Rarely in life are we afforded the chance to revisit and then rewrite our greatest regrets. Dewsbury dynamo Gary Sykes is presented with just such an opportunity at the Ponds Forge Arena in Sheffield on Saturday evening, when he reunites with the man who knocked him senseless a little shy of a year ago.
An ill-advised entry into an eight-man elimination tournament contested over a series of three-rounders forced Sykes to abandon his usual identity in order to scrap with an opponent more adept at close quarter skirmishing. After sauntering past veteran Scott Lawton, Sykes butted heads with Cardiff bull Gary Buckland, who gored him with a mighty right clout in the opening minute. It was a shocking demise.
Sykes escaped with his British junior lightweight crown cock-eyed and misshapen yet intact, due to having been crushed just outside of the division’s limit. Dusting down his shorts, Sykes rebounded in March with a hard fought decision win over Leeds puncher Carl Johanneson, during which he had to clamber up from the floor after being crunched again in the bout’s final third. After a subsequent gimme against Bulgarian no-hoper Valentin Stoychev, the British Boxing Board of Control demanded he face Buckland once more, offering him the chance to either redeem or relive a most painful defeat.
Buckland is in fine fettle, and on a resurgent run of his own after taking a frightful pasting from John Murray last summer. After capitalising on the Sykes knockout with a stoppage victory over “Dirty” Derry Matthews in the competition’s finale, Buckland has since outpointed Venezuelan and Mexican trial horses respectively, Oscar Chacin and Jose Roberto Gonzalez.
Sykes, 19-1 (5), will almost certainly look to box with care through the opening rounds, sticking his man while circling to his right and away from danger. Both he and trainer Julian McGowan will have plotted to overhaul Buckland down the stretch using energetic and precise raids. Buckland, 23-2 (8), meanwhile, no slouch himself, will get in the champion’s grill from the get-go, harrying and hooking in an attempt to panic the older man into a mistake. Training under Tony Borg, and alongside the big noise from last week, Lee Selby, Buckland will be brimming with confidence that he can walk through Sykes once again.
Oddsmakers have posted Buckland as the early favourite, which makes good sense, even if it looks a little starling at first glance; rarely, though, do fighters overturn knockout defeats. The Welshman can be backed at 4/6 whereas Sykes is beginning to narrow into 11/10 (from 11/8), in a match that is starting to feel almost too close to call.
Sykes can expect raucous support from the Yorkshiremen in attendance, yet Buckland can be viewed as the house fighter, boxing as he does under host Hatton Promotions. In a furious affair, one to leave punch statisticians gasping for air, Sykes can just about nick a tight decision, winning more rounds if not more exchanges. Perhaps then, the picture above can begin to fade for him.