Sykes saves career with title triumph

IT SIMPLY could not end on England’s east coast.

At the age of 29, Gary Sykes had claimed his career would be over unless he could end the unbeaten record of Kevin Hooper – in what the Grimsby boxer billed the fight of his life.

And last Friday the Dewsbury boxer allayed fears of a premature conclusion at Cleethorpes’ Beachcomber Club, clinching a unanimous points victory in addition to the previously vacant English super-featherweight title.

Despite being installed as the underdog, Grimsby’s Hooper was backed by almost 500 fans but they could do little to deter Sykes as an apparent gulf in quality quickly became a reality.

‘Five-Star’ thwarted threats of a potentially disastrous defeat during the opening rounds, hammering his inexperienced opponent with frightening power and speed.

Hooper, competing for the first time at 9st 4lbs, battled back to dominate the middle rounds.

But the 28-year-old was left clinging on as former British champion Sykes, seeking a knockout, upped the ante during the latter stages of the 10-round contest.

Judges Robert Chalmers, Dave Parris and Shaun Messer scored the bout 97-94, 98-92 and 96-95 respectively.

But in truth, Hooper was left playing catch-up from the outset, a clear-cut winner of no more than three rounds.

“The fight went very much to plan,” Sykes told The Press.

“I was comfortable in there, which allowed me to get the job done pretty easily.

“Kevin was very readable, I was able to block pretty much everything he threw at me.

“I was never hurt either – he didn’t have the power I thought he would possess. I think I overestimated him.

“I could have got him out of there, but I wasn’t willing to take any risks.”

Having entered first alongside coaches Julian McGowan and John Tallant, Sykes appeared calm and collected as the hometown fighter made his way to the ring with chants of ‘Super Hooper’ echoing around the venue.

Their fighter displayed promising signs following the first bell but it seemed nothing could faze visitor Sykes, who less than 12 months ago found himself on the verge of world-title bout with American hotshot Adrien Broner.

McGowan’s man went on to clinch the second and third rounds having stuck to his promise of lighting start to proceedings, landing with almost everything he threw at Hooper while brilliantly blocking anything that came back the other way.

Hooper appeared at times unable to cope with Sykes’ stronger skillset. But an indifferent fourth round provided some hope for a

suddenly-improved Hooper and his trainer Sean Wood.

A sense of frustration circled Sykes in the fifth as Hooper made further inroads.

But Hooper, previously undefeated in 13 pro contests, was warned for holding the Dewsbury Moor puncher.

However, he finally got his jab into gear and narrowed the gap with an impressive sixth-round showing.

Following a lengthy discussion with right-hand man McGowan, Sykes demonstrated his experience and class in the seventh and eighth to all but seal victory.

But with a hostile home crowd looking on, McGowan called on Sykes to silence Hooper’s entourage.

And Sykes went mighty close to doing just that in round nine, with an array of body shots which left Hooper squirming.

The referee, though, handed the part-time security guard some much-needed respite as he ordered Sykes’ corner to replace the tape on his right glove.

But from the resumption Sykes pulled no punches, his best cutting Hooper above the left eye.

And further punishment was to follow, with Hooper’s corning reaching for the towel on more than occasion during the final round.

Confirmation of a one-sided verdict left a sour taste on Humberside, but no-one could argue with the outcome.

Sykes was handed his latest crown much to the delight of is 60-strong travelling support party as Hooper sank to the canvas in disappointment.

His half hour in British boxing’s spotlight was over, but Hooper could leave with his head held high having survived for the duration.

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