Groves, Eubank and the Mythical Galaxy of Spar Wars
Here it is. Hold tight ladies and gents because we're approaching the climax of the crescendo that has been building ever since George Groves sunk in the shuddering body shot that eliminated Jamie Cox from the World Boxing Super Series and in turn, set up a mouth-watering clash with Chris Eubank Jr. From the moment Eubank strutted into the ring for the impromptu head to head, minds were racing, tongues were wagging and fingers were typing bold predictions across all social media platforms, (although the suggestion that Tina Turner might walk Junior out on Saturday 17 February with Dr Dre bringing up the rear spitting lyrics was where the line surely has to be drawn?). The opportunity to see two such unique and fascinating characters engaging in conflict, both verbal and eventually physical, is one that has united hardcore boxing fans and the wider audience. Whether you're looking for a soundbite or just pure violence all needs should be satisfied in what is as close to guaranteed entertainment as you will get in the boxing business. It must be this excitement, or perhaps the influence of the ultimate hype provocateur Chris Eubank Sr, that has led to fans from both sides of the fence doing what can only be described as losing their heads.
WIth more smoke and mirrors than your local 80's themed nightclub, the build-up to this clash has been fraught with whispered sparring anecdotes, myth and legend -with the truth potentially residing somewhere amidst the chaos, but just as equally likely in a completely different galaxy to the spar wars tales (apologies) that have played out in front of us. Prior to the fight being made after all, the hundreds of rounds shared by the two in sparring were always described as competitive, with both getting what they wanted out of it. Now Groves has been added to the list of sparring partners that Junior has supposedly battered from pillar to post- a list that includes James DeGale and Cuban Heavyweights if you listen to Eubank Sr. No matter how far-fetched or accurate you deem each tale to be you get the feeling there is genuine belief in the stories told by both Senior and Junior - call it confidence, call it delusion, but it all helps to create an environment where myth can thrive, even beyond simple sparring stories. If this article clears through the shrapnel to debunk some myths attached to this fight then your time won't have been completely wasted. We'll lay out some of the bigger ones:
1. Eubank's unbelievable workrate -
That Junior's fitness is impeccable is unquestionable - one look at his physique indicates an obsessed gym routine and having confessed to drinking approximately two pints of alcohol in his life he is filled with the sprightly energy many of us felt before we ever lifted that first cider can, (probably around 12 years old if you're unsure - remember how much you could run around then?). The idea that he sets a relentless pace for 3 minutes every round however, is beyond myth and stretches into the realm of farce. Much of the showboating he has become famed for provides a convenient opportunity for a breather and the wide open mouth he often exhibits belies the high-paced image he has attempted to set. Indeed, one of the observations from his fight with Billy Joe Saunders was that Eubank was only able to fight in spurts and probably even trained as such. Is his gas tank and workrate better than Groves'? Probably. Is there that much in it in reality? Not really and certainly not as vastly as has been portrayed. Showboat for some time off against Saunders and he'll box your ears off, do so against Groves and it could be an early night.
2. Eubank has his dad's chin -
We have no clear evidence of this. Junior's aggressive, sometimes off-balance and unorthodox approach has occasionally led to him being caught. He has so far stood up to any punishment and come through, but by his own admission he hasn't been in with anyone who punches like Groves. He has predominantly resided at Middleweight so far in his career, with Spike O'Sullivan landing shots that certainly seemed to trouble Eubank, even if he wasn't necessarily hurt. Groves is a big Super-Middleweight, who has wobbled proven tough men like Carl Froch with his power. Junior may have a chin like his old man or like Froch's, but at this stage it's impossible to tell and therefore premature to compare him with two of the most granite chins we have seen in this country.
3. Groves is slow -
Eubank throws flurries that are as sharp and ferocious as you could hope and these combination punches are the gravest threat to Groves when this fight gets up close. Groves, by his own admission, would come second in a race-to-100 punches competition with Eubank, but in terms of single-shot speed there is far less to separate the two than has been suggested. In particular, the famed Groves jab can pepper an opponent before he realised it was even unsheathed. It is generally acknowledged that this, along with sharp right hands - both over the top and to the body - remain the key tools for Groves in this fight and though it is the power of these shots that has mainly been focused on in the pre-fight build up, the speed of these shots should not be overlooked.
