BOXERS look for tells. A sign of weakness, an exposed vulnerability that they can exploit. Maybe it’s a glove dipping down, just enough to reveal the punch an opponent is about to throw. Or a sound, a gasp that might betray the pain caused by a body shot. Those habits extend beyond the ring. When fighters meet ahead of a contest they can’t help but observe their rival and see if they are giving anything away.
Chris Eubank Jr has the blank, expressionless face of a consummate poker player. He sat cooly at a busy press conference Wednesday (February 14) in Manchester, answering questions with the occasional smile and exchanging jibes with George Groves, the WBA super-middleweight champion whom he challenges on Saturday.
But Groves saw something else. He saw a new anxiety in his antagonist. “Every time he said something a little bit argumentative, he had to open a bottle and have a drink of water. I’m no psychiatrist or anything like that [but] little, little things, little changes I thought showed signs of nerves. He must be nervous. He’s on the big stage. He’s got to question everything he does,” the champion said. “If you’ve done something and got it right, you know it works. He’s never done any of this before so is thinking: Have I done too much press? Should I have got a trainer? Should I have got better quality sparring? Should I now reconsider?
“I’d be nervous if I was him.”
The two turned to one another after the conclusion of Wednesday’s conference and shared a long, lingering staredown. Eubank was unflinching, icy as he gazed back at Groves. He saw something too. “I’m trying to learn about my opponent, to gauge his mentality, his mindset. Some guys you face off with [and think] this guy wants it. You can hear the breathing. You can see the eyes. Some guys, they can hold the stare. His eyes, once in a while they moved off, came back. Bad signs for him,” Eubank said. “When you look into a man’s eyes for that amount of time you feel it. You feel the aura, the vibe. You feel his soul. I felt weakness. I felt fear. Regret.
“If it gets into a really tough position in the fight, it’s not unlikely he will fold.”
He continued, “I just don’t see any confidence in him. I don’t see that fire I have. I told him I want this more than you. I believe that’s the truth.”
Two different men, two opposed corners and two wildly diverging perceptions. When Groves looks to the support team around his challenger, he sees confusion in Chris Eubank Senior, the father and mentor, and trainer Ronnie Davies. It’s “the blind leading the blind,” Groves has scoffed. Eubank Junior sees something else. “If a world champion and his trainer are blind men in the sport of boxing, then he doesn’t know his history. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. How can you compare my team to his team and Shane McGuigan. Shane is a boy in the game. We’re not blind. We see everything. My team has seen everything. There’s nothing that hasn’t been seen or done by the people around me. He’s reaching,” Eubank Jr declared.
“We see through it all.”
We all shall see, this Saturday, at the Manchester Arena.