GARY Sykes is little over a week away from his eagerly anticipated return to the ring when he steps up to the lightweight division to compete in the sell-out Prizefighter tournament in Liverpool next Saturday.
Sykes is one of three former British champions in the tournament, which sees eight fighters compete for a top prize of £32,000.
Sykes has fought just once in 13 months since losing his British super featherweight title to Gary Buckland and trainer Julian McGowan has vindicated the team’s decision to step up a division and enter the tournament.
McGowan, who trains Sykes at the Central Boxing Club in Batley, said: “It is easy for people to be cynical and criticise the decision to enter Prizefighter but Gary has, in effect, been unemployed for 12 months.
“The British super featherweight champion, Gary Buckland, has not made a mandatory defence of his title yet.
“He is due to fight Steven Foster in November and the rules state that he then doesn’t have to fight again until May. That would be 18 or 19 months without a mandatory defence and we are sitting on the shelf.
“We always said we’d take another route if needed and Prizefighter has given us that chance.
“Gary has only had one six-round fight since last September and only the die hard fans even realise he has fought since his defeat to Buckland but he still has to pay the bills.
“The winner or Prizefighter can expect to earn more than he could for a British and European title fight and that is why we are entering.”
Sykes faces tough opposition as former British lightweight champions Anthony Crolla and Derry Mathews are also involved, as are three good friends and former sparring partners of the Dewsbury man — Tommy Coyle, Terry Flannigan and Liam Patrick Walsh.
It is an old boxing cliché but McGowan says that all friendships will be put to one side come October 6.
The trainer added: “Terry Flannigan and Tommy Coyle are stalwarts of the Central Gym and I am a good personal friend of Liam Walsh’s dad.
“You have four friends but ultimately they are professional boxers. On the nights when they spar they put the friendships aside and there is no love lost, so there certainly won’t be any love lost with 32-Grand at stake.
“Gary, Derry Mathews and Crolla will be seen as the bullseyes of the tournament, because they are the favourites. I’m not going to forecast Gary Sykes winning the tournament and we know anything can happen on the night but I also know what Gary is capable of and the other trainers realise that too.”
Sykes has been sparring top prospects Adil Anwar and Jazza Dickinson, while his final spar takes place tomorrow against another unbeaten fighter before he tapers down and goes through the usual routines of press calls and the weigh-in next Friday.