DEWSBURY boxer Gary Sykes is in a state of shock after having his British title opponent confirmed.
As part of a recent board agreement champion Gary Buckland had been ordered to defend his Lonsdale crown against Liverpool’s Stephen Smith, with 29-year-old Sykes being promised a shot at the winner.
Buckland, who snatched ‘Five-Star’ Sykes’ super-featherweight title in 2011, was a clear favourite.
But Smith, a former Commonwealth champion, stunned the nation last weekend delivering a devastating fifth-round knockout to capture Buckland’s belt.
Sykes, who trains out of Batley’s Central Boxing Club under the tutelage of trainer Julian McGowan, was “fully expecting” to meet Buckland or a fellow contender had the Welshman gone on to vacate the crown.
But it is now full steam ahead as the reigning English champion gears up for a September outing, ahead of the promised British title bout which “must” go ahead before the end of November.
“I didn’t see it coming, I would have put my house on (Gary) Buckland to beat (Stephen) Smith,” said Sykes.
“I thought the fight was pretty even and then ‘bang’ it was over. I suppose that is just boxing.
“From the minute that happened, though, I have been buzzing.
“I expected to fight Buckland or someone new, never did I imagine I would be taking on Smith – but I couldn’t care less. Nothing is going to stop me from getting that belt back.
“I have worked hard for two years since and I have had ups and downs, but I am so ready now. I am fully dedicated to winning the title outright.”
There is history between the pair, who were originally set to meet next month in an eliminator clash, as Smith took Sykes’ place in the England team ahead of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
‘Swifty’ Smith, with just one defeat to his name as a professional, went on to claim a coveted gold medal.
And 9st 4lbs star Sykes admits he would like to get one over his former international amateur teammate.
“It would be nice to beat Smith, of course, and there is a little added spice about the fight for sure,” he admitted.
“But I do not want to read into all of that too much as that is in the past. My main focus is on the belt and nothing more.”
According to trainer McGowan, his fighter is taking preparations to a “whole new level”, with sparring planned against lightweight world champion Ricky Burns.
“We are going out of our comfort zone for this fight. We are going to train alongside some of the country’s best like we did a few years ago when Gary was the champion,” added McGowan.
“We have three days of sparring planned for Gary and it is going to be brutal, but I am sure he is relishing the challenge and the experience.”
By Ryan Sparks