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Chris Eubank Jr: How to train like a champion

Updated 3:47 AM ET, Fri February 16, 2018

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(CNN)Millions of people have watched the Rocky films, "The Eye of the Tiger" montages of Sylvester Stallone putting himself through weeks of brutal training.

Hour upon hour of drinking raw eggs, early morning runs, sparring, hitting the heavy bag, one-armed press-ups, even chopping logs and hitting tractor tires with a sledgehammer.
But that's Hollywood -- what's the life of professional fighter really like?
Boxer Chris Eubank Jr. is the IBO super middleweight world champion and he takes his training very seriously, especially with the biggest fight of his life just around the corner.
On February 17, he will take on George Groves, another British world champion, who holds the WBA (Super) super-middleweight title.
Not only are there two belts on the line, there's also a place in the final of the World Boxing Super Series up for grabs as well.

Longest training camp yet

The 28-year-old Eubank Jr., who is the son of former two-weight world champion Chris Eubank, is leaving nothing to chance and is putting himself through an 11-week training camp -- that's five weeks longer than he's ever done before.
His training base is a no-frills boxing club right on the waterfront in the popular British seaside town of Brighton, just a few miles from where he was born.
    Although his father, and his long-time trainer Ronnie Davies, are a constant presence, they claim that Eubank Jr. largely trains himself and that they are just there to "harness" his skill and "guide" him.
    On a bitterly cold December day -- no sunshine or ice creams in sight and with rough seas smashing into the shoreline -- Eubank Jr. kindly allowed CNN's virtual reality cameras to film him hard at work.
    He talked us through his training regime and explained in detail what each specific exercise gives him when it's time to fight for real.
    In short, he gave us a fascinating insight into what it takes to become a modern-day warrior.

    Taping the hands

    Protecting his tools, September 2017.
    Before doing any exercise, Eubank Jr. sits down on a stool next to the ring and tapes up his hands.
    Usually a trainer would do this for a fighter but he insists on doing this himself, even on the night of his fights.
    It's a process that takes more than 10 minutes. He clearly takes this very seriously and wants to get it just the way he likes it.
      "It protects your tools," said Eubank Jr., referring to his hands. "Without taping, you are prone to injury and injuries can cause you problems in fights.
      "It can cause you to not be able to train and your training is your work, and your work is your money so you have to protect your money, which is your hands."

      Shadow boxing

      Fighting the man in the mirror, November 2014.
      It's still not time to put the gloves on for Eubank Jr., who has won all but one of his 27 professional fights -- he was beaten by fellow Brit Billie Joe Saunders on a split decision in 2014.
      He now heads over to the large wall mirror and begins to throw air shots and move around, as if facing an imaginary opponent. This is known as shadow boxing.
      Keeping a close eye on his reflection, he runs through his whole repertoire of punches -- left hooks, right hooks, uppercuts and more.
      "You're throwing the punches, you're warming up the muscles," explains Eubank Jr., who starts off slowly before building up to full speed.
      "You're mentally preparing yourself to engage in combat, you're going to go into the ring and throw punches at another man so it's good to get into that rhythm.
        "And it is a rhythm. Some guys don't really have a technique to it, they're just throwing punches. For me, I've found that if I get into a rhythm, it's actually quite fun.
        "I do it to music so sometimes I'll try and shadow box to the beat of whatever song I'm listening to. It relaxes you and it gets your body prepared for what's to come in the gym session."
        His soundtrack of choice? Grime and hip hop.

        Exhaling when you punch

        "You throw a punch, you breathe out." Training, November 2014.
        What immediately catches your attention is the sound that Eubank Jr. makes every time he throws a shot, something akin to a large wild cat attacking its prey.
        It's animalistic and it's intimidating but it also serves a far more basic need for the fighter in the ring.
        "You have to breathe," said Eubank Jr., who is known for his supreme fitness and ability to sustain brutal onslaughts during his fights.
        "If you're throwing punches or exerting energy but you're not breathing, you're holding your breath. That actually saps your strength, it saps your stamina.
          "You throw a punch, you breathe out. It's kind of like you're reminding your body to breathe. You're taking the air out and you have to bring it back in.
          "Without that, you tire way quicker because you're not getting the oxygen into your lungs. So by breathing out, it forces you to have to then breathe back in. It's a rhythm thing as well -- you're making the noises to the punches.
          "Also, when you get hit in the stomach and you're holding too much breath, it can be much more painful. So if you get caught when there's less air in your stomach, it's actually a lot easier to handle than if you get hit with a full stomach of air."

