Commentary

Steve Bunce -- My unbelievable day with Chris Eubank and son

Updated: February 13, 2018, 4:33 AM ET
By Steve Bunce Columnist Profile

The murals are dreadful, the gym is cold, one ring is tiny, the paint is peeling from the walls and a rotten pair of stinking boxing gloves occupies the bench in the changing room.

The subterranean world of Chris Eubank Jr. is a very long way from the posed pictures at red carpet appearances, snatched selfies on the arms of the most glamorous women in our celebrity universe and the general anarchy operating under the latest quotes from his father. The gym in Hove is right on the beach, the ring is below sea level, part of the grime on the floor, walls and ceilings that was left there by Eubank Sr. two decades ago. This is the Eubank way that is seldom seen.

A man called Ronnie Davies was in charge of delivering Eubank Jr. on the day they spent with ESPN. He was in the corner with the father during one of British boxing's most extraordinary careers. There had been a comic series of phone calls before their arrival. "Can't do 12," Davies had said. "It will be more like 2 and I thought it was tomorrow." Some diplomacy was necessary. "OK, I will go and get him up now, but the father will not be there -- he's in London." The sun was out when Eubank Jr. and Davies arrived at a compromise time of about 1:30pm. It was a bit tense.

Charlie Gibson/ESPNChris Eubank Jr. chats with Steve Bunce in the Eubanks' subterranean gym in Brighton. "He's different, he's always been different," says long-time Eubank trainer Ronnie Davies, who was in the waiting room when Eubank was born.

"He's different, he's always been different," Davies whispers to me as Eubank Jr. prowls around the gym, tapping away at his phone and looking, it has to be said, extremely distracted. Davies should know, he was in the waiting room when Eubank Jr. was born 28 years ago. I have known Ronnie since the late Eighties, been in his company before fights, after fights and on many long nights at boxing venues when Eubank Sr. boxed. He's on edge in the Hove gym, a gym he has known since he was a toddler over 60 years ago. "It's a big fight," he explains of Eubank Jr. Super Series semifinal bout against George Groves at Manchester Arena this coming Saturday. He is right, it is a big fight, a test of the Eubank brand and Davies is the crucial element, if too often neglected, in that brand.

"My father should be here by 4pm," Eubank Jr. offers when we sit down for the interview. He says it unprompted, like he has too often had to answer a question about his father. Our interview is a cagey affair and lasts for a swift 45-minutes. He talks about starting to box in Las Vegas a long, long way from his father's gaze, he talks about George Groves, but mostly he talks about being his own man. He is relaxed and ready to train when we have finished by about 2:30pm.

The hunt for the father continues. He's in London, he's on a train, he's waiting for a taxi, he's in a good mood, he can't wait to get there and he's still on a train. There are two gyms in the basement complex and for two hours Eubank Jr. trains in a ring with Davies watching over him. Eubank Jr. is fast, relaxed powerful, ready. "I'm pulling him back a bit," admits Davies. A conditioner, one of only three people in the gym, takes Eubank on the pads and it is old-fashioned pad work; you hit a target that is a head, not a pair of magic wands held by somebody imitating something they have seen in a Floyd Mayweather film.

There is still no sign of the father when Eubank Jr leaves at about 4:30pm and assures me that he will be at the arcade on the seafront by 6pm. "It's strange, I would never go there with my father -- are you sure he said yes?" he asks. We have a bold plan for the Eubank boys, but the father is nearly five hours late, the sun is nearly setting and the gym is getting colder. At about 5:30pm Eubank Sr. arrives. He is wearing his sheriff's badge, carrying his man-bag and instantly quoting poetry. He hustles me into a changing room. "How does Junior look?" he asks. I reply: "Ready." It is the right answer. He is in fine form, open and brutally honest about his son's early years in the ring. "I called Mike Tyson and asked him how Junior looked," he tells me. "I had no need to watch him. He had to learn."

By 6:30pm we are in Marroccos, a Hove institution, ordering hot tea and waiting for a taxi. Eubank Sr. tours each table, talking, offering menu suggestions and posing for pictures. "He's in all the time," the woman making the coffee tells me. "People love him."

We finally get in the taxi and drive to the other side of Brighton to the Marina and a tournament -- Father vs. Son: The Arcade Wars. It is gone 7pm, we were due there at 3pm; Junior has not been in touch; Eubank Sr. has asked if he can recite poetry and not play arcade games.

Charlie Gibson/ESPNChris Eubank Sr. (left) takes on his son in the Brighton seafront arcade, with neither willing to back down.

Junior is there, with a couple of friends. Father and son grab a word in private and then 'The Games' begin. Three sports, three savage encounters, a mix of brain and brawn. It gets a little heated in the deciding pool match. The basketball shoot-out was a bit crazy and the bike riding outcome has still not been decided. It was fierce: "You want to fight me?" one asked in the last moments of the pool game. I think it was a joke.

It ends at 9pm, I put the father back in a taxi to Marroccos and leave the son and his friends eating. The fight is just ten days away.

Steve Bunce

Boxing writer for ESPN
• Over 25 years reporting on boxing
• Been ringside in Las Vegas more than 50 times
• Also covered five Olympics

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