The return of behind-closed-doors boxing has been welcomed with open arms by both fans and officials alike, with Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions leading the charge in the UK. What the absence of the sport has caused, as a result of the pandemic, is promoters now looking at ways in which they can kickstart it again, from events taking place in studios to the outdoor garden venue that is in setting for the series of Matchroom's “Fight Camp” shows. For the fighters, however, this has put a lot of them in the position where they need to take the fights that they may have previously waited a year or two to take here and now, or risk witnessing their careers slip away from and bypass them.
With this in mind, I spoke to Chris Bourke 7-0 (5KOs), who is keen to progress on through the ranks and at the same time earn some decent money. He has taken a fight for the vacant Southern Area super bantamweight title against fellow undefeated prospect Ramez Mahmood 11-0 (2KOs), in what is a huge opportunity for both fighters to showcase their skills on a large platform with the fight being shown live on BT Sport. Normally this type of a genuine 50-50 bout would be the headline act of a small hall show, but circumstances have driven them together for what on paper could very well be the fight of the night, and one that Chris is very much relishing.
“This fight is a step up, it's for a title and it is also the first ten rounder that I have been in, as most of the fights I have previously been in to date have been six-rounders. This is the step up that I have wanted, and the fact that it is on the bigger platform is a huge opportunity for both of us.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created various issues for many fighters in the sport, with some opting to call it a day due to the lack of financial support that they have been able to obtain. Not only that, but it has been difficult for fighters to get the necessary training that they require ahead of such big fights, and of course initially this inconvenience affected Chris, who spoke about how he has managed to keep active during the lockdown period.
“Obviously it has been difficult because at first, no one knew what was going to happen with boxing or how long it would take before it was brought back. Luckily I have in-house sparring, so when I got the call to be able to spar again it was a relief. Then, of course, we got the call about this fight so it has been all systems go.
"The main difference with training this time around is that the rounds have increased, so now I am becoming a ten-round fighter instead of a six-round fighter. I have always been better suited to the pro side of the sport and I think as the rounds go on in a fight I will become stronger, and it has give me time to focus on our plan for a fight rather than have to rush our way through it because we don’t have as much time.
"I know Ramez is a very fit lad as well with a high work rate and a high guard, so it's going to be a good night.”
When we think of a 50-50 fight, we think of two competitors that are at the same level, maybe who have both had a similar amount of fights, and who have also been in with a similar level of opposition, but how does one mentally prepare for a fighter who is not just there to survive but who is going to come marching forward when the opening bell sounds?
Whilst Chris has faced stern opposition in the form of Louis Norman, this is the first time he will face an opponent with the same hunger and desire as himself, and I was therefore keen to understand how he has, if at all, altered his mental preparation to meet such a challenge.
“These fighters I have been in with before, they are there to survive and are tough and awkward and use spoiling tactics to get through the fight. It will be refreshing to face a guy that is going to come forward and potentially leave openings, and that is when you're going to get more knockouts, because more chances are then taken in fights at this level.
"I am looking forward to it. There are a lot of guys at this level that don't want to take the risk. They don't want to lose their undefeated records and I think myself Ramez deserve a little bit of respect for grabbing this opportunity with both hands, especially on a platform such as this because there are going to be a lot of eyes on the fight."
The financial side of boxing has been the issue that has plagued many fighters during the last four months: with no shows it means that there have been no ticket sales and, thus, for most fighters, their only sources of income have been either working a day job or the generous support of a sponsor. Chris spoke about his last four months and how the result of no boxing has financially impacted him.
“The contract I have with Frank pays me a purse per fight, but other than that the only financial support I have had has been from sponsors who have kept the wolves from the door. It is a relief to have a fight coming up because when you are boxing you are able to get a few sponsors behind you which help massively. I would like to thank Perameter Developments who have continued to support me during the pandemic, as they have helped keep some of the financial worries away.”
It is quite simply the biggest fight of Chris Bourke’s career on the 25th July. Not only will the eyes of fight hungry boxing fans be on him, but also the pressure of walking away the winner, the new Southern Area champion and sprung upon a path to further domestic titles, and Chris gave his final thoughts on the bout.
“I am buzzing with excitement for it. These are the fights I want to be in and this is the platform I want to be on. Even just the little things like having my own poster and, as it stands, we are the co-main event to the Joe Joyce bout, so it's all very exciting.
"I don’t know how the fight will play out, because I don’t know how he is going to come and box, but I know I will do whatever it takes to get the win."
ESBR also interviewed Chris last year after his 4th professional fight - https://bit.ly/39iFMKY