          Sparring

          Sparring, with trainer Ronnie Davies looking on, November 2014.
          Now to what Eubank Jr. considers the single most important part of his training regime: sparring. That's where two fighters in the ring, usually wearing head guards, throw real punches at each other in back-to-back, three-minute rounds.
          When CNN went to visit, Eubank Jr. actually sparred against his younger brother, Sebastian, a heavier fighter who himself is looking to turn professional.
          Sparring can't fully simulate the intensity of "fight night" but it's the closest thing to it in training and the brothers certainly didn't hold back, with at least one bloody nose on show after four rounds.
          In October last year, Eubank Jr. questioned the decision taken by Northern Irish boxer Carl Frampton to reduce his number of sparring sessions and lower the risk of brain damage later in life.
          He told CNN that he would never cut his sparring because it's something you need to go through "to become a champion and better yourself as a warrior."
          And it's safe to say that his view has not changed since then.
          "To be able to perform at a high level, to be able to do things that no other fighter can do, you have to practice it," said Eubank Jr.
          "And the only way you can practice is by sparring, by fighting another man. You can hit the bags, the pads, and you can run and do your fitness and your weights as much as you want, but if you don't spar you just don't have that true experience, that true knowledge of how to beat a man in one-on-one combat.
          "You need to go through the pain, you need to get hit, you need to truly know what it's like to get hurt and then to force yourself to recover. Nothing can do that for you except for sparring.
          "I would say that you could cut out everything else in your training regime. If you just sparred, you would still be able to make it and be successful in boxing. You can't say that for any other training technique, so it's very important for physical preparation and just as important for the mental preparation.
          "If you have an opponent you are getting ready to fight, you bring in guys with a similar style to him and then you're able to practice all the things that you're going to use in your game plan to beat your opponent.
          "There's a very big difference between being fit and being fight fit. Sparring is the only way to get fight fit. It's a very important part of boxing and something that I do as regularly as possible."

          Hitting the pads and the heavy bag

          "It's still a very crucial part of the training." Hitting the bag, October 2015.
          The panther-esque noises aren't over yet because Eubank JR. is now hitting the heavy bag and the pads with as much force as he can muster.
          "Bag work, pad work, everything outside of sparring is for fitness, to get your body in peak physical condition to go into the ring and fight," said Eubank Jr., who knocked out Turkish boxer Avni Yildrim to set up the Super Series semifinal against Groves.
          "You have to push yourself on those apparatus to get your body in the condition it needs to be in to perform when the lights go on.
          "It's still a very crucial part of the training and a lot of mistakes that boxers make are because they don't push themselves to the limit on the bags, on the pads. They kind of just go through the motions because they're in the gym five days a week and it gets boring.
          Training in Brighton in September 2017, with Eubank Sr looking on.
          "They kind of get into a rhythm of just saying, 'I'm just going to hit the bag five, six, seven rounds and that's my workout, I'm done for the day.' They go back home and they think 'I've been in the gym and I've done it, I've done the work.' But they actually haven't.
          "The only way you can really train significantly to increase your power, strength, speed and stamina is to push yourself to the limit, even when you're on the bag.
          "To be hitting that bag like you're hitting somebody who's trying to hit you back. That's what I do every day and that's why I guess I have the fitness and the success that I have in the sport."

          Skipping

          Jumping rope, September 2017.
          Some of the biggest names in boxing are some of the best skippers too -- Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather Jr. to name only two -- and Eubank Jr. is also pretty handy when it comes to jumping rope.
          "It's another fitness technique. It's hand-eye coordination," said Eubank Jr., who won the IBO super-middlweight belt in February 2017, when he stopped Australian Renold Quinlan in the 10th round.
          "A lot of boxers are actually quite oafish so I guess the skipping gets their foot movement a bit prettier, a bit more nimble or a bit more fleet footed.
          "And for the guys who are good on their feet already, it's a fitness technique. If you do it right -- the double jumping, the triple jumping, the crisscrossing -- it's all an exercise.
          "I wouldn't say it's crucial to a boxer but I would say it's synonymous with boxing now because it's an old-school technique that boxers have been doing for hundreds of years that's just kind of stuck. It's fun. It's window dressing but it's fun."

          Sit ups and 'medicine ball slam'

          "You are forcing your body to learn how to take heavy impact." Feeling the medicine ball, September 2017.
          It's already been an intense session but perhaps nothing is as hard to watch as Eubank Jr. working on his core with trainer Ronnie Davies.
          The 71-year-old Davies, who worked with Eubank Jr.'s father at the peak of his career in the 1990s, holds down the 28-year-old boxer's feet while he works through several sets of sit ups and then, with Eubank Jr. lying on his side, proceeds to slam a heavy medicine ball into his torso.
          "Having a man stand over you and slam a heavy plastic ball into your stomach is mental and physical preparation," said Eubank Jr. who has never been stopped in a professional fight.
          "You are forcing your body to learn how to take heavy impact, which is what you will experience in the ring. You will have a man who is punching you as hard as he can in your stomach to try and wind you, paralyze you, stop you from continuing the fight.
          "You've got to push through that pain barrier. If you can't push through it here, you won't be able to do it in the fight. You learn how to mask that pain.
          "It was painful but you didn't see it on my face -- that's a big part of boxing. It's showing no emotion when you're in that ring. You're going to get hit with shots that really hurt but you cannot let that man know that he's hurt you.
          "I've had incidents in sparring where I've been hit with a body shot and I was paralyzed, I couldn't move, it took every breath out of me, I couldn't even move my feet. So he's hit me with the shot and he's looking at me, he's looking at me to see 'Did I hurt you'? Did I get you?' And I'm looking at him and I just smiled.
          "And that smile made him back away, thank God, because if he had come forward, I'd have been finished. So a big part of boxing is that poker face: no emotion, you can't give anything away. That's a technique I use."

