Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff has denied his reinvention as a boxer demeans the sport with trainer Barry McGuigan claiming that any criticism is motivated by jealousy.
Flintoff will make his professional debut in Manchester on Friday 30 November in a four-round fight against novice American Richard Dawson, who has won both of his bouts. Strong opposition from within boxing has greeted the former England cricket captain’s decision to swap bat for gloves.
Promotor Frank Warren and British heavyweight Danny Price described it as “car crash TV”, while promotor Frank Maloney branded it a “scandal”.
Maloney also called for British Boxing Board of Control chairman Charles Giles to be sacked for approving the 34-year-old’s license. But Flintoff, who lost 45lbs in weight during a gruelling four-month training camp filmed for a three-part series to be screened on Sky1HD, insists his motives are honourable.
“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’s other things I could have done. There’s 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.
“We want to show the sport in the best possible light because, ultimately, I’m a boxing fan as well.”
McGuigan mounted a robust defence of the project at today’s preview screening of The Gloves Are Off, the first episode of which will be aired on 22 November at 9pm.
Former WBA featherweight champion McGuigan, 51, oversaw Flintoff’s training, with his son Shane acting as the technical and strength and conditioning coach.
McGuigan said: “What we’re doing is the opposite to cheapening the sport, it’s promoting it. You see the pain and anguish Freddie goes though.”
“How can that be negative in promoting the sport? To say it cheapens boxing is a complete and utter load of nonsense. It’s a case of the green-eyed monster I’m afraid. Freddie’s worked his nuts off and we’re promoting the sport in a very positive way.
In the sparring sessions seen in the first episode, Flintoff, who has no amateur background, is strong but limited and is generally treated sympathetically by opponents.
McGuigan accepted there are rough edges but praised the 2005 Ashes winner’s attitude. “Let’s be honest, Freddie is a novice. There’s been a monumental change physically,” he said. “Technically, he has a lot to work on, but we’ll keep at that. He’s a great pupil. He’s not a natural but he works very hard. He gets there because he’s so determined.”
Flintoff faced some of cricket’s biggest names in a career that numbered 79 Test appearances and 141 one-day internationals, but admitted boxing is the toughest challenge he has faced.