FORMER WBO world middleweight champion Andy Lee has sparred George Groves more times than he cares to remember and has watched George Groves spar Chris Eubank Jr enough to have a fair idea of what will happen when the super-middleweights clash on Saturday (February 17) in Manchester.
That said, despite this insight, this first-hand experience, Lee, such is the nature of boxing, cannot possibly be sure of the result. He has seen how both boxers react when in the ring together and he has felt the power and speed of Groves on countless occasions. But that doesn’t mean the 33-year-old can see into the future, nor say for certain how either man will perform on the night.
He has an idea, though.
“I think George will win the fight,” Lee told Boxing News. “The only question is, can he stay disciplined, stick to the game plan and not get drawn into a fight when he gets challenged?
“When someone challenges him, as a fighter, he likes to stand up to it and fight back. He rises to it in a macho sense. George, in this fight, will need to be disciplined in those moments and not engage Eubank in that bravado. If he gets into a tear-up, he plays into Eubank’s hands.
“George needs to use the jab and dictate the distance. If he can do that, I think he will win the fight.”
For a number of years Lee trained alongside Eubank Jr, yet never once shared a ring. “We were always kept apart,” he says.
This, however, didn’t stop Lee, as perceptive as any boxer today, observing his middleweight counterpart. It didn’t prevent him gaining insight.
“Towards me he was always respectful,” says Lee. “But not much more than that; not a personable guy. He was very focused on his training, very driven, but so was I. We weren’t there to chat. We just got on with our work.
“He’s a good fighter, though. I think he has a lot of anger in him and he’s quite animalistic in a certain way – in the way he fights and throws punches and sustains his attacks.
“If he can beat George Groves, he’s the real deal. There will be no more doubting or questioning his credibility. And if he does beat George Groves, you have to say his father [Chris Eubank Sr] would have done a great job with him and his career. He was criticised for not taking the [Gennady] Golovkin fight and others, but this fight, if they win it, could show they were right all along.”
When Lee sparred Groves, it would either amount to something technical, whereby both worked on moves and techniques, or something wildly exciting. It depended on the day. It depended on their moods.
“George is a very spiteful puncher,” Lee recalls. “He’s not a concussive, one-punch knockout guy but his punches are hurtful. He can hurt you repeatedly.
“With his jab, he’s very consistent. He’s also a great body puncher, George. He will dig in one or two between your punches and it takes the wind out of you. He’s very good at doing that. You attack him and he sneaks one in when you least expect it.”
Lee knows about Groves’ sneakiness, just as Eubank Jr presumably knows about his sneakiness. Similarly, Eubank Jr knows about the Groves jab and the power he possesses in his right hand and knows, based on the many rounds they have shared in head-guards and sixteen-ounce gloves, what kind of battle will take place on February 17.
“They were always the most intense spars,” Lee says. “If they are anything to go on, this fight could be the ‘Fight of the Year’. That’s how good they were.
“When George boxed intelligently and used his jab, he was winning the spars convincingly. But George being George would always seem to want a tear-up, and, with it being a sparring session with nothing on the line, he would take chances and try things out. He wouldn’t play it safe. He’d put himself on the ropes to test himself. He wanted to see if he could beat Eubank on the inside, at his game.”
The spars, then, as revealing and intense as they were, come with a caveat of sorts: they weren’t real. Not real in the same way Saturday night will be real anyway.
“Technically, I think Eubank is lacking and that’s one area George can use to his advantage,” says Lee, 35-3-1 (24). “He can use his superior technique, experience and skills.
“Also, George recovers well when he gets hit and hurt. He’s tough. It’s not a case of him not being able to cope with it. Even if it does become a shootout, George can still win. He has the power and he’s the naturally bigger man. He can fight inside.
“The best way for George to go about it is to stay on the outside and box, but he’s still dangerous enough up close to win a tear-up if it comes to that.
“I’m definitely picking him to win the fight.”
Andy Lee, come Saturday night, will be watching with interest – just as he always did – and knows, more than most, what to expect.