By Chris McKenna, courtesy of The Daily Star
CHRIS EUBANK JR has looked into the eyes of George Groves and claimed he has seen weakness.
He believes he sees a man not willing to go as far as him to win when they meet in the highly-anticipated clash at Manchester Arena.
“When I looked into his eyes I felt weakness and regret,” he said. “He's there to be beaten. He’s there to be dominated.”
WBA super-middleweight champion Groves will disagree and can cite how he has come back from three world title defeats to finally achieve his dream as proof he is not mentally weak.
The Londoner will defend his WBA crown against the Hove-born fighter, who has the IBO crown, with a place in the final of the World Boxing Super Series also up for grabs.
It is an all-British world title clash that has captured the imagination with the former sparring partners turned bitter rivals ready to go to war in front of 20,000 fans at Manchester Arena.
“I don't feel he's there mentally and prepared to put everything on the line like I am,” said Eubank Jr.
“When I get into that ring, it might sound cliche or a bit too dramatic, but I'm willing to die in that ring to win. He's not.
“I'm willing to do anything I can to win that fight within the rules of boxing. I will not give up, I will not stop. I won't crumble.”
To borrow one of the super-middeweight star’s phrases from the build-up to this fight, it is “dangerous language”.
Some would argue it is language that does not belong in boxing as using such words could be seen as a way of tempting something awful to happen when there are real dangers in the sport.
But Eubank Jr, and his former world champion father, will argue such a strong mentality is needed to succeed amid the brutality.
Both these fighters know the risks more than most having shared the horror of an opponent suffering serious brain injuries during a bout.
This fight will be the true test of what scars those dark nights, when the lives Nick Blackwell and Eduard Gutknecht were changed forever, have left on them.
Groves has gone on to win a world title since Gutknecht while Eubank Jr has elevated himself to a place where he has earned this fight, but neither have had bouts since where they will have to deliver their very best to emerge victorious.
Only a perfect performance can guarantee victory and that is what makes it an appealing match-up as, like big fights should be, the experts are split over who will win.
Groves hit back by claiming simply wanting it more will not be enough on the night.
“He's trying to put himself in the hurt locker by throwing more punches, if he gets hurt, getting up because he wants it more than me,” said Groves.
“He thinks wanting it more will be enough.
“I won't struggle to find a home for my shots. He will have to walk through fire to land his. I won't be a static target laying on the ropes.”
While the profile of both men make it attractive to the casual fans which makes it perfect for the purists and those who just enjoy the top stars going at it.
Eubank Jr’s profile obviously comes from his father, while Groves has earned his with two big fights with former world champion Carl Froch, which didn’t go to plan, but still made him a name.
Groves also lost to Badou Jack when he was fighting for the WBC title which meant his win last May against Fedor Chudinov that clinched the belt he defends tonight was fourth time lucky to claim world honours.
“He's been definitively beaten by other men, he knows how to lose, he knows how to get knocked out,” said Eubank Jr, who often forgets he was outpointed himself by Billy Joe Saunders in 2014 at middleweight.
“I'm not Badou Jack, Chudinov or Carl Froch. He knows what I am and what I bring on the night.”
But it was his response to those defeats to Froch and Jack that helped Groves become a champion. He was crushed after all three, particularly the Jack fight when he considered quitting the sport to open up a cafe.
But he bounced back to prove his real business was being in the ring to win a world title and, like Eubank Jr did against Avni Yildirim, he booked his place in tonight’s WBSS semi-final with a vicious knockout win against Jamie Cox.
This will be Groves’ first fight at Manchester Arena since his first fight with Froch ended in controversial fashion when he was stopped in the ninth round by referee Howard Foster.
He said: “Manchester is a good place, a fighting city. I love the arena, the changing rooms, it's a good place to box. If it's not at the O2, this is the next best arena.
“The atmosphere is similar to the O2 and it can be very intimidating when it's full if you are susceptible to getting intimidated. But I think me and Junior are the sort of fighters who will relish the big crowd.
“It can be really loud in there especially when someone gets dropped. I think there will be a big roar.
“After that first Froch fight I didn't really feel like I'd lost. I just felt like 'oh no, I've got to go back to work!'
“I was looking forward to a little rest but after that I was just a bit lost. I was like 'right, what' the best way to get back to where I need to be'.
“The rematch was a far greater low than that night, and the Badou Jack fight too. Those two were the worst. I don't take anything for granted and I never have.”
Those bigger fights have also led to the assumption that Groves is a veteran while Eubank Jr’s lack of top-level opponents, barring Saunders, means he is seen as an up-and-coming fighter.
But in reality the Londoner, at 29, is just one year older than his rival and has had only three more fights.
“They talk about him being younger and fresher but he's only a year younger than me. He might be fresher in that he hasn't been in the big fights but he has put his body through it to get into shape. He has also lost and had to come back from that.
“He never really made the step up after, this is the step up but only because he's in this tournament.”
Eubank Jr can claim he is a late bloomer, but he started in the sport when he was a teenager not only recently so maybe that is why he was agitated by Groves claiming this is not his biggest fight.
Maybe it hit a nerve that knowing he is definitely in the biggest fight of his life and is only 12 months younger than the defending champion.
“Either he genuinely believes that and he's under estimating me which is a fatal error or he's fraudulent and a liar,” said the challenger.
It is such verbal jousting that has also created the interest with the pair exchanging barbs since even before they booked their semi-final spots.
“I think that if he gets into a tough position in the fight then it's not unlikely that he will fold,” said the Brighton-based boxer when asked for a prediction.
“But do I dislike him? I'm not that type of man, I don't dislike people. If I didn't know someone I would say I dislike him. Do I dislike George? I'm neutral.
“I keep my emotions out of boxing. I'm not going to say I hate him because I don't. He's just a guy with a belt and we happen to have a rivalry.
“I've wanted to fight him for years and the public want to see it. It doesn't mean I hate him, he's just in an unfortunate position of standing in my path.”