Gary Sykes walked out of the ExCeL Arena ring with his head held high after producing a display of real heart and courage against Liam Walsh.
Sykes slipped to a unanimous points defeat as Walsh snatched the Dewsbury man’s British super featherweight title to add to his Commonwealth crown last Saturday.
Sykes recovered from a horrendous start, which saw him knocked down in the opening stages of the bout, to produce a spirited display and battle through the full 12 rounds.
Walsh took the fight by wide margins of 118-109, 119-108 and 118-111 on the three judges’ cards, although many at ringside thought Sykes deserved more credit then those scores would suggest.
Certainly Sykes did enough to win more than a couple of rounds the cards suggests, although he was beaten by the better boxer and there was nothing but praise for Walsh from the gallant Dewsbury man.
Sykes was sent crashing to the canvas just a minute into the fight when a fierce right punch thundered through his guard.
Sykes was forced to recover from an early knockdown to beat Jon Kays and clinch the British title in Dewsbury in May but this was a far more powerful shot.
For many fighters that would have been the end but Sykes bravely beat the count and then survived an onslaught as Walsh poured forward with a flourish of hurtful punches that forced the British champion onto the ropes.
A Sykes trademark is his strength in the super featherweight division but Walsh was by far the bigger man on fightnight, having bulked up considerably since Friday’s weigh-in.
Walsh produced a thunderous body shot early in the second and although Sykes responded with a decent right jab, causing a slight graze to Walsh’s eye, it was the Norfolk man who was in early control.
Walsh fought well off the jab, keeping Sykes at range and also showing good movement to avoid his best shots.
Sykes did have success in the fourth and there was a valid argument that he was the more aggressive, although Walsh’s shots had the greater power.
Walsh again targeted the body in the fifth, with several energy sapping punches.
Throughout the 12 gruelling rounds, Walsh targeted the body, while showing impressive movement to keep out of the way of Sykes’s best shots.
Both men exchanged fierce shots in the sixth but it was Sykes who finished the round stronger with a flurry of punches and his supporters in the near 20,000 sell out crowd had hope.
Inspired by his success in the sixth, Sykes began the next round strongly but Walsh stopped him in his tracks with a solid jab, followed by a stinging upper cut.
Sykes’ workrate did enough to edge the seventh and there was growing hope that he would finish stronger in the championship rounds.
It was not to be as Walsh resumed control in the eighth and, the following round, produced a hurtful straight left jab, on the back of two nasty body shots.
The Dewsbury man was again in trouble but again showed tremendous heart to somehow fight through to the end of the round.
Sykes’ bravery was again to the fore in the 10th and 11th rounds to survive further body shots but Walsh had a firm grip on the fight.
Sykes saved his best round for the 12th as he bit down on his gumshield and fought admirably to keep hold of his cherished Lonsdale belt but Walsh knew he only needed to avoid a knock-out to claim victory.
As Walsh celebrated with his family, Sykes left the ring to a deserved standing ovation for a fighter who had shown a true champion’s heart.