CHRIS EUBANK SR and his bicycle arrive first, approximately five minutes before Chris Eubank Jr in a Ronnie Davies-chauffeured car, but almost two hours late nonetheless. No apology because no matter, the former two-weight WBO champion is here now. He moves his right foot off the right pedal, sweeps his right leg over the saddle to join his left leg, and the eternal enigma goes from sitting to standing before he even bothers to brake.
He tootles down a path that leads from Hove seafront to the doors of a boxing gym where his son has been training to beat George Groves. “Are you coming in?” he asks. It’s windy and drizzling and miserable and cold. Of course I’m going to go in. Yet I just nod, and obey the instruction disguised as a question.
He positions his bike at the back of the gym, and I follow his familiar scent, one of expense and cleanliness, as it burrows through the gloopy gym sweat entrenched in the air. At 51 years old, and looking markedly better than when he was last seen fighting in a boxing ring – busted up and swollen out of shape by Carl Thompson some 19-and-a-half years ago – the sprightly Chris Eubank appears to be defying time. His complexion is Photoshop-perfect, his lycra-covered body supple, and his enviable youthfulness somehow exaggerated by his completely bald head. Where there was once a receding hairline, there is now an immaculate dome, and he sparkles healthily, content in his own completely crease-free skin, while reaching for his phone.
“Did you see his snapchat yesterday?” he asks, not waiting for an answer. Every day, whether training for a fight or not, Eubank Jr posts clips of himself training on various social media platforms. Not just training, but training and grunting and growling and throwing a million impossible punches.
“Look at him, he’s right on point,” Eubank says, the instruction obvious this time, as he moves the screen, which plays a video of his son beating someone up in sparring, so close to my face I have no choice but to again do as he wishes.
Junior enters and the dynamic immediately changes. There is a new boss in the room. Like Senior, he oozes self-satisfaction, but it’s different somehow, it’s completely composed and emotionless, and he acknowledges my presence in exactly the same way he does his father’s. He’s not warm nor cold in his address, he merely nods and says hello to both of us before asking what I want to do. Interview him, watch him spar, I suggest.
“I’m not sparring today,” he replies, before beckoning me into a tiny changing room at the back of the gym. Senior follows behind us, places himself at the other end of the bench where his son sits directly opposite me, and he will not make a single sound for the next 20 minutes. Instead he chooses to only listen and, if his tilted head and almost pained expression of concentration are anything to go by, listen intently. Gone are the days when interviews with Junior were a two-man show. Now Senior is here because he wants to hear what his son has to say, rather than readying himself to jump in should the conversation stray on to unwelcome ground. The relationship between them has never been your typical father and son fare, the savage sport it’s anchored in simply doesn’t allow it, and Junior, while at no point objecting to Senior being in the room, does absolutely nothing to acknowledge his presence.
The young fighter is wearing a hoodie, emblazoned with ‘Next Gen’ in a far more obvious nod to his father than the one he gave just moments ago. The oversized clothing covers the top of his stubbled face and he eyeballs me and waits for a question. He too radiates fitness, but it’s a fitness that is more extreme, and consequently less polished than that of Senior’s. It’s the unhealthy healthiness of a fighter who is quite clearly deep in the zone, in that dark, gruelling tunnel where the only light is the fight that will come at the end of it. Waiting, of course, will be George Groves, the WBA super-middleweight champion and the man who stands between Junior and a place in the World Boxing Super Series 168lb final.
Without question, it is Eubank Jnr’s biggest fight yet, and it’s a rivalry that began as far back as 2011 in the form of heated sparring sessions which would spread sporadically over two years, and designed, Senior claims, to ensure Junior would have the upper hand should he ever meet Groves in a prize ring. What exactly happened in those sessions varies depending on who you believe but, it’s fair to say, Eubank performed well considering he was distinctly less experienced than his rival at the time. And today, Junior, just as Senior planned, is certain he is going to win.
“I hurt him on multiple occasions over the years,” the 28-year-old reflects, while rubbing his restless hands up and down his legs in a manner that suggests his time would be better spent punching something with them. “He would leave the ring dejected and angry, and sometimes he would get angry in the ring in the sparring sessions.
“Sometimes he would be completely out of character and drop his hands and do things so you could see he was frustrated, and I expect all that to come out in the fight. I expect all those weaknesses and mental insecurities to eventually show, because I’m going to be on top of him from round one, and I’m going to break him. There’s only so much he will be able to take. I don’t believe he is the most mentally tough fighter out there. I think he can be mentally broken if the right buttons are pushed, and I’m pushing those buttons, and I’ll be pushing them all night long.”