Gary Sykes is a Live Dog To Get Prizefighter Glory
By Dereck Bilton
If there has been a more competitive Prizefighter than Saturday's lightweight edition, then I must have missed it.
Eight fighters go to war in Liverpool to claim lightweight bragging rights - and not to mention the small matter of a cheque for £32,000 - live on Sky.
The field is an absolute cracker and fireworks look assured on Merseyside, where local hero Derry Matthews is the favourite at 5/2 for glory.
'Dirty' Derry is a veteran of the game even though he is just 29, and he has already made the final of a Prizefighter event - at super-featherweight in 2010.
His career looked dead in the water a couple of years ago but the popular Scouser regrouped and even reigned as British lightweight champion for a brief period earlier this year.
He has a great draw here too. Ranked against tournament outsider Jamie Spence first up, the 30-7-1 (16) Matthews then would meet the winner of the clash between Terry Flannigan and Liam P Walsh in the semi-finals. He'd be a betting favourite against either so the layers are keen to keep Derry onside.
Personally, though, I feel Matthews may be one to swerve.
He's had a long, arduous career and his nose in particular has shipped some horrendous punishment over the years. One wonders how it would hold up to three hell-for-leather fights off the belt in one night.
He's also lost two of his last three by stoppage so while he would unquestionably prove a popular winner I don't see him prevailing.
The afore-mentioned Flannigan and Walsh should put on a decent fight in the quarter-finals. Manchester man Flannigan is unbeaten in 15 starts as a pro but he is a career super-featherweight and he could be found wanting physically this weekend.
Walsh is a big fellow and he's also ambitious having lost just once in 11 starts (a shock reversal to Stuart Green earlier this year). Walsh really does live and breathe the game and I can see him leaving it all in the ring against Flannigan. If he can pin down the elusive Mancunian, he looks a great bet at 6/4 to make the last four.
Anthony Crolla is the British boss Matthews deposed in a shock back in April, and many are fancying the Joe Gallagher-trained stylist to breathe new life into his career by winning in Liverpool.
The 23-3 (9) Crolla has bags of skill and is a bona fide lightweight. However I am not sure how much that Matthews defeat has taken out of him and he looks plenty short to me at 11/4 especially given the fact he meets local darkhorse Stephen Jennings first up.
Jennings can bang, loves a tear-up and might just be inspired by a vociferous home crowd to cause a shock in the lower half of the draw, where Gary Sykes is also based.
Sykes is another former British champion and he already holds a win over Crolla (on points in 2009).
A smooth, fluent operator who was a top-class amateur, Sykes looked to be en route to Prizefighter glory in 2010 before being taken out in less than a minute by Gary Buckland in what was considered at the time a sensational upset (Buckland went on to beat Sykes again, on points, in a British title thriller a year later).
Those defeats have cost Sykes financially and in terms of career progression but a win this weekend would put him right back in the mix.
Unbeaten Hull youngster Tommy Coyle looks anything but a given for Gary first up, but if he can negotiate a path past that I feel he has the class and fitness to claim the spoils at the Olympia.