Goodbye to a notorious character

FORMER heavyweight boxer Paul Sykes has died.

The 60-year-old former British and Commonwealth title heavyweight contender died in Pinderfields Hospital last Wednesday from pneumonia and liver cirrhosis, having been unconscious for several days.

In his day, Sykes was a top professional boxer but his life descended into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse, petty robberies, violent crime and prison.

His boxing career peaked in 1979 when he narrowly lost out to John L Gardner in a British and Commonwealth title fight at Wembley.

But his boxing status started to crumble after his last professional bout, a defeat to Ngozika Ekwelum in Nigeria in March 1980.

His reputation then turned to one hinged on his troublemaking and drinking ways and he became a notorious character in the city.

Before 1990, he had spent 21 out of 26 years in 18 UK jails.

In 2000, Wakefield Council secured a two-year anti social behaviour order banning him from the city centre after a string of aggressive drunken incidents including shouting abuse and urinating in public.

But those who knew Sykes saw a very different side to the one he ultimately became notorious for.

Television producer Roger Greenwood filmed Sykes in a documentary he produced in 1990 following his release from prison.

He said: “He was a fascinating character and incredibly intelligent. He would list his favourite authors and he was very well-read.”

Former professional Keith Tate, 63, boxed with Sykes as a teenager at Robin Hood and Thorpe Amateur Boxing Club near Wakefield.

Mr Tate, who runs Cleckheaton Boxing Academy, said: “The Paul I knew was a funny man and had a lot of talent, which was wasted in the end.”

While he was in prison he was awarded the Arthur Koestler prize for prison literature for his book Sweet Agony.

His death certificate states his occupation as ‘author (retired)’ and address as Peterson Road, Wakefield.

His funeral was held at Wakefield Baptist Church, where he regularly attended, on Wednesday.