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British Scene: Gary Sykes vs Gary Buckland Preview

Dave Oakes previews Saturday's British super-featherweight title clash between Gary Sykes and Gary Buckland.

It’s rare for a rematch to happen when the first bout ends inside a minute via a brutal knockout , it’s even rarer for that rematch to be one of the most anticipated match-ups of the year – well, domestically at least.

That’s exactly what’s happening this Saturday when Gary Sykes defends his British super-feather title against Gary Buckland, the man who provided Sykes with the only defeat of his career. Yorkshireman Sykes has hometown advantage, the fight being held at the Ponds Forge Arena in Sheffield, and Sky are televising live.

It was to everyone’s astonishment that Sykes agreed to participate in a Prizefighter tournament last November, the £32,000 winner’s prize swaying the British champion. Sykes saw it as a calculated risk, what he didn’t see was the overhand right that Buckland detonated in their semi-final of said tournament. It wasn’t just the audience who were shocked by the quick and brutal climax, Sykes had a look of sheer bewilderment on his face as he somehow managed to haul himself off the canvas up onto unsteady legs - all to no avail, the referee correctly waving the fight off.

Sykes, 19-1 (5), had been looking in fine form prior to Prizefighter, he’d beaten Anthony Crolla, now British champ at lightweight, to secure a British title bout with Andy Morris, who he then beat on points after a close battle. He made light work of Kevin O’Hara in his first defence and everything was looking rosy until he met Buckland.

Before Prizefighter, Buckland, 23-2 (8), was better known for being stopped by John Murray after a brave effort in a European and British title fight up at lightweight. Buckland surpassed people’s expectations that night, going toe-to-toe with the bull like Murray, and although he was on the receiving end more often than not, the way he dug in and showed courageousness in the face of adversity earned him much deserved praise.

Buckland decided his future laid a division lower after the Murray bout, winning the Prizefighter tournament that was made 2lbs above the 130lb limit. After out-pointing Steven Bell in the first round and knocking out Sykes in the semi, he hammered Derry Matthews to submission in the final, stopping Matthews in the second round.

He’s had two fights since then, both points wins, making hard work of the latest versus Jose Gonzalez in Mexico. Buckland was much better than Gonzalez technically but unwisely decided to stand and trade with a fighter he could’ve out-boxed with ease. One senses Buckland feels more at home trading blows than he does using his skills, despite the fact he’s technically proficient and possesses quick hands.

Sykes has recovered well from their first meeting, also winning two fights since then, including a points win over Carl Johanneson – overcoming a knockdown to make the second defence of his title. The knockdown against Johanneson showed Sykes can be hurt, but more importantly for Sykes, that he can get up from a big knockdown and go on to win.

There’s no knowing what will be going through Sykes’ head when he’s stood across the ring from Buckland again, he’s bound to be more cautious than normal early on and may take a couple of rounds to get into the fight. Buckland is hitting harder and looks much stronger at super-feather than he did at lightweight, you don’t have to be a genius to work out his tactics for this fight – he’s going to pressurize from the opening bell and will be looking to either land another fight finisher or grind Sykes down.

This has all the makings of a fantastic fight, Sykes has the edge in skill, as well as incredible fitness levels, whilst Buckland is the stronger, bigger puncher and will have the confidence of knowing he has knocked out Sykes before.

The fight comes down to how well Sykes can cope with the expected early onslaught from Buckland. Sykes can’t afford to let Buckland take charge of the first four rounds, if he does, Buckland’s strength sapping work will pay dividends later on. Sykes will have to use all of his skills and movement to avoid early danger and establish some semblance of control.

It wouldn’t be a shock if there was a split decision here, there’s hardly anything to separate the two combatants. It’s a tough call, however, it is my job to make one and I favour Sykes. His skills and stamina should be just enough to edge what will undoubtedly be an enjoyable fight for the fans.

e-mail Dave Oakes

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