Video: Grimsby boxer Kevin Hooper ready to face former British champion Gary Sykes
UNBEATEN Grimsby boxer Kevin Hooper believes the time is right to take on former British champion Gary Sykes in a bid for an English belt.
Hooper, a triple title-winner, is taking on a proven, experienced rival who was on the cusp of fighting for a world title last year.
The showdown against Sykes takes place at the Beachcomber, Humberston, on Friday, March 15.
And Midlands Area champion Hooper, who has made boxing history in the town despite fitting his training around two jobs, is relishing the challenge.
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He said: "I'm over the moon to have such a big-name opponent.
"It's a step up in class, which is what I need, and I'm really happy to have this title fight.
"Gary Sykes is well-known in the boxing world. He was going to fight Adrien Broner for a world title last May in Las Vegas, but the show was pulled when Lamont Petersen failed a drugs test before the Amir Khan rematch.
"In my eyes, he's someone who's been there and done it – but he hasn't got as much to gain as I have.
"It's my time now. It's the step up the ladder I need, and I feel ready – I'm capable enough and confident enough. This is my shot, my biggest opportunity. Gary is hoping to win and then get a rematch with Gary Buckland for the British title. That's his plan.
"I'm the challenger and I'm here to stop that. I'm not going to lose my unbeaten record, especially at home."
Hooper has won all 13 of his fights and is the only Grimsby professional to have won three titles on home soil.
He out-pointed Amir Unsworth to win the Midlands Area lightweight title last October, having previously lifted International and British Masters belts.
The Grimsby man, coached by Sean Wood, has achieved this triple success despite being unable to secure funding to train full-time.
"I've got two jobs and three kids, so it's hard work – but look at what I've achieved so far," said Hooper, 28.
"It shows the potential, what I could achieve, if companies do come forward to sponsor me, and the show.
"I'm trying to achieve a lot for the town and it would be great if people got behind me."
Hooper will fight at super-featherweight for the first time against Dewsbury-born Sykes, whose record comprises 22 wins and three defeats.
The 28-year-old Yorkshireman won the British belt at that weight in March 2010 and defended it on three occasions before his points loss to Buckland in September 2011 stripped him of the title.
Sykes, gunning to win the British belt back, reached the final of the Prizefighter knock-out series at lightweight last year.
Hooper had hoped to feature on the televised big-money knock-out show, held at Liverpool's Olympia, but opted to abandon his selection hopes because of the close proximity of the event to his Area title date against Unsworth – he was not allowed to feature in both.
Sykes inflicted a maiden defeat on Central Area champion Tommy Coyle, from Hull, as he progressed to the final – he lost by split decision to former English super-featherweight champion Terry Flannigan.
Hooper said: "He's a quality fighter. He's technical, but he can also fight on the inside as Prizefighter showed – I was there, his fight with Tommy Coyle was a bit of a scrap.
"I feel the time is right to strike. He's not as good as he once was.
"My plan is to box, use my speed and movement, and take it from there.
"I'll be big at the weight and will carry my punching strength down to that weight too."
The switch in weight category should not be a problem for Hooper. He weighed in at 9st 5lb for his lightweight bout against Unsworth, just 1lb above the super-featherweight limit.
Tickets for Hooper versus Sykes are available by calling Hooper, on 07532380456, or Wood, on 07525752497.