It began with a headlock. From a man named Claudio. Inside a Footlocker store in Bluewater shopping centre.
Chris Bourke had ended his time with Team GB, feeling his fighting style was more suited to the professional game, and was on the lookout for gyms and coaches to kick off his story on the pro circuit.
He had seen ‘Claudio’, a man who used to box at the highly respected Peacock Gym, around the amateur circuit but he was a chap he hadn’t really conversed with.
“I said to him I was thinking about turning professional and he made me wait where I was,” said Bourke recalling the moment he got out of the headlock and surreal situation.
“He called up Martin and I went and did a session the following week and from there I stayed.”
Martin is Martin Bowers, one of two men behind Epping’s Peacock Gym, an establishment that grew to prominence in Canning Town, along with his brother Tony. The former is a manager and trainer respected not just by fighters but held in high regard by promoter Frank Warren who Bourke signed professional terms with and made his debut on a Peacock Dinner Show against Ricky Leach in December 2018.
Despite the lure and continued development that the Team GB setup has to offer, Bourke has no regrets about leaving it all behind a few years ago for the smaller gloves and the cut-throat business of trying to become a world champion.
“I didn’t want to leave it until I was too old to turn pro and do things. It felt like the right time for me and although GB was good it wasn’t my goal in boxing.”
Bourke, now 26, fighting at super-bantamweight, was speaking to Boxing Social last week not long after finishing a spar with European bantamweight champion Lee McGregor. A Scottish bottle of ‘Lightning’ who is making a name himself just like Bourke. The pair have sparred in the past during their Team GB days but this one was the Englishman’s final bit of ring work before shutting down shop ahead of fight week preparations.
On Saturday night, the unbeaten Bourke (9-0, 6 KOs) puts his promising reputation on the line and WBC International title against James Beech Jr (12-1, 2 KOs). A fight that should hopefully get the audience it deserves before the likes of Hamzah Sheeraz, Chris Jenkins and Joe Joyce strut their stuff at the SSE Arena, Wembley, on BT Sport.
Highly respected boxing journalist Steve Bunce, who carries out post-fight interviews for the channel, gave the fight his full support last week on Twitter and encouraged fans to tune in.
“Beech v Bourke at Wembley on 24/7/21 is a great fight. A real fight. It will not be conducted on social media – it is a must-win fight in the ring. Just enjoy it.”
That was praise which pleased Bourke who is thrilled to be back on BT Sport but is mindful of the threat and endeavour that Beech, a 2020 British title challenger, will bring on the night.
“It’s good you know; he gave the British champion Brad Foster a tough fight,” Bourke said.
“He’s very game, he’s very strong, he’s coming down from the weight above (Beech fought at featherweight before the Foster fight). And he’s aggressive and throws a lot of shots and he’s always in exciting fights. I’m expecting a good fight.
“Every fight is a must-win fight and it’s a fight I have to do the business in. It’s a good platform to get my name out there again.”
The fight itself is predicted to steal the show from Chris Jenkins-Ekow Essuman and the Joe Joyce-Carlos Takam main event. Bourke, who is never gun shy and always willing to trade, would be happy to see out a win without blood and thunder.
“I don’t want a Gatti-Ward,” he laughed. “It can steal the show but if I can steal it in a way where I don’t have damage then that’s what I plan on doing.”
The 5ft 4ins southpaw has been carving out an under-the-radar reputation for himself in his nine fights to date and an impressive win on Saturday will see him in British title conversation. He feels ready to challenge current holder Brad Foster and, before the fight was postponed, Bourke told Boxing Social he is ready to face the winner of Foster vs European champion Jason Cunningham, which will now be rescheduled from its original August 28 date.
The former Southern Area champion realises that to get big fights and big rewards you sometimes have to do more than just fight.
“You have to sell yourself and get your name out there and be patient as well. You have to wait for the opportunities because sometimes it won’t always come to you. Just become more patient and keep grafting away in silence really.”
Grafting in silence and letting the results speak for themselves, there’s a Bourke t-shirt in amongst those words but that’s who he is. He describes himself as not much of a talker and, while that side of his career continues to grow, his fighting style already has fans keen to see more.
The left hand that knocked out Louis Norman and his elusiveness (in round three), the left hand that was the beginning of the end for Michael Ramabeletsa (in round two) and his impressive points win against Ramez Mahmood. These wins have given him a solid foundation for many to believe that the quiet man of the 122lbs division could be someone that Frank Warren can transform into a real problem for domestic rivals and beyond.
“I feel like I’ve got a God-given talent and I just need to keep working hard and hopefully it’ll pay off one day,” he said.
The talent started to unearth itself when his love for boxing kicked off at 15-years-old after taking a trip to a gym with a friend. Spars with fighters who were more experienced and talented than him soon had a reversal of fortune for Bourke. He had always known about boxing, however, thanks to his family being close friends with former British heavyweight champion Gary Mason who sadly passed away over 10 years ago.
Fighting, however, came beforehand and then life in a boxing gym ‘mellowed’ him out.
“I was never really good at school,” he said. “I just wasn’t into it, wasn’t for me really. I used to get into a few fights at school. I feel as though I had a bit of a fiery temper and boxing [kind] of sorted that right out.”
Over a decade later and Bourke’s career hits a milestone on Saturday, his record will go into double figures. And a successful defence of his WBC trinket will continue his rise in the green and gold rankings where he sits at No:26.
Of his first nine fights to date, Bourke summed up his progress.
“A lot of the boys I’ve boxed, even the journeymen, they don’t really get stopped and I’ve been stopping them. They’re durable journeymen they’re not just the sort that fall over. I feel like that’s helped me a lot getting them out of there. Then from fighting [Louis] Norman onwards I’ve had good opposition. I boxed Norman who boxed for the English [flyweight title] against Charlie Edwards then Ramez Mahmood above that and Michael Ramabaletsa who’s been in with some former world champions and who doesn’t get stopped often. I’ve got some good wins recently, so I’ve been stepping up every time I feel like.
“I’ve been in the gym grafting away since the Ramabaletsa fight. I had a little break after Christmas and just got back in the gym and started practicing other things and improving. Hopefully, you’ll see that on the night.”
Main image: Queensberry Promotions.