Boxing: Andrew Flintoff braced for bruising baptism in ring

Former all-rounder enters another world against street-tough American who derides cricket as a 'cissy sport'

Freddie weighed in at 216 pounds. Dawson at 241 pounds.

Jumping off cliffs in Acapulco, riding bulls in Texas, capsizing pedalos in the Caribbean. There have been many diversions in the career of Andrew Flintoff, none of which ended with an invitation to “get your nob out” in front of the cameras. That was Flintoff’s fate yesterday as his foray into professional boxing fell under the scrutiny of hard lads from Manchester who do this stuff for a living.

There he was, this great legend of English