Dave Oakes previews Saturday's British super-featherweight title fight.
In my opinion, an unbeaten record is vastly overrated, a boxer can often learn more from a defeat than a victory. A bad knockout defeat is different though, question marks arise about the boxer’s chin, self-doubt can creep into the boxer’s mind and any perceived invincibility instantaneously implodes the moment his head bounces off the canvas.
Those are all things Gary Sykes will have to contend with this Saturday night when he makes the second defence of his British super-featherweight title against former champion Carl Johanneson.
Everything was going perfectly for Sykes four months ago, he was unbeaten in sixteen fights, had won the British title in a thriller against Andy Morris and had successfully defended it against Kevin O’Hara. Sykes then agreed to participate in the Prizefighter tournament, having had his head turned by the £32,000 winner’s prize.
It was a move that Sykes’s team had considered a calculated gamble. The gamble backfired badly; he easily beat Scott Lawton in the first round but was brutally knocked out in the semi-final after walking onto a Gary Buckland blockbuster. Sykes had a puzzled look on his face as he tried desperately and ultimately in vain to get to his feet - a clear indication that he’d had his senses seriously scrambled.
A knockout like the one Sykes suffered can have a detrimental effect of a boxer’s psyche but it’s not impossible to overcome such a setback, he only has to look across the ring on Saturday to realise that.
Johanneson has come back strongly from two bad knockout defeats in the past and will be hoping to do it a third time against Sykes. He recovered from a one round butchering at the hands of Leva Kirakosyan to win the British title under two years later.
He made two successful defences, including one against current world champion Ricky Burns, before running into Kirokosyan again. There was to be no dream retribution for Johanneson, his old foe repeatedly dropping him on the way to a fourth round victory.
Johanneson showed once more that he wasn’t going to let a knockout defeat perturb him, returning to the ring three months later to beat Michael Gomez in six rounds to win the British title outright. His resurgence was short-lived though, he lost his next defence against Kevin Mitchell, getting stopped in the ninth round of an entertaining toe-to-toe battle.
The Mitchell defeat seemed to signal the end of Johanneson’s career, he cited a loss of appetite for the sport rather than the Mitchell defeat as being the main reason. He made his comeback early last year after two years away and has gone unbeaten in three fights since, albeit against limited opposition.
It remains to be seen how much Johanneson has got left in the tank, he’s had a few hard battles in his career and he hasn’t made the 130lb limit since the Mitchell fight three years ago, one wonders how comfortable he’ll be at the weight and how he’ll cope if the fight goes into the later rounds.
Johanneson will be aggressive early, he’ll be trying to augment any self-doubt Sykes may have and force him into a mistake that could prove costly. Johanneson is heavy-handed, he’s not the type of fighter who knocks people clean out but every punch is hurtful and Sykes won’t want to trade punches with him.
Sykes is a lovely boxer to watch, he’s a busy fighter who looks to box rather than brawl and can be as effective when switch-hitting as when boxing orthodox. His main attribute is undoubtedly his stamina; he can fight at a ferocious pace for the full twelve rounds, as he showed against the aforementioned Morris as well against Anthony Crolla, the current British champion at lightweight.
There are obvious question marks about both boxers’ chins, which makes the fight even more intriguing. I’ve no doubt Johanneson has the power to knockout Sykes but I’m not sure whether Sykes has the power to knockout Johanneson. Sykes only has four stoppages on his record and one feels it will have to be an accumulation of accurate blows over a sustained period if he’s to stop Johanneson.
I can see numerous possible outcomes in this fight but I’m leaning towards the younger, fresher fighter in Sykes. I think he’ll be determined to show that the Buckland defeat was a one-off and will be on the top of his game. He’s also got hometown advantage, although I expect fellow Yorkie Johanneson to have a fair few fans in attendance as well.
Johanneson will be a ferocious challenger early but I feel he’ll fade after six rounds and that will allow Sykes, with his superior stamina, to win the fight down the stretch. I’m picking Sykes on points but wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a late stoppage.