Andrew Flintoff will walk into the ring for his professional boxing debut tonight confident he has done everything he can to prepare for life as a heavyweight fighter.
The 34-year-old former England cricketer has been training for the fight at Manchester Arena for the past four and a half months under the guidance of former world champion Barry McGuigan and his son Shane.
Flintoff will take on 23-year-old American Richard Dawson over four two-minute rounds. Flintoff weighed in at 15st 6lb, with Dawson almost two stone heavier. The change of sport has certainly not been met with universal approval, with promoter Frank Warren describing it as car-crash television.
The man himself shrugged off the criticism at his pre-fight press conference yesterday, saying: “People wanted to see me get out first ball when I played cricket. You can’t please everyone. The wonderful thing about Twitter is I didn’t realise how many people wanted to punch me! I get offers left, right and centre now.
“There’s a lot of people who are passionate about boxing and they want to protect it, but hopefully they’ll see with what we’ve done.... hopefully it will attract different spectators to boxing and it will show boxing for how hard it is, the sacrifices that fighters make and the journey they go on.”
Flintoff has lost almost three-and-a-half stone in training and his face bore the evidence of the work he has done in the ring.
He said: “You’ve got to respect the sport, things can happen. And that’s why you’ve got to put all the time in and make sure that when you walk out you’re comfortable that everything Shane and Barry have asked you to do, I’ve done.
“I’m not walking out there thinking ‘I should have done this, I should have done that’. I’m walking in there knowing I’ve worked hard, I’ve put all my efforts and attention into it.”
Barry McGuigan gave an impassioned defence of Flintoff and the hard work he has put in, insisting he is not listening to the critics from inside and outside his sport. “We don’t give a damn what people say,” the 51-year-old said. “We’ve done the best job we’ve done, we’ve prepared him absolutely meticulously, he’s in the best shape of his life, he’s trained ridiculously hard. So, whatever critics say, they’ll say, and they’ll continue to say. He’s had black eyes, a busted nose, fat lips week in, week out, but that’s part of the game. But it’s given him a taste of what the game’s like.
“We could have gone down the white collar route, we could have gone down the amateur route but we didn’t decide to do that because, if you really want to know what a fighter goes through, then we’re going to do it properly. The board of control took their time to give us a license, and rightly so, they were under the cosh as well. But this game’s about honesty and we’re being honest.”
Dawson, from Tulsa in Oklahoma, has won both of his previous professional fights as well as another unlicensed bout.
Describing his style, he said: “I’m an attacker. I put pressure, pressure and pressure (on my opponent), and pressure bursts pipes. I’m here to win and get it over with. But I respect Freddie.”