Gary Sykes will be fondly remembered as one of the greatest sportsmen Dewsbury has produced.
Born and raised on the Dewsbury Moor estate, Sykes fought against huge odds to become a two-times British champion and featured on some huge shows across the country.
Sykes has announced his retirement after 17 years in the sport and believes the time was right for to hang up his gloves.
Sykes said: “I didn’t want to bow out with people remembering me for losses, I want them to remember me for the good fights I was in.
“When I turned pro I never believed I could become a British champion but that changed when I beat Anthony Crolla in our first fight.
“It was a memorable occasion, it was the first time I had weighed in for a fight the day before and after refuelling, I felt strong. After the fight I thought I could have done another 10 rounds.”
Sykes’s career, and life, was catapulted beyond his dreams on March 5 2010 when he beat Andy Morris to become Dewsbury’s first British boxing champion.
The 32-year-old said: “When people ask me the highlight of my career it was the moment the announcer said those words ‘From Dewsbury’ and I knew I become British champion.
“Things snowballed and it became a big ride as I was given a civic reception and went to meet then met then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“The Morris fight was definitely among the best nights of my career but another that stands out is beating Carl Johanneson. He was a big punching super featherweight and had put me down when we sparred.
“It was a fantastic night and a big show in Huddersfield and I was put down in the ninth round but got up and went on to win.”
Prior to the Johanneson fight, Sykes had entered the Prizefighter super featherweight tournament, when he was handed a first defeat of his career by Gary Buckland.
Sykes recalled: “The knock-out to Buckland was the turning point in my career as I suddenly knew I wasn’t invincible.
“When I met Buckland for my British title I wanted to prove that I could take his best shots and although I came on strong later in the fight, I left myself too much to do.”
Despite his defeat to Buckland in September 2011, Sykes appeared to have been handed a dream shot at a world title the following May.
He was due to fight WBO World title holder Adrien Broner in Las Vegas on the undercard to Amir Khan’s fight, until Khan’s opponent Lamont Peterson failed a drugs test and the show collapsed.
Sykes said: “When young footballers are growing up, they dream one day of walking out at Wembley.
“My dream was to fight in Las Vegas but that chance was snatched away from me.”
Having had his dream world title shot cancelled, Sykes took part in the Prizefighter Lightweight competition where he recorded victories over Tommy Coyle and inflicted a second defeat on Manchester’s Crolla.
Sykes was eventually edged out by in the final by Terry Flanagan, although many pundits felt the Dewsbury man had done enough to win.
He moved back down to super featherweight and captured the English title, beating Kevin Hooper in Cleethorpes before returning to the big stage with a successful defence against Jon Kays at the Sheffield Arena.
Sykes said: “I’ve been lucky enough to fight on some big bills, while Tyson Fury, Carl Frampton and George Groves have all fought an my undercards.”
Two-and-a-half years after losing his British title, Sykes was handed another shot at the coveted Lonsdale Belt when he met Kays in Dewsbury.
Sykes said: “I was paid less for that fight than any of my other title fights but I wasn’t bothered I fought in my home town and it is something I’m glad I did.
“Again I started the fight slowly but came good in the end, although I’m still annoyed that I’m not recognised as an outright winner of the Lonsdale belt.”
Sykes suffered a horrific injury following the Kays fight, which saw him require part of a finger amputated but, in true warrior spirit, he battled back and met Liam Walsh at London’s ExCel Arena.He said: “It was another big bill, with Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora topping it. I was disappointed with my performance on the night but it now looks like Walsh is in line to fight for a World title.”
Sykes moved up to lightweight and met former Olympic Gold Medallist Luke Campbell in March but suffered a second round stoppage for the Commonwealth title.
Sykes said: “If I’m honest, my big regret is that I’ve probably burned the candle at both ends and I’ve not gone back into the gym straight after a fight.
“I have been humbled by all the messages on Twitter and Facebook, with fellow boxers and fans leaving messages.
“I would like to stay in boxing and help give something back but I have also been offered a job in designing by one of my sponsors Mick Keith.”
Two Page special on Sykes’s career, including tributes, career stats and pictures in Thursday’s Batley News, Dewsbury Reporter and Spenborough Guardian.