Having opened up about his battles with mental health and alcoholism, former British Champion Gary Sykes is looking for a way back into boxing and helping others who have faced similar problems.
A small step to achieve that saw Sykes take on Ian Murray — landlord of the Station Pub in Dewsbury — in a charity boxing event, watched by around 70 people last month.
The bout meant Sykes had a focus as he trained, using his old base at Dicky’s Gym in Batley to get into shape, and Murray ensured he stopped drinking.
Sykes was training in the shadows of IBF World featherweight champion Josh Warrington as he prepared for his title defence against Sofiane Takoucht in Leeds a fortnight ago.
Murray explained: “For me, as a landlord, there is a big difference in serving alcohol to stop Gary drinking.
“The last eight or nine weeks is the longest Gary has been sober and if he had replicated that when he was boxing professionally who knows how far he could have gone.”
The charity evening proved a success, although Murray suffered broken ribs during the bout, but the main objective of getting Sykes off the booze and focused on a return to the ring was achieved.
The pair now have plans to help Sykes find a way to get back into boxing, helping youngsters get off the streets and find a focus in life.
At the height of his professional career, Sykes was mixing with some of the best boxers in Britain.
He was involved in some thrilling bouts during his 33 fight career, which saw him crowned two-times British super featherweight champion.
His all action style also saw him come within a whisker of winning the Prizefighter Lightweights tournament in Liverpool, when he was edged out on a split decision to Manchester’s Terry Flanagan.
A humble Sykes reflected: “I think all the time what might have been and I think that is one of the reasons I was drinking.
“Josh Warrington trains at Dicky’s and I wish he had come along before me.
“I think Josh saw where I went wrong and was determined he wouldn’t make the same mistakes and he is the model professional.”
Close friend Tony Aitcheson, who, like Sykes is from Dewsbury Moor, refereed the fight and posted a heartfelt tribute to the Dewsbury star on Facebook.
Aitcheson said: “We all know what troubles our local hero has incurred in the last year or so.
“It has been a sad sight to see this role model of a man, who is admired by thousands basically killing his self.
“When I heard about this fight I was very apprehensive didn’t really know his opponent Ian Murray and thought maybe this big man was going to take liberties and get a name for himself but how wrong was I.
“This man got Gary off the drink gave him goal and trained alongside him most days preparing each other.
“Gary always came to my house a couple of hours before he use to set off for all his professional fights.
“He would walk up my path in peak condition looking like a million dollars.
“To see him in the last year or so breaks my heart. When once again he walked up my path looking like his old self, I’m not going to lie, I shed a little tear when he left. I was overwhelmed by how he looked.
“Gary needs a goal in life needs boxing in his life in someway or another and I would appeal for anyone who can help in this way.”
In the third and final part of our Exclusive interview, Sykes tells of his ambitions to get back involved in boxing and give something back via the Community Interest Company.