x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Andrew Flintoff insists boxing debut is no TV stunt

The former England cricketer will step into the ring for his first professional fight against a backdrop of criticism and slow ticket sales this weekend.

Former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff.
Former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff.

Former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff insists he is taking his professional boxing debut this weekend seriously - despite criticism before he throws his first punch.

The 34-year-old will step into the ring to face unbeaten US fighter Richard Dawson on Friday night.

For the past five months, the former Dubai resident has been trained by former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and his son ahead of the bout.

But the build-up to the fight has not been without controversy, with British promoter Frank Maloney criticising authorities for granting Flintoff a licence.

The former cricketer has been filmed preparing for the four two-minute round special attraction bout by documentary cameras, leading to accusations the event will be all about TV, not sport,

But Flintoff says he is serious about making his heavyweight debut

"I understand people are protective of the sport, but I'm going in the ring on Friday and that's what all my energy is going into," said Flintoff.

"They need to watch me and give me a chance. Through the fight and documentary, I want to show what sacrifices boxers go through and things that your casual sports fan might not necessarily realise about boxing.

"There's no talk of disrespecting boxing but of celebrating boxing, and I hope I manage to do that. I'm a boxing fan and sport has been very good to me over the years.

"The fight came before the TV show — the TV show is a result of getting the fight, but you saw on the TV show ... that I've put the hours in."

Despite the attention on the fight, the Manchester Arena will look a lot emptier than it was last weekend, when 20,000 people watched former world champion Ricky Hatton make an unsuccessful comeback.

"I didn't do this as a gimmick, he said. "There's too much at stake. When you get in that ring and there's someone coming at you, you've got to do it for real.

"Hopefully at the end of it people can say, 'You know what? He's had a go and done well there', but that's not my motivation behind it."

Flintoff, who has eschewed the traditional route of learning to box as an amateur before entering the professional business, is not committing himself to boxing beyond Friday.

"Hopefully Friday's going to go well and we'll take it from there, but after all the hard work I've put in, it'd be hard to stop after Friday if it goes well," he said.

"But I'm realistic about where I am, standard-wise, and I'm realistic with my age, so we'll just see how it goes."

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