Phil Marshall: At around 10pm UK time tonight a former professional cricketer, Freddie Flintoff, will make his debut as a professional heavyweight boxer on BoxNation. He was a world class cricketer who played a major part in England’s historic test series win in 2005 against big rivals Australia. Now he aims to take his fast reflexes, courage and power into the ring.
In his younger days Freddie was known to his team mates as the Fat Slogger. He was overweight and didn’t really care. Neither did his team managers because Freddie could hit a ball like no other player. Spectators cheered when he walked out to bat. They knew the ball would be visiting all parts of the ground – and the stands – very soon.
But Freddie had to retire in his early thirties with knee and ankle problems. He was left hunting for a fresh physical and mental challenge.
Always a big boxing fan, he was chatting one day to former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan. Mostly out of curiosity, he asked if he could have a session on the pads with McGuigan, just to see what it felt like.
The way it felt to McGuigan was – this guy can punch a bit. One thing led to another and Freddie went into the gym to see if, with McGuigan’s guidance, he could progress. Together they decided there was something there, especially when the novice showed he could take a punch as well as land one.
The really shrewd move was to sell the idea of a three part documentary series to Rupert Murdock’s Sky TV channel. This would follow Flintoff’s journey and the first two episodes have been aired – pulling respectable ratings. To boxing fans it is an intriguing situation, a real nuts and bolts guide to what it takes to even think about a pro boxing career. Flintoff’s star sportsman status has pulled in non boxing viewers too, and given the sport some decent coverage in a positive, encouraging way.
What the training sessions show is that Freddie is deadly serious. Throughout his cricket career he had a reputation as a laid back, life’s meant to be enjoyed, kind of guy. His waistline proved the point and late night drinking sessions never seemed to trouble Freddie’s conscience at all.
That side of him is completely in the past. Now he’s a non-drinking, hard training, dedicated novice – who has boxed 300 rounds and lost 50lbs. According to McGuigan, “He’s grafted all the way through, he’s a decent heavyweight.”
Sky built some suspense into the documentary. At one point the project was in some danger because the British Boxing Board of Control at first refused Flintoff a professional licence, telling him to come back in a couple of weeks and show some more potential. It was a genuine knockback. The Board had no wish to be involved with a possibly dangerous, high profile mistake.
Second time round he convinced them and the fight is on, Flintoff’s toughest test is here. At one point McGuigan worried that Flintoff might be too nice to get into the “hurt business” but now he says, “He’s moved on from that, he can hit a fighter, step back and not get hit himself.”
Fintoff’s opponent is a 23 year old from Oklahoma, Richard Dawson, with two wins under his belt. He is the son of former journeyman heavyweight fighter Anthony Cooks, and will come into the ring around 20lbs heavier than Flintoff.
Will it be fight night or a bad night, brutal or brilliant? Freddie says he needed something to get the juices going. Let’s hope there’s not too much of his blood flowing and he does himself justice.
My money says he will.