          Running

          Pebbles on Brighton Beach, where Eubank Jr. runs
          Eubank Jr. had already been on a run before CNN caught up with him -- something he does daily to maintain his staying power in the ring.
          "I do sprints on the tracks, I run along Brighton beach on the stones," he said.
          "Seven miles, and that's really like 14 miles because every time you're running on the stones, the pebbles, you're sinking in. You have to push your feet back up, so going along that many miles on the stones is very tough and it builds the legs, it builds the stamina and that's a big part of boxing.
          "A lot of people miss that. A lot of people focus on, 'Oh, he can knock everybody out, he's so quick.' Yes, speed and power are important but stamina, being able to continue and execute your game plan without getting tired, that's a huge part of boxing.
          "And training like that helps you to achieve the fitness that you need to continue your attacks, your onslaughts, your defense, for 12 rounds."

          Living like a champion

          The world champion shows off his belt, September 2017.
          During his school days, Eubank Jr. excelled at rugby, swimming and athletics, before moving to the US to concentrate on his boxing.
          He admits he'd fallen in with the wrong crowd back in Britain but his time in Las Vegas helped him focus on his craft and -- although his father was initially against him following in his footsteps -- Eubank Jr. went on to win the Nevada State Golden Gloves and the Western Regional Golden Gloves, before turning professional in 2011.
          "It's not about what you're doing in the months leading up to the fight," said Eubank Jr. "It's what you've done since you were a kid, how you've trained your entire life as an amateur and a professional.
          "You're not going to beat somebody because you trained really hard for a couple of weeks or a couple of months -- it's a lifestyle.
          "You have to have been living boxing, living true to yourself in terms of the man you are, the food you eat, the people you hang out with, the mindset you have. All that prepares you to become a great fighter.
          "Being in the gym every day, being on the roads every day for years and years and years, grafting -- that is the only way you become a true champion."

          'Baddest man on the planet'

          Chris Eubank Jr. in the ring with his dad, after his victory over Avni Yildirim in October 2017.
          The 51-year-old Chris Eubank Sr. was a showman in his heyday, and an eccentric, often pictured with a gentleman's monocle, cane or behind the wheel of his huge road truck.
          Although not as eccentric as his father, when it comes to Eubank Jr.'s eye-catching behavior in the ring, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
          He's perfected the Eubank stare, he stalks his opponents around the ring and, once he's finished them off, towers over them and peers out into the crowd -- ever the showman.
          Eubank knocks down Avni Yildirim, October 2017.
          "I'm always confident -- you have to be," he said. "You have to believe that you're the baddest man on the planet. You can't go in there with any doubt in your mind.
          "He punches hard, he knocked the last guy he fought out, maybe he's going to hurt me ... you can't have any of that in your mind.
          "You've just got to go in there and believe that you are going to win. It doesn't matter what he does, what he said, who he thinks he is, you're going to do what you've got to do to win. "

          The big fight

          George Groves and Eubank Jr. square off at a press conference, November 2017.
          Tickets for the Groves fight sold out in minutes, which means 21,000 fans will pack into the Manchester Arena on February 17 for what, on paper, promises to be the toughest test of Eubank Jr.'s career.
          Groves became a world champion in May 2017 and also has the experience of taking on the mighty Carl Froch -- the former WBC, WBA and IBF world champion -- in two huge blockbuster fights.
          They both ended in defeat for Groves but the rematch was in front of 80,000 people at London's Wembley Stadium so he knows what it's like to fight on the big stage.
          "George Groves is a solid opponent, a solid world champion, but he's not me," Eubanks Jr. told CNN.
          "He can't deal with the fire that I'm going to bring to that ring on the night. I've sparred with him many times over the years, I know what he's capable of. I know his weaknesses, I know what he's strong at and you guys are going to see a new, an improved Chris Eubank Jr.
          "This is going to be the longest training camp I've ever had for a fight -- 10 to 11 weeks, and most of the time I only ever train five, six weeks for a fight. Yeah, an 11-week training camp: you guys are in for a hell of a fight."