against Norfolk’s Liam Walsh (Sykes was dropped hard in the opener but battled hard to go the distance). Frustrated at his charge’s loss of focus, McGowan walked away when Sykes subsequently accepted Campbell – who McGowan felt was all wrong for his man - as his comeback opponent (originally mooted for March 2015, the contest fell through).

“I was in a terrible place,” Sykes admitted. “I’m not one to fight just for the money, and that’s what it’d have been then. This camp’s been so good, so enjoyable, because I’ve been happy in it. That’s why I’ve got to win because I don’t want my career to be over now. It’s like I’ve been reborn again.

“I haven’t been in the sauna once! I used to live in the sauna. Live in it. The weight was just killing me. Every body shot that went in absolutely killed me. After the [Walsh] fight I thought ‘why didn’t I just stay down?’

“I’d always been with Julian and I think [the partnership] might have just passed its sell-by-date. I just stopped listening to him and now, I’m starting to really listen and understand what people are saying to me. It was a terrible performance against Walsh so I hope his new coach [Cuban Jorge Rubio] watches that and thinks that’s what I’m going to be like.”

Does Sykes feel that 2012 Olympic champion Campbell has made a successful transition to the pro ranks?

“Not 100%, no,” Sykes said. “I’ve heard he still goes up to Sheffield, sparring amateurs and I think ‘what’s the point?’ You need to be a seasoned pro and I think that’s what cut him short last time when he boxed [Yvan] Mendy. He was too amateurish.  (Campbell was dropped and outpointed by the rugged Frenchman just prior to Christmas).

“If I win, I’d pick up the Commonwealth belt, so I’d be defending it. I could maybe call out [WBA title-holder] Anthony Crolla – who I’ve beaten twice. [There’s current WBO title-holder] Terry Flanagan, who I think I was very unlucky against in Prizefighter. When I boxed those two, that was when I was a super-feather and they were both lightweights - so we’ll see what I’m like as a fully-fledged lightweight.”

Sykes said he was keen to get back into the mix with both men. “I’m seeing them whizzing past me in their careers and I’m thinking ‘I’m on their level - how are they getting all these shots while there’s me in darkness?’ I’ve been in darkness for, like, a year.”

Sykes hopes to step into the light this weekend. 32 now and a father of two, he’ll fight with the names of his daughters – Dolly and Layla – inscribed on his shorts. One either side of him. He’ll attempt to shock Campbell for them more than anyone.

“All I wanna do is – when I’ve finished – is have my achievements there for my kids to see what I did, why I gave sixteen years of my life up to the sport,” he said. “Money’s going to go but achievements will stay. That’s what it’s all about for me - picking up belts.

“This is my chance to make a stand now.”

Dewsbury, as ever, will be standing right behind him. 

Video credit: IFL TV.