Does 'boxer' Freddie Flintoff realise what he's getting into?
Fears for cricketer's safety as he prepares for tonight's bout against jailbird Richard Dawson
CRICKETER Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff steps into the ring tonight for his first professional fight, and the former England all-rounder has admitted he's got nerves ahead of the heavyweight boxing bout with American Richard Dawson (above right).
As one of the finest cricketers of his generation, Flintoff, who retired from the game in 2010 because of a knee injury, played in front of crowds of up to 100,000; only 5,000 are expected to be at the Manchester Arena to see him fight Dawson on the undercard of a programme headlined by the Commonwealth welterweight title clash between Ronnie Effron and Denton Vassell.
Flintoff knew he was a great cricketer. What he doesn't know is if he has what it takes to be good boxer.
For the last four-and-a-half months the 34-year-old has sparred more than 300 rounds under the tutelage of former featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and his trainer son Shane.
But sparring is one thing, fighting a man intent on knocking you out is another, and Flintoff appreciates the difference. "I think anyone would be nervous, it's human nature," he told reporters when asked about pre-fight nerves. "I used to get nervous before I played cricket, and it never affected my performance, so I don't think it's going to affect me."
Flintoff has shed three stone during his punishing training regime, and the 15 ½ stone fighter finds himself up against an opponent who at 17st 3lb is nearly two stones heavier, and has two professional fights under his belt with one a knockout in under 20 seconds.
Some in the professional boxing game believe Flintoff doesn't fully appreciate what awaits him tonight in Manchester and fear for his safety. Boxing promoter Frank Maloney told the BBC he thinks the bout could be "dangerous”, and added: "It's his choice and I wish him luck, but I think it's a bad decision by the British Board of Control to give a 34-year-old former sportsman a boxing licence."
The fight will be the highlight of a documentary about his quest, From Lord's to the Ring, to be shown on Sky One, but Flintoff denied claims he accepted the fight just to boost his celebrity image.
"I've done a few things on TV," said Flintoff. "I did a series where I jumped off cliffs in Acapulco, rode bulls in Texas and various things…We've seen Michael [Vaughan, the former England cricket captain] do Strictly Come Dancing and do a great job, but that's not me. I wanted a real challenge... this was the one thing that got the juices going.”
His opponent appeared unimpressed by all the hullabaloo surrounding Flintoff at Thursday's weigh-in, and in time-honoured boxing tradition indulged in a bit of pre-fight mind games.
"I feel like cricket is still on his mind, I feel like he isn't taking boxing seriously,” said the 23-year-old Dawson, who turned to boxing while serving time in Okmulgee County jail last year for aggravated assault and battery.
"They can talk about how much weight he lost - that doesn't mean anything. They can talk about how many rounds sparring he's had - that doesn't mean anything. Freddie looks good on the boxing pads and on the punching bag, who can't look good doing that? They don't hit back."
And the American doesn't much care for Flintoff's previous sporting exploits. "l looked at some tapes and it don't mean nothing to me,” he said. "It looks like a female sport, you know, sissy stuff.”
Dawson's already proved he's not a sissy in the ring, tonight it's Flintoff's turn.