Paul Sykes (boxer)

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Paul Sykes
Real name Paul Sykes
Rated at Heavyweight
Height 6′ 3″
Nationality British
Born (1946-05-23)23 May 1946
Wakefield, England
Died 7 March 2007(2007-03-07) (aged 60)
Wakefield, England
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 10
Wins 6
Wins by KO 4
Losses 3
Draws 1

Paul Sykes (23 May 1946 – 7 March 2007) was a British heavyweight boxer, weightlifter, writer, prisoner and debt collector.


Early life[edit]

Sykes was born 23 May 1946 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire to Walter Sykes and Betty Barlow. He grew up on the Lupset council estate and boxed at the Robin Hood and Thorpe Amateur Boxing Club.[1] He is also known to have boxed at White Rose Boxing Club, Thornes Wharfe, Wakefield where, amongst others, he dotted John Taylor.

Sykes displayed considerable talent at an early age which, with his size and ability to move, made him formidable. However, he also began drinking heavily at a young age. When he was 16 he went to Germany to fight and the night before was carried out of a bar. Unsurprisingly, he lost.[2]

Boxing career[edit]

Sykes's adult life was peppered with alcohol abuse, petty robberies, violent crime and prison. Nonetheless, during a brief period of rehabilitation, he fought ten bouts as a professional boxer between 1978 and 1980. In his sixth fight, Sykes knocked American David Wilson unconscious and continued to hit him relentlessly as he draped over the ropes, before the referee managed to pull him away.[3] Wilson was put on a life support machine and needed a month in hospital to recover[4]

Sykes' career peaked in June 1979 when he lost a British and Commonwealth title fight to John L. Gardner at Wembley. This proved to be an evenly matched contest as it entered the sixth round, though the younger Gardner's stamina proved too much for the 33-year-old Sykes, and the fight was stopped when Sykes turned his back, clearly overwhelmed by Gardner's onslaught. Gardner was seven years younger than Sykes (Gardner referred to Sykes after the fight as "an old man"[5]), and this was his thirty-first professional fight;[6] in contrast, Sykes had entered the fight after just eight professional bouts. Sykes still holds the record for being the British Heavyweight title challenger with fewest professional fights, having effectively been fast tracked by people involved with the sport who had been convinced of his potential. Despite many years in prison, such was the level of interest that Sykes generated on starting his belated boxing career following his release in 1978, that he found himself in promotional photographs with Don King and Larry Holmes,[7] and also travelled to the United States to stand in as a sparring partner for Leon Spinks.[8] Sykes was a bodyguard to Alec Steene, and sparred the future champion David Pearce [9] Sykes' manager, the highly respected Tommy Miller later said, "Paul could have gone right to the top, quite easily .. he impressed everybody", but "he was always in trouble one way or another, he'd always loads of worry on his mind."[4]

His 'big chance' lost, Sykes was clearly demoralized and his professional career ended in March 1980 when African journeyman Ngozika Ekwelum knocked him out in the first round of a fight in Lagos, Nigeria.

Interestingly, it would appear that Sykes had been billed to fight Lenny Mclean at London's Rainbow Theatre on 20 November 1979,[10] but this fight never materialised. Lenny Mclean, in his autobiography, later explained: "A week before the off, Sykes went into a club in Wakefield where he lives, got well pissed and had a ruck with four doormen. He did them all but one of them got lucky and put a cut above his eye that took eight stitches to pull together".[11]

Sykes was soon back in prison and setting records for lifting weights.[12] An incredibly strong man, he was the holder of the British amateur weightlifting record (deep knee bend 500 lbs).[13]


Sykes was classed as one of the most difficult prisoners in the UK throughout the 1970s and 1980s and by 1990, had spent 21 out of 26 years in 18 prisons[14] for many violent acts against prison officers and police officers. He committed violent offences all over the North of England and was very well known to locals and the police in Leeds, Liverpool, Blackpool, Hull, and Rotherham, and also known and respected by the hard cases in London, possibly as a result of Sykes having trained alongside and sparred with such notorious criminals as Roy Shaw during his lengthy prison career. Some apparently classed Paul Sykes as one of the hardest men in Great Britain during the 1980s.[citation needed]