(There are many others, as is often the case with big fights, but you don't want me to keep you all day - feel free to add your own).
So as much as ever then, we have seen the effects that public perception of the two protagonists can have when previewing a fight. Many are keen to express that they have watched Junior grow (seemingly since he was just a twinkle in his dad's eye such is some of the nostalgia), so this victory MUST be inevitable - we watched his dad beat Nigel Benn on ITV for God's sake, he must win surely? Others are dismissive of what they see as no more than a daddy's boy who has profited from sharing his father's name and been handed the keys to the Estate - a hype job, whose bubble is waiting to be abruptly burst. As ever, the reality is probably somewhere in between.
The hype train may be running at such a pace that you worry for the safety of its ever growing number of passengers, but one thing is clear - Junior represents a tough night’s work for anyone. The intensity of his personality is matched by his fighting style and is enough to overwhelm anyone that doesn't meet the grade or has an off-night. Whatever you choose to believe about Junior's various sparring tales, the almost universal consensus amongst coaches and training partners is that he can handle himself in there - and the fact that throughout his career he has always been asked back perhaps tells a tale in itself, (although a tough guy who will do the rounds and ensure you can get your work in has never gone short for sparring offers a cynic may say). There is also more skill attached to the obvious physical gifts he possesses than initially meets the eye. There is a jab there in between the 98 uppercuts and though never likely to be Floyd Mayweather he is not quite as easy to hit as he may first appear - an awkwardness borne out of an unorthodox style. It is perhaps ironic therefore that in promoting Junior to a level it is arguably impossible for him to reach, some of the more subtle nuances of his game have been drowned out by this pre-fight hype.
Groves on the other hand can probably once again feel a little overlooked in terms of what he brings to the table. We don't need to go as far back as the DeGale or Froch fights, where he was similarly short-changed - as recently as the Martin Murray fight many pundits tipped Groves to fall short. Too strong, too tough, too high a workrate for Groves to handle - these characteristics can be applied to Murray, Chudinov, Cox and now Eubank. While Junior undoubtedly brings a more dynamic approach than the aforementioned fighters, at what point do we stop saying a fighter will simply outwork or outhustle Groves? A split decision loss to Badou Jack is no clear indicator of that, nor is being knocked out by Froch in what had been a nip and tuck fight (we won't even go into the controversy of that first fight or it may require another article). There is no clear example of Groves simply being outworked over the distance, and in reality only one example of Eubank enforcing a high work rate that his opponent couldn't deal with - and Arthur Abraham would make Dimitar Berbatov look like a hard-working grafter. In contrast, there are numerous examples of Groves boxing and moving to cause opponents all kinds of problems, or landing sharp, accurate shots to either head or body to end a fight. Both methods provide Eubank with problems, so the more adaptable skillset in fact belongs to Groves. As ever, the question remains whether he can keep it to 'his type of fight'.
And here is the real crux of the issue with Groves; If applying his skills, he could make this an easier night's work for himself than many imagine and even obtain an emphatic victory. However, much like a football team that gives away too many chances (sorry Liverpool fans), if you surrender the advantages you hold too often, the opponent will seize on this. The advantages he had over Froch were clear - that he wasn't able to win that fight was a reflection of the fact that he gave up these advantages. Too often keen to fight fire with fire, it is a lack of concentration that has caused previous struggles, rather than a poor chin, or stamina issues, (that Froch right hand would have knocked out a horse - ask that Geordie fella if you're unsure). Under Shane McGuigan he has looked revitalised and like he has learned from previous mistakes (see the increased calmness under pressure when up close with Chudinov and Cox for specific examples). If he can get those legs moving, establish the jab to control the distance and deter Eubank with some big right hands early on, then the fight is his - perhaps in devastating fashion early on, although a Groves decision at 6/1 with some bookmakers looks extremely generous and the most likely outcome if pushed for a prediction. For now though, let’s just enjoy the madness of this whole event while it lasts and bask in the glory of a PPV we're all actually happy to pay.