By Danny Winterbottom
In his quietly spoken Yorkshire tones, Dewsbury super featherweight Gary Sykes is telling me about the moment his trainer Julian McGowan broke the news that he was in line to face American hot prospect and WBO world champion Adrien Broner on May 19 in Las Vegas, news that left him momentarily speechless.
“Julian rang me up. I hadn’t been in the gym for a while but he said he had something to tell me. At first I thought he was gonna say Derry Mathews had got an injury and I was fighting Crolla but when he said Broner I was stunned.”
Reeling from the pain of defeat and the upset of losing his Lonsdale Belt to Welshman Gary Buckland back in September of last year, Sykes took six months off before returning in March against Journeyman Dean Mills, a man who unwittingly is somewhat of a lucky charm for the former amateur standout.
“I should box Dean more often, last time I fought him I then got my shot at the British belt against Andy Morris and now after boxing him in March I get a world title fight!! ” joked Sykes
He added “My main focus in the Buckland rematch was to prove to myself he couldn’t knock me out again (Buckland took Sykes unbeaten record with a first round knockout in Prizefighter). I lost the plot and just went to war with him. I wasn’t doing anything we had worked on in the gym, just having a tear up. He caught me with some good shots but all the time I was thinking, how the hell did you knock me out?”
Boxing has a funny way of suddenly and without warning launching a fighter into the bright glare of a big fight occasion but after losing his domestic crown and facing months of rebuilding work to get back into title contention this out of the blue chance is a real shot in the arm, and fights don’t come much bigger than a Las Vegas world title show down against a highly touted young American star, but the 28-year-old former British champion is adamant he only has one thing on his mind.
“I’m going over there to win, definitely” said Sykes. “I never enter into a fight thinking I can’t win, I’ve got one thing on my mind and that’s an upset.”
22-year-old Broner from Cincinnati, Ohio, has looked pretty much flawless in his last couple of outings since labouring to a 10 round point’s decision over Mexican knockout artist Daniel Ponce De Leon in March last year, but it is the daunting task of trainer McGowan to find weaknesses for Sykes to exploit.
“I haven’t seen too much of Broner” admitted Sykes. “Julian will be showing me loads of tapes of him this week. I’m not much of a technician; I always find the best qualities in fighters so I leave it up to Julian to pick up on any faults.”
Fighting abroad can through up a host of complications for a team unfamiliar with competing on another continent, so Sykes sought the advice of veteran promoter Frank Maloney during a recent sparring session.
“I was going to go over to Vegas a week before but Frank said I would be better getting there two weeks prior to the fight to get used to the conditions and shake off any jet lag. They will be banking on me having not prepared properly but we want to do this the right way.”
Ever since rumours about his chance of a lifetime began to circulate Sykes says he has had to endure a surprising amount of criticism from what he calls “Arm chair fans”, but the real life of a prize-fighter and the reality of paying your way in life made his decision an easy one.
“There are people out there, keyboard warriors, who have never been in my position and don’t know what it is like trying to make a living out of this business so when a chance like this comes along I was never going to turn it down, it’s the biggest pay day of my career.”
In recent years there has been a trend for British fighters going over to the home of some of the world’s best in surprise chances and against the odds. John Murray’s brave attempt to duke it out with lightweight star Brandon Rios, Ryan Rhodes overdue world title tilt against the formidable Saul Alvarez and now Gary Sykes gets his dream to fight in Las Vegas in front of a worldwide audience and he admits the thought of it has begun to consume his every waking minute.
“I thought it wouldn’t come off, but now it’s confirmed as being for the WBO belt I can’t stop thinking, dreaming about it. I woke up in the middle of the night with it on my mind and no doubt it will get even worse the closer the fight gets.”
Often sport is about fulfilling your dreams and ambitions, weather you’re a footballer who wants to play at Wembley or a boxer who dreams of having his name up in lights on the Vegas strip. Come May 19 Gary Sykes can say he did it.
“This is my world cup final. Win, lose or draw I can look back in years to come and say I fought a good champion in Vegas for a world title. It doesn’t get much better than that.”