Sykes up for more
The British lightweight scene is buzzing. Anthony Crolla and Terry Flanagan are both 'world' title-holders, holding the WBA and WBO belts respectively. The likes of Ricky Burns and Kevin Mitchell are established and exciting ticket sellers. Luke Campbell, Tommy Coyle and Scott Cardle are all younger fighters with different styles and appeal with a future. And boxers like Derry Matthews, Sean Dodd and Ohara Davies add an air of unpredictability from world to domestic level. Yet Gary Sykes, a former British super-featherweight champion, seems to have been lost in the shuffle since moving up to 135lbs. “I’ve not had any fight news for a while and it’s been really pissing me off,” Sykes told Boxing Monthly.
“I’ve taken a little bit of time off, being doing some odd jobs with Christmas coming up, but I got a phone call from my manager, Steve Wood. I’ll probably be on a show in February, or Josh Warrington’s next bill. If Warrington’s bills in March, I’ll just do both. Go on in February with a six-rounder, then something big.
“If something came up, I could get back down to super-featherweight, but it’s a real struggle. Unless there’s a title then there’s no way I want to kill myself getting down to it. But if a title chance arose I reckon I could go for it. I was weak as hell in my last fight [at 130lbs]. I’d need to get a nutritionist on board. Liam Walsh [who beat Sykes on a unanimous decision for the vacant British super-featherweight title], I think he’s under-rated.
“Ideally, I want any lightweight, anybody. Even people like Ricky Burns. Kevin Mitchell and Luke Campbell, because they lost, might want to take me as a comeback fight, might see me as a soft touch, that’s an option. Anyone, for any kind of belt. I want to pick some belts up.”
And a rematch with Walsh at his new weight appeals. “I just didn’t listen to my coaches anymore and I’ve moved gyms. That was the worst performance of my career. I don’t want to take anything away from Liam Walsh because he’s a great, great kid, but if it came again at lightweight I’d take that one. Things are different now”.
At 31, Sykes (28-4, 6 KOs) is upfront about his career. “I’m not taking anything for granted. I know I’ve not got much left. I want to do as much as I can in the short time I’ve got.“
It’s worth remembering that Sykes was once lined up to fight Adrian Broner in 2012 for the brash American’s newly acquired WBO super-featherweight belt. Yet the fight, seemingly all set to go, never transpired.
“That’s the way my career’s gone,” Sykes told BM. “Everything that’s supposed to happen has fallen through at the last minute and I think I’m due a break. When you play football as a kid, you dream of playing at Wembley. When you’re a boxer, you dream of Vegas and that’s what it was. Five days to go [it was cancelled]. I was in the best shape of my life, physically and mentally.
“I was training on fear because he was the top dog. I was training out of my skin, the best I’ve ever trained, and not being able to fight. I was gutted because I didn’t get to see how good I was.
“Financially, it was crippling, all that for nothing,” Sykes continued. “I was on all the best nutrition. You don’t get anything back [money wise]. I was hoping the promoter would sort something else out but it didn’t happen.”
Perhaps more pertinent to the future of both Sykes and the lightweight scene, however, is the fighter holding a 2-0 record over Crolla and that he lost a disputed split decision to Flanagan in a Prizefighter tournament.
“I’ve got [Crolla’s] number,” said Sykes. “The second time I beat him, he’d moved to Joe Gallagher’s gym and people were saying he was going to beat me. I beat him easier than the first time.
“[Flanagan] in my opinion, he’s the best lightweight out there. But in Prizefighter, the audience, the TV viewers, 76% thought I won it.”
Yet despite perhaps not getting the recognition he feels he deserves, Sykes is philosophical.
“I don’t think I’ve been given the chance. I think because I’m from a town like Dewsbury, there are no pros around here,” he told BM. “In Manchester, there’s a big group of them. That’s going for them, they’ve got good stables.”
But West Yorkshire is having something of a boom time for boxing and Sykes is now reaping the rewards.
“I’m being trained by Sean O’Hagan [Josh Warrington’s father and trainer] and been doing some one-on-one stuff with Mike Hurley,” said Sykes. “There’s me, Josh and Maxi Hughes all in the gym. That’s three quality boxers.”
Boxing has a funny habit of rewarding fighters when it’s least expected. In a region rediscovering it’s passion for the sport, in a weight class as exciting as it’s been in some time, perhaps Gary Sykes can finally get the break his talent and dedication deserve.