By Andrew Hunt
GARY Sykes sent out a clear message to title rival Gary Buckland with an impressive third round stoppage victory over Bulgarian Valentin Stoychev in Huddersfield last Saturday.
Sykes will go into his British super featherweight title defence against Buckland in Sheffield on September 24 having racked up a 19th win of his career last week.
It was the fifth time Sykes has stopped an opponent and a first since knocking out Jason Nesbitt in December 2008.
The Dewsbury champion was clearly a class above Stoychev as he continually hurt the Bulgarian with a series of fierce body shots.
Sykes started impressively and Stoychev was in trouble by the end of the first round as the 27-year-old sensed an early win.
Two stinging body shots early in the second round left the Bulgarian gasping for breath, although Stoychev deserved credit for surviving another onslaught of punches.
Victory came one minute, 51 seconds into the third round when Sykes landed a stunning upper cut and followed it up with two further body shots which sent Stoychev crashing to his knees and unable to beat the count.
Victory may not have been on the same scale as Sykes’s three title successes at the same venue but it was an important stepping stone on the road to the Buckland defence.
Speaking after the fight, the 27-year-old from Dewsbury Moor said: “I’m used to fighting on big Sky shows and it was strange having no nerves at all but I knew I had to get switched on and get the job done. In fairness he could wallop a bit but I knew I was going to get the knock-out.”
“Everything now is geared towards Buckland. There will be no excuses this time.
“When I lost to him in Prizefighter, there were lots of excuses as I went into that at very short notice.
“I have got eight weeks of hard work. Me and Julian (trainer McGowan) will be working on a game plan to beat Buckland and I can assure that he won’t be doing another Prizefighter on me.
“I still rank my victory over Anthony Crolla as the best performance of my career, especially when you look what he has gone on to achieve and to be fighting the legend Erik Morales.
“I’ve had bigger and better nights, winning the British title against Andy Morris and the win over Carl Johanneson but the night I fought Crolla, I felt brilliant and I know I will have to be the same against Buckland.
“I still want to fight in Dewsbury more than anything but the pressure would really be on in front of my home fans but I’m sure I will take a big following down to Sheffield with me.”
If members of Buckland’s team were in the crowd last Saturday, they will have certainly gone away impressed by the Sykes performance.