In his own words, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is journeying into the unknown ahead of his first fight in professional boxing. But if the cricket icon makes the smooth transition from the crease to the canvas, and walks away with his head held high after his fight with Richard Dawson, he’ll have Monkstown Amateur Boxing Club to thank in part, WRITES JOHN GILLESPIE.
In 10 days’ time the Ashes hero turned fighter will experience exactly what it’s like in the heat of battle as he takes centre-stage in the Manchester Evening News Arena, and he’s hoping he won’t be found wanting in what the boxing fraternity calls the four corners of truth.
Flintoff is realistic. He has been working extremely hard in preparation for what could prove to be the biggest sporting challenge of his life. There are no signs of over-confidence; rather he cut an unassuming, yet focused figure as he donned the gloves to square up to Commonwealth Games silver medal-winning heavyweight Steven Ward at the Cashel Drive club earlier this month.
Monkstown, he said, was the choice of his mentor Barry McGuigan and his son Shane, who is his trainer. And the local club is a place where the high-profile sportsman felt he could get away from it all and concentrate on the job in hand.
“Barry reckoned the best place to come would be here, to Monkstown,” he said. “We were here a few weeks ago to train and I met the club coach, Paul (Johnston), and sparred with big Steve and that week was invaluable; I learnt a lot.
“We have come back this week for more of the same. We have got a fight in a few weeks and it was an opportunity to come back here where everyone has been so accommodating and so good to us. We’ve had a great time here.
“I’ve used the gym and I have gone into the ring and done the pad work and sparring. It’s nice because I can get away from things and focus intently on what we are doing, and it’s great to be in a boxing environment because I can feel the passion for boxing from the people here, and it’s rubbing off.”
He added: “I’ve had the chance to meet some of the local people while I have been training at Monkstown. What’s been great is that I’ve seen all the kids coming in here, and I was chatting to Paul about some the stuff they do in the evenings when they come in and do their homework and then they train. It seems the boxing gym is a real hub of the community.
“I sparred down here the other night; there was a big crowd and everyone came down to watch and it’s great to see. People are passionate about their boxing and it’s a great community.”
The 34-year-old’s decision to take up the sport hasn’t come without criticism in some quarters. Promoter Frank Warren and trainer Frank Maloney have made their views on the fight clear, but, in McGuigan, he has the backing of a legend with an indispensable depth of knowledge and experience.
Flintoff says the build-up to the big fight has been good and he’s pushing himself as hard as he can.
“Preparations have been going well,” he said. “Obviously, it’s different to what I’m used to but, yeah, we’ve had a tough week and I’ve lost a lot of weight. We have been cramming the training into quite a short space of time and it has been intense at times. We’ve had good days and a few bad ones as well, but, I suppose that’s inevitable. I couldn’t have asked for any more from Shane and Barry; they have been so committed and they have done so much for me.
“I’ve worked hard and I can’t do any more than I’m doing. I have done all of my sessions and all of my training and that breeds confidence. A lot of the confidence I have stems from Barry and Shane. It’s not like cricket where I could always draw on my experience; now I have got to draw on their experiences.”
In terms of the physical price to pay, boxing is a million miles away from cricket, but Flintoff says there are certain mental approaches he can draw on from his time as world class all-rounder as he tackles a whole new ball game.
“I suppose my attitude towards what I’m doing, almost a single-mindedness towards training is the same. But the thing about boxing which is different is that, physically, it’s tough and emotionally it’s tough as well. You are up and down all the time and that’s something I have never experienced. With cricket, it’s a team sport and you’ve always got the comfort of having your team-mates around you. But this is an individual pursuit. The parallel, I suppose, is that you have got to be quick on your feet, but I think that’s where it stops!”
Flintoff said the opportunity to get in the ring was something he just “couldn’t pass up”.
“I met Barry, and the chance to get back into sport - albeit one I never thought I’d be involved in - and be trained by a legend, it was just a chance I couldn’t miss. I’m 34, so there will be a time in the future when I wouldn’t have been able to do it so I thought: why not?”
One of the first fighters he faced in training was Ward - and he couldn’t praise the local man enough.
“He’s a top lad. When we came here last time and I went in the ring with him he moved it about. I watched it back and watched the way he moved. He has helped out a lot. He’s a gentleman.
“That’s what’s nice about coming over here, people like Steven, Carl (Frampton) and Paul have been so accommodating. Obviously, you are going to get your cynics about what I’m doing but none of them are here; everyone just wants to help. It’s a really nice environment and it’s a good place to be,” he said.
Alongside the work in the gym, a big part of the gearing up for a bout is diet, and the Lancashire man has been watching what he eats.
“The diet has had it’s moments,” he admitted. “I’ve lost 40-odd pounds. I’ve been training and dieting and had no alcohol, which has been surprisingly easy. It’s the food I’ve missed; the choice of eating what I like. But, it’s just what boxers go through, I suppose.”
Flintoff’s boxing bow is scheduled for November 30 and will be screened on BoxNation. It will be preceded by two hour-long Sky 1 shows, documenting his training programme.
And will he be up for another fight once he gets his debut under his belt?
“I’m not going to make any big calls on it, I’m just going to see how the first fight goes and see what happens. Part of me thinks: do all this work and training and just have one fight? But we’ll see, I’m going into the unknown a little bit, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Report by John Gillespie | Twitter: @Times_Sport