25 May 2010 – By Leonard Gunning
Surely every new champion deserves an easy first defence, right? Against someone who lets say has lost every title fight they have contested but preferably still has a respectable enough record to ensure the punters will rock up, right?
Maybe that is what newly crowned British super featherweight Gary Sykes 15-0 (KO 4) had in mind when his team invited Belfasts Kevin Sweet Pea OHara 17-5 (KO 5) to step through the ropes with the Dewsbury dynamo to battle it out for his first defence of the coveted Lonsdale belt at the Huddersfield Leisure Centre this Friday.
With the bookies having the Yorkshireman, who recently wrestled the vacant title away from Andy Morris in a twelve round thriller at the same venue in March, a 1/4 odds on favourite and the ominous sign of Team Sykes talking up the credentials of OHara it seems like an open and shut case not worth even a preview article.
But Team Sykes hadnt counted on the resolve and determination of OHara, a former amateur standout, or the nouse and guile of his seasoned trainer John Breen. According to Breen, OHara is in peak physical shape and has taken four weeks off work to train for the fight and showing the desire and hunger which may have been lacking in recent contests.
Breen explained, This could really be his last but best opportunity, he has taken four weeks off work to get ready and I know he wants it. He has been looking very good in the gym for the last four weeks and got the weight off. He had been out of the ring and naturally needed to do a bit of training because this is his big opportunity.
Cutting no corners the Sweet Pea has gone the extra lengths necessary was go overcome the shortcomings of past titles opportunities. I have him and Stephen Haughian running up Slieve Gullion every Sunday and its a torturous run, you think you are at the top and you turn a corner and there is another hill, you get to the top of that and there is another hill after that. You have to be mentally fantastic for it and I know that when he goes into the ring that his legs wont let him down, outlined Breen. OHara was in agreement its a 12 mile run and Ive run it three times in three weeks. My legs are like steal, every step was a killer but it will be a benefit.
OHara will need every advantage he can garner because each of his three previous title shots have shuttered at the finishing line, losing a Celtic title contest to Willie Limond, an Irish title contest to Eddie Hyland and most recently a Commonwealth title contest to Glasgows Ricky Burns. It is a point that OHara is man enough to confront head on, There were issues outside the ring, maybe my problem is that I couldnt push myself across the line. People said I could have won those fights and I should have won that but there will be no excuses this time. Breen echoed these sentiments claiming Maybe his work rate let him down in some championship fights. If he worked harder he would have beaten (Ricky) Burns and (Eddie) Hyland. He would come back to the corner to me and tell me that he wasnt even tired, he really needs to push himself.”
As always the preparation he has received in the sauna-like Breen’s Gym has been first class, sparring with super-flyweight Jamie Conlon and European number three Lightweight Andy Murray.
OHara is strong and confident with less than a week to go before the biggest fight of his life and explained that he was Feeling good and ready to fight. I finished up the hard work on Friday with eight hard rounds of sparring with Andy Murray and then its just watching my weight for the week.
The sparring has been first class I have Jamie Conlan for speed and stamina and Andy (Murray) for the power. Andy is a busy fighter, quicker and stronger than Sykes so he wont bother me. Sykes will come out fast and look to steal early rounds and put them in the bank. I wont let him. Ill keep a cool head and box him. He is at home and I might have to knock him out but I know with the work I put in that Sykes will fade and he cant last into the final rounds with me.
Neither fighter possesses the maximum banjo or has ever been stopped, so this fight looks like going the distance and the contest may not be too dissimilar to that in which Sykes won the belt. However, at odds of 4/1 for OHara to win on points the value money with be on the Belfast battler to spring an upset.