By Danny Winterbottom
On a slow Friday in May I’m chatting with the three time British super featherweight champion Gary Sykes shortly after his victory over Jon Kays had landed him a Lord Lonsdale belt for keeps.
Our conversation turns to the Civic Reception held in his honour by the Major of Dewsbury and the hundreds of ordinary working class folk who gave up their free time to celebrate his achievements in the ring.
Sykes recovered from a second round knockdown to slowly edge his way back into his see saw FOTY contender with Oldham’s Jon Kays in front of a partisan crowd at the Dewsbury Leisure Centre before a beautifully timed right hand and a barrage of blows suddenly brought an ending to the contest which had looked destined to go to the scorecards.
“The people of Dewsbury have been brilliant to me” said ‘Five Star’, who a couple of years ago was all set to fight Adrien Broner in Las Vegas for the WBO world title before the card fell through.
“The town has had a lot of bad press in the past so to be able to celebrate something like this is great because I am the first fighter from here to win a British title let alone win it outright.”
Dignitaries’ from the town mixed with boxing fans and Sykes’ friends and family on a day he will remember for ever.
“The Mayor of Dewsbury was there but I’m tellin’ ya now my bling was way better than his and the gold was real!” he joked.
Back in April 2013 Sykes and Kays had clashed for the first time, inside the Motorpoint Arena on the undercard to Amir Khan-Julio Diaz, and in the first defence of his second reign as champion Gary scored a wide 10 round points decision in a fight Sykes remembers as “easy”.
Fight number two in the battle between warriors from rival counties was anything but easy.
“Last time we fought I didn’t have a very good camp and I won the fight pretty handily. This time because I was fighting in front of my family and friends I trained fantastically well but the fight was twice as hard.”
Maybe Kays, a 31-year-old from Ashton-under-Lyne and a former champion himself, had raised his game from their first encounter?
“Yeah perhaps” pondered Sykes.
“But Julian (McGowan, Sykes trainer) has already told me if I’m involved in any more big fights they ain’t happening in Dewsbury because I let the occasion get to me!”
A sizeable crowd had packed into the Dewsbury Leisure Centre in anticipation of watching their hero’s coronation but after a lively opening round in which both men traded heavy blows, and Sykes suffered a cut from a clash of heads, the West Yorkshire man found himself tumbling backwards to the canvas when a cuffing left from Kays penetrated his defences in round two.
Not exactly the start Sykes had envisaged when he was waiting backstage as the crowd chanted his name and a specially arranged track by a local DJ boomed out over the P.A system.
“I was 100% not hurt by the punch” insisted Sykes, who appeared more off balance after trading shots than in any kind of trouble.
“But I was annoyed at myself because I had given away a 10-8 round on the cards and I needed to claw that back.”
Kays fought with gusto and Sykes had to dig deep as the pair traded blow for blow throughout the middle sessions.
The fight was perfectly poised going into the championship rounds and both fighters looked certain to have to endure a nail biting wait as the judges scores were tallied up at the end of a ferocious contest.
Then suddenly Sykes connected with a right hook followed by a barrage of blows and as quickly as a the crowd had readied themselves for a tense finish the fight was over as referee Mike Alexander waved it off with Kays in no position to defend himself.
“Two Judges had it level and I think one of them had me behind going into the last few rounds” said Sykes.
“I could feel his (Kays) legs getting weaker and I knew it was a close fight but I feel I would have taken those last few rounds and got a decision but I’m glad the ref stopped it when he did.”
Immediate reaction to the stoppage on Twitter was that Alexander’s intervention was too early and Kays should have been allowed a few seconds to gather himself after Sykes reigned numerous blows down on his head but landed few.
“If a referee lets a fight go on too long then they are on a hiding to nothing” countered Sykes.
“Then again if they stop it too early they get slated as well so it’s a job I wouldn’t like to do but from where I was his (Kays) eyes rolled back and his hands went down so I think it was a fair stoppage.”
The morning after the night before and a picture of Sykes clutching his Lonsdale Belt whilst sleeping appeared on Twitter. A set up picture perhaps but it emphasised just how much meaning the wonderful belt has to British fighters
“I can’t explain what it means to have this belt to keep at home for ever” said Sykes.
“I have been British and English champion before but you don’t get a belt to show off to people when you go to functions and things like that.
“I did a little speech at the Civic reception and I said that if I had to retire now I would retire happy because whatever I go on to achieve in boxing I will always have this belt to look at and think ‘I won that’
But Sykes hasn’t any plans to retire just yet as he will face unbeaten Commonwealth champion Liam Walsh on the huge Tyson Fury v Dereck Chisora undercard show at the Phones 4U Arena in Manchester on July 26.
Sykes’ British title and Walsh’s Commonwealth straps will be on the line in a much anticipated double championship clash.
“I will be back in the gym in the next few days to start our preparations for that fight” said Sykes
“I want a few days off from the gym because to be honest I am sick of it after training so hard for the Kays fight and I need to recharge my batteries.”
“Walsh is a very good fighter and he hasn’t tasted defeat yet. But he has been a bit inactive which will work in my favour although I am expecting a really hard fight but one in which I can pick up a nice new title belt!”