Paul Sykes is mentioned in the book, Legends by Charles Bronson, an A to Z guide of the men Bronson had regarded to be the toughest in Britain. Referring to him as 'Sykesy', Bronson describes him as "a legend, born and bred" and writes: "I first met Sykes in Liverpool in the early 70s and at that time he was probably the fittest con in Britain. A hard man from Yorkshire, a fighting man in every sense. A lot of people never liked him, perhaps they even feared him but I respected the man for what he stood for". Bronson then goes on to relate an incident said to have taken place in HMP Liverpool, when Sykes allegedly killed the prison's cat and fashioned it into a "Davey Crocket" hat.[15]

While in prison, Sykes earned a BA in Physical Sciences from Open University and wrote a memoir, Sweet Agony. This book is now a rare title and, in good condition, commands a high price amongst collectors.

Later Years[edit]

Following his release from HM Prison Hull in 1990, producer Roger Greenwood followed him in the course of filming the documentary Paul Sykes: At Large. Greenwood described Sykes as "a fascinating character and incredibly intelligent".[14]

A further documentary explored Sykes's brief post-release career as a debt collector, a business venture he dubbed the 'Last Resort Debt Collecting Agency... "threatenergrams" a speciality', and which was utilised by Wakefield businessman, Dennis Flint, who sent Sykes to collect debts in Spain in addition to funding his autobiography, 'Sweet Agony'.[16]

Sadly, Sykes could not control his drinking, his life began to crumble and he became a notorious character in the city of Wakefield. In 2000, Wakefield Council secured a two-year ASBO banning him from the city centre after a string of aggressive drunken incidents including shouting abuse and urinating in public.[14]

He was arrested in August 2003 for violating the ban by making an appointment with an optician in Wakefield, but was released on his own recognisance.[17]


Sykes died on 7 March 2007 at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. His cause of death was noted as pneumonia and liver cirrhosis.[1] His death certificate states his occupation as 'author (retired)' and the funeral service was held at Wakefield Baptist Church, which he regularly attended. He is buried in the Alverthorpe cemetery Wakefield [18]


Paul Sykes has two children who are both serving life sentences for murder.[19] Paul Leighton Sykes is serving a life sentence for stabbing Michael Gallagher to death in a frenzied knife attack at his flat in Lupset, Wakefield in June 2004. In 2008, 25-year-old Michael Sharp became the second son of Paul Sykes to be jailed for murder, when he was given a minimum 27-year sentence at Leeds Crown Court for killing 38-year-old David Ward, a former police officer, following a botched armed robbery at his home on Denby Dale Road in Wakefield.[19]

Published works[edit]


  • 1988: Koestler Award, Sweet Agony


  1. ^ a b Lavery, Mark (17 March 2007). "Famous Yorkshire boxer dies at 60". Yorkshire Evening Post. 
  2. ^ Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 March 2007
  3. ^ Sykes' bragging offers Brook a cautionary tale. Steve Bunce, The Independent, 20 March 2012
  4. ^ a b Roger Greenwood, 1990 documentary, "Paul Sykes: At Large":
  5. ^ "John L Gardner v Paul Sykes - YouTube". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  6. ^ "BoxRec - John L. Gardner". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  7. ^ "Don King With Paul Sykes And Larry Holmes Pictures | Getty Images". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  8. ^ Sykes, Paul: Sweet Agony
  9. ^
  10. ^ Rick Burton. "1979". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  11. ^ McLean, Lenny: "The Guv'nor", 2003
  12. ^ The Independent, 20 March 2012
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c "Goodbye to a notorious character". Wakefield Express. 16 March 2007. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  15. ^ Bronson, Charles and Richards, Stephen: "Legends, Volume One", published by Mirage Publishing, 2000
  16. ^ "Paul Sykes and Dennis Flint - YouTube". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  17. ^ Mulchrone, Patrick (9 August 2003). "Man without specs could not read ban". The Mirror. 
  18. ^ "Goodbye to a notorious character". Wakefield Express. 15 March 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "Wakefield boxing legend's son jailed for ex-cop murder". Yorkshire Post. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 

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