Lewis Syrett: Waiting For An Opportunity
By Chandler Waller
Small hall boxing is often forgotten about. Whilst we turn our attention to the TV fighters with huge sponsorship deals, there are boxers out there still waiting to resume their careers since the pandemic first struck.
Most small hall fighters dream for the occasion to win some form of a domestic title, the chance to be featured on TV seems like a different world.
But for Lewis Syrett (7-1) turning pro wasn’t a consideration before a chance sparring session with former English champion Darryl Williams.
“I didn’t have a great amateur career. I had a half and half record so I didn’t really have any aspirations for turning pro until I started getting decent sparring with a few pros.
“I was doing a lot of sparring with Darryl Williams, he went to me ‘why don’t you turn over?’ I thought I was too old. I think without that sparring and having that conversation with him, there wouldn’t have been a turning point. Maybe I wouldn’t have turned pro. I was happy to just go up there and spar him when they offered it.”
After deciding to embark on his professional journey, it was one of the simple mistakes of double booking which led to one of Syrett’s biggest talking points.
“I signed up to do a marathon because an old school friend of mine sadly passed away from meningitis. That was booked for a long time, I got my license and Steve Goodwin said your debut is the 22nd September. I thought oh no, I’ve got a marathon the next day but I couldn’t turn it down, he’s given me my pro debut, and I’ve wanted to do this forever so I thought I’ll just have to do it. I’ll just have to get on with it.
I didn’t get a lot of sleep either because I was still buzzing from the debut, I was so excited because I had like 50 amateur fights and I only stopped one. I never expected to get a stoppage on the debut and it happened. It was like a dream… Then I had to go to bed and run a marathon in the morning.”
Following a successful pro debut, Syrett racked up a few more wins before an opportunity in the Ultimate Boxxer tournament turned up. The only downside was he would have to boil down to 154lbs as opposed to 160lbs.
“I’m not small for a middleweight, it was just that opportunity came up, but it was a struggle. With that being dangled in front of me, I thought I’ve got to lose it, no matter what happens. I’m a lot more comfortable at middleweight.
“At that weight, I think I lacked a bit of power in my punching. It wasn’t just that, it played a part in it but, I think the three round format wasn’t the best thing for me. I sort of knew it before going in there, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. It does take me a round or two to wake up sometimes and in a three round fight, that’s too late.”
Syrett was faced with a difficult draw in the one night tournament against former Southern Area titlist Sean Robinson. It proved to be tough for the Kent man to adapt, losing in the quarter finals by decision.
“It was half my own fault, but I finished the fight and I felt like I hadn’t even been in one and I just thought what’s happened here, I can’t believe it’s over already. It was gone in a flash.
“When you get an opportunity like [Ultimate Boxxer] I couldn’t turn it down. I was probably not best suited for that but the draw wasn’t too kind to me either. Maybe if it was someone who comes to have a war, but Sean was very clever and good on his feet. He didn’t wanna get involved, he done what he had to do and outpointed me. It was a good game plan.”
Fast forward six months and a pandemic strikes us, leaving especially small hall boxers like Lewis Syrett, wondering when his career will resume.
“It was a bit gutting for me really, I was getting to where I wanted to be. It was looking like we were going to have one more fight and then looking at the Southern Area title. I was meant to box in March  when it first started and then, typically we were moving house and didn’t have the date so they gave us the date and it was the same week as the fight. I said to Steve I can’t be moving house and cutting weight, and selling tickets in the same week, it’ll just be too much, so I put it off. The week after, it went into lockdown and I’m regretting wishing I just done it now.”
Over the last ten months, promoters have been forced to work without crowds, finding solutions to replace the loss in revenue from a gate. It was only practical that promoters would look to bring in small hall fighters to pit against their own in 50/50 fights. Sometimes it’s not all what it seems, and Lewis Syrett is just one example where it was promoters seeking ‘easy touches’.
“When I got the offer, I thought brilliant, I can fight, but Steve turned it down because the boy’s a bit special. He said you could take the fight, but [it is] if you wanna go down the journeyman route because it was ten days notice, to be honest with you.
“Steve made the decision for me but he done me a favour there. It was just the desperation to fight, I wouldn’t have had a good chance of winning on ten days notice. When they told me who it was, I thought yeah you’re not beating him on ten days notice – it was Caoimhin Agyarko. He’s one to watch, he still fought one of Steve’s fighters – Robbie Chapman took the fight.”
It was like dangling a carrot, teasing the Kent boxer with a chance to resume his career. Now at 32 years old, Syrett keeps his nose to the grindstone for the right opportunities.
“This month I’ve been getting fit again and I’m looking in good shape, but who knows when we might get back out again. I haven’t got time on my side either, I turned over reasonably late so that’s the other gutting thing because it’s bad for everyone, but these younger fighters who are coming through, they’ve got time on their side if they lose a year or two. They’ve still got a big career in front of them, but I’m thirty two and [I’ll] be thirty three by the time I’m boxing again, most people go past their best by then so hopefully it’s not too long.”
The coronavirus pandemic has been a problem for everyone in different ways – jobs lost, mental health affected, the list goes on. Many boxers who rely on their careers as a source of income have considered walking away. Motivation becomes an issue.
“I’m blowing hot and cold, when the first lockdown came I thought I was getting fitter than I’ve ever been even when I was training. I didn’t have to go into work because I was on furlough. I was living like a full-time pro. It was brilliant, I was training two or three times a day, getting loads of sleep. I did a month of that and then I thought it doesn’t look like I’ll be fighting any time soon, what am I doing it all for. I go off the boil for a little bit and then I watch a few fights on the tele again and think I might be coming back soon, get through it again and then realise it’s not coming back.”
However, Syrett believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as we all have to believe so that our sport can continue. The 32-year-old has set his sights on a Southern Area title and admits that it would be the pinnacle of his pro career.
“That’s like my world title really. When I get asked the question ‘what if you won that, would you go on to English and British?’ I’ll be honest with myself, I can’t see myself getting to that level, so the Southern Area is like the world title for me. If I win that now, I’d be happy with what I’ve done, with my age you never know but I don’t think I’ll be going on much further than that.
“A fight in May and then a shot at the Southern Area title later this year – that’s the ideal situation for me really. It’s hard to tell with all the COVID stuff but in an ideal world that’s what I’d like. I wouldn’t mind having to go straight in for a shot but being out of the ring, although I know everyone has been in the same boat, it would be nice to have just one fight before such a big event like that.”
The small hall world differs to what we see on TV, whilst boxing continues with a packed schedule, small hall boxers like Lewis are hoping to take part, with real fights at real priority in the latter stage of his career.
“I want to have the 50/50 fights now, I don’t want to box journeymen anymore. I’ve fought six or seven journeymen and I’ve had a long amateur career, I don’t want anymore learning fights I wanna have 50/50 fights definitely from now on.”
It’s all like picking names from a hat of course, but there’s hope for Lewis Syrett and many other fighters from the deep small hall scene that they’ll be called upon soon, with proper notice, to have their own glory moment, even if it’s just the once.