Sykes shows his steel
Dewsbury fighter edges thriller to retain title
Last Updated: 08/03/11 1:02pm
Gary Sykes picked himself up off the canvas and retained the Lonsdale belt in an epic title defence against Yorkshire rival Carl Johanneson at Huddersfield Leisure Centre.
"When I first sparred with him I never thought I could last 12 rounds let alone beat him."
Gary Sykes Quotes of the week
The Dewsbury fighter was forced to dig extremely deep before claiming a unanimous points victory 116-112, 115-112 and 115-113 on Saturday evening.
A Sykes victory looked far from a certainty in the ninth round, though, as former British super-featherweight champion Johanneson silenced the partisan home crowd with a thundering right hook.
That shot sent Sykes sprawling to the canvas, however he called upon all his strength and fighting qualities to fight back and retain his title.
Defending champion Sykes, humiliated in Sky Sports' Prizefighter at the end of 2010, shaded the opening exchanges as Johanneson failed to stamp his authority on the contest.
Sykes lost his composure in round four, though, and Johanneson enjoyed his most prosperous round with some forceful shots to both body and head.
The was little to separate the two in the fifth, however Sykes revealed a rueful smile in the next when Johanneson caught him flush on the chin.
An overhand right to the side of the head sent Sykes rocking again in the seventh, but he hit back with a crisp uppercut of his own as the topsy-turvy contest continued.
The high-octane pace of the bout then caught up with both fighters, however, when, out of nowhere, Johanneson sent Sykes crashing to the canvas in the ninth with a stunning right hand.
Sykes managed to steady himself, and in a remarkable turnaround it was Johanneson who was the one praying for the bell.
After some stern words from his corner, Sykes charged out at the start of the 10th round and dominated the exchange from start to finish.
The contest was still well and truly in the balance heading into the penultimate round, but Sykes snatched the initiative following some more motivational words, which in the end proved the difference.
Speaking after the fight, an elated Sykes told Sky Sports: "To beat him means the world to me.
"When I first sparred with him I never thought I could last 12 rounds let alone beat him.
Johanneson added: "He outboxed me and fair dos. I thought I had him but he recovered well and fair play to him."