Wild life of boozy cult hero boxer – prison to punching sharks in the earhole

In March this year it will be 15 years since the enigma that was Paul Sykes took his final breath.

Sykes was known for many things during his turbulent life – including being a professional heavyweight boxer, a prison hard nut, an author and an intimidating debt collector.

But one thing that always defined him was his proclivity for violence.

He himself once said: “I’m an expert in violence – I’ve been at it all my life.”

And it was violence that led to Sykes spending over two decades of his 60 years on Earth in prison – where he became pals with fellow tough guy Charles Bronson.

When not inside, he travelled the world and was banned from pubs in his hometown of Wakefield, West Yorks, after his alcohol abuse caused chaos in the community.

His list of wild stories are endless, and to this day clips of his bizarre tales, including one about punching sharks, still go viral. Here, we take a glimpse inside his unprecedented life.

Early life

Sykes grew up on the Lupset estate in Wakefield and was the only son of Walter and Betty.

His mum once said in a documentary, Paul Sykes: At Large: “I never had any problems with him as a little boy, he was always a grand lad.

“Even today the neighbours that have known him since a little boy won’t say anything against him.”

But his violent tendencies were evident from an early age.

He was handed his first pair of boxing gloves aged four by his dad who had spent 10 years in the army before ironically becoming a prison officer.

Walter taught his son how to box – but Sykes later hinted that this had a negative impact on him.

He said: “I was getting bashed in the face at seven years of age. Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday morning, learning how to box. How can your dad love you if he lets this happen to you three or four times a week?”

And in the Paul Sykes: At Large documentary, the tension between Sykes and his father was often explored.

Mum Betty even suggested Walter was partly responsible for Sykes' aggression.

She said: “I’ve been used to brutality with my husband – perhaps that’s why Paul thinks he’s got to use force because his dad’s always used force.”

And Sykes later claimed from prison: “What’s got me into trouble in the past is having my physique trained as a child but not my emotions.”

He had his first brush with the law aged 17 then racked up 22 offences in two years – including taking a vehicle without consent.

His repetitive offending eventually led to prison time – something which largely defined his adult life.


You’d be forgiven for thinking Sykes’ upbringing was far from desirable when you consider how he once described being put behind bars.

He said: “I was made up when they put me in the nick. I had a lovely warm cell and all the books I could read and nobody shouting at me. It was easier than being at home.”

Sykes went on to spend much of the 70s and 80s locked up and was known for being difficult.

In total he was held in 18 different prisons over numerous violent assaults.

He even gained a reputation for lashing out at police officers.

And he once said: “I’ve had 10 and half years for whacking screws and 10 years for whacking coppers. I’ve never taken a liberty in my life.

“I've belted a few people. In every case I was in the right and it were them that were taken the liberties and I did what John Wayne did, what any sane man would do, punch them right in the f*****g earhole.”

And former Governor of Hull Prison, Philip Wheatley, described Sykes as a “short tempered” lag who assaulted staff “on a number of occasions”.

During his prison stints, Sykes met the notorious Charles Bronson, and he left quite the impression.

That’s because Bronson wrote in his book, Legends: “A notorious hard man from Yorkshire, a fighting man in every sense.

“A lot of people never liked him, even feared him but I respected the man and what he stood for.”

Boxing career

Aged 30, Sykes was offered a fresh start at life when he became a professional boxer.

His first bout was in 1978 and ended with his opponent being unable to get off his stool for round two.

Syke’s father said he “encouraged” his son to turn pro because there are “fortunes” to be made in the sport.

And although Sykes could be characterised as a violent narcissist, he showcased his empathic side after one fight.

He fought American Dave Wilson in the same year as his debut and won via TKO.

But Wilson ended up badly hurt in hospital where it took him one month to recover from the bashing.

And on the morning after the clash, an emotional Sykes said: “‘He’s on a life support machine. You think when you’ve belted them they are going to get up at 10. You don’t want them to get up at nine but you want them to get up at 10.

“I always thought I was a bit of a hard case but it sickened me this morning. It gutted me. I saw the kid there, 3,000 miles from home, no family, no anything.”

Sykes then turned away from the camera after becoming too emotional to speak.

His boxing career concluded two years after it began and it included a failed attempt at becoming the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion.

In total he scored six victories, three losses and one draw.

Then, in 1981, he was caged for five years for intimidation. After his release he was then inside again again for two and a half years for assaulting police before more time was added for putting prison workers in hospital.


When Sykes wasn’t in a cell, he usually could be found in a pub.

He said if he had five pints of beer a day it would help keep him “ticking over nicely”.

And he also suggested the hydration was “necessary” for his kidney after he ruptured it playing football in 1966.

Sykes added: “I like being drunk. I've never had any complaints about being drunk if I have been drunk. I still manage to keep my wits about me although I don't remember what I have done. But it runs in the family anyway.”

Despite believing his drinking was harmless, he went on to be banned from Wakefield city centre for his anti-social behaviour.

Other careers

While in prison, Sykes wrote an award winning book called Sweet Agony where he articulated his rollercoaster life.

His intellectual abilities were discovered in jail when he began spending time reading books before publishing his own.

He said: “I've altered the physical side to the intellectual and academic side. Using my brain instead of my body.

“It’s all the same machine and I didn’t realise I had such a good brain until I took the wraps off and started using it. I've got a brilliant brain.”

He also earned money as a debt collector and one story involved him turning up at a man’s wedding to demand money.

Sykes collared the petrified groom in the bathroom during the reception and he remembered: “I told him unless he came up with something here and now I was going to stick his head right through the wedding cake and generally cause mayhem.

“He took his wife's engagement ring off and that just about covered the debt.”


One of the most bizarre stories Sykes enjoyed to tell was his apparent encounters with sharks during his travelling days.

He described himself as a “wonderful citizen” before explaining how he had visited various places – including North America, Ivory Coast, India, Russia and Singapore.

And during one legendary trip, he claimed he had no choice but to swim across the Straits of Johor, a stretch between Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia that's avoided by locals because of the sharks lurking.

He said: “I know about sharks, I know about sharks. I’m 6ft 3 and 16 stone. See these pumps, they were hanging round my neck when I done it.

“Sharks will have a look at me and think ‘yeah’ but I know how to do them – you punch them right in the f*****g earhole and they swim off.”


Sykes died at the age of 60 in March 2007 at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield after suffering from pneumonia and liver cirrhosis.

He left behind two children – both of who are currently serving life for murder.

Clips from the Paul Sykes: At Large documentary are often shared on social media and go viral, as new viewers join the legions who have lauded him as a cult hero.

Source: Read Full Article