England news November 14, 2012

Flintoff defends move into boxing

ESPNcricinfo staff

Andrew Flintoff has hit out at suggestions that his professional boxing debut at 34, more than two years since his retirement from international cricket, is little more than a TV publicity stunt.

Flintoff will make his professional debut at the Manchester Arena against Richard Dawson - a little-known American pugilist, not the former England spinner - amid widespread criticism from the boxing fraternity and fears within cricket for his welfare.

The boxing promoter, Frank Warren, has described Flintoff's debut as "car crash TV", while another promoter, Frank Maloney, has called it a "scandal". Colin Hart, the highly-regarded boxing correspondent of The Sun, has dubbed him Foolish Freddie and said he did not know whether to laugh or cry.

But Flintoff, who claims to have lost 45lbs (20.4kgs) in weight during a training camp which has been filmed for a three-part TV series, insists he could not have withstood four months of intensive training is his intentions were not to succeed in his new career.

"You couldn't go through this for a TV stunt," he said. "If I was looking for a publicity stunt I'd have picked something easier. There has been criticism of things I've done in the past. I'm just getting my head down and doing the best I can.

"I appreciate that people want to protect the sport they're involved in. I'd be the same with cricket. I'm hoping this is something where boxing is celebrated because it's not my intention to cheapen the sport or show it up.

Flintoff had been due to announce his opponent on Friday but Dawson, who has won his two fights on points, jumped the gun by confirming that it was him.

A spokesman for Dawson was quoted as saying: "It will be a wonderful experience. We respect Mr Flintoff as an athlete and from everything we've read he appears to be a well -conditioned athlete. However, he does not appear to have any fight experience and even though we know he has been training with some of the best in the business, that is not the same as being in a prize fight."

Flintoff, who is training under the supervision of the former WBA featherweight champion, Barry McGuigan, claims to have given up beer to get himself in shape, will contest four two-minute rounds against Dawson, who has won both of his bouts.

McGuigan said: "What we're doing is the opposite of cheapening the sport, it's promoting it. You see the pain and anguish Freddie goes through. How can that be negative in promoting the sport? To say it cheapens boxing is a complete and utter load of nonsense. Freddie has worked his nuts off and we're promoting the sport in a very positive way."

Even McGuigan accepted at a private screening of the forthcoming TV series that Flintoff, who played 79 Tests and 141 ODIs for England, was not a natural and was technically limited.

Since retirement, he has been a captain on sports panel show A League of Their Own, the celebrity face of Morrisons supermarket, a guest commentator (briefly) on the world darts championships and star of Freddie Flintoff vs The World, in which, according to promotional material, you could watch "cricketing legend and ultimate bloke Freddie Flintoff try his hand at some of the most extreme sports and challenges on offer around the world".

He has his limits, though, vowing never to do I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here or Strictly Come Dancing, on which several former England cricketers have appeared, currently including Michael Vaughan.