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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Ex-footballer Rio Ferdinand deserves respect for seeking a fresh challenge, and none are more physically demanding than boxing

It is that ingrained competitiveness – combined with hard work, dedication and talent – that forges elite athletes like Ferdinand.

Rio Ferdinand, left, during a news conference in London to launch his attempt to become a professional boxer. Tom Jacobs / Reuters
Rio Ferdinand, left, during a news conference in London to launch his attempt to become a professional boxer. Tom Jacobs / Reuters

Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United and England footballer, has decided to try and launch a boxing career, of sorts.

The news was announced in a typically dramatic promotional video posted to Ferdinand’s social media channels on Tuesday, and it has, unsurprisingly, received plenty of attention.

At 38 and having never ventured inside a boxing ring, Ferdinand’s decision to swap the comfort of the television studio for the grit of the gym has certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Boxing promoter Barry Hearn described the move as “laughable” and claimed Ferdinand was being “totally naïve”. Robert Smith, the general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, the governing body from whom Ferdinand will need to obtain a license, said he was “completely surprised”.

A post shared by Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) on

Ferdinand will not be the first former Premier League footballer to lace up a pair of gloves. Leon McKenzie, once a forward for Crystal Palace and Norwich City, turned to the sweet science in 2013 and had 11 professional fights before retiring last week.

Curtis Woodhouse, whose clubs included Sheffield United and Birmingham City, walked away from football in 2007 to carve out a respectable career in the ring, which culminated in winning the British Super Lightweight title in 2014.

Ferdinand’s foray into the world of boxing is expected to take a vastly different course to those of McKenzie and Woodhouse.

As the protagonist in a TV project called Defender to Contender, Ferdinand will receive training, guidance and support from an array of boxing personalities, led by Team GB coach and former super-middleweight world champion Richie Woodhall, with the aim of turning one of England’s greatest defenders into a legitimate boxer.

And good luck to him.

Ferdinand reached the very pinnacle in his football career. Starting at West Ham United before moving to Leeds United, it was during his 12-year spell at Manchester United that Ferdinand cemented his legacy. Six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the 2008 Uefa Champions League title were among the many trophies won, not to mention 81 appearances for the England national team.

Ferdinand has now been out of the professional arena for more than two years – after an ill-advised season at Queens Park Rangers – and like many former elite athletes, he clearly still craves the sporting challenge that vanishes upon retirement.

There have been too many sad tales of revered athletes struggling to adjust to life following the end of their playing careers, whether through ill-fated returns or worse still, by turning to alcohol or substance abuse in an attempt to replicate the thrill of competition.

It is that ingrained competitiveness – combined with hard work, dedication and talent – that forges elite athletes like Ferdinand. And while his body may no longer be capable of competing at Premier League level, his mindset will remain that of a top professional – always seeking new challenges and wanting to test his limits.

Rio Ferdinand during his playing days at Manchester United. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Rio Ferdinand during his playing days at Manchester United. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

"I'm doing this because it's a challenge," Ferdinand said. "I've won titles and now I'm aiming for a belt. The chance to prove myself in a new sport was a real draw.”

Let’s not get too carried away. Ferdinand won’t be challenging Anthony Joshua for his heavyweight titles any time soon. Indeed, whether Ferdinand’s career lasts beyond one fight – should it even reach that stage – seems improbable. It will likely bare a closer resemblance to that of former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff, who featured in one professional fight in 2012, to that of McKenzie or Woodhouse.

Whichever way his foray into boxing unfolds, Ferdinand was clearly seeking a new challenge and he has found it in one of the most physically and psychologically demanding sports there is. For that he deserves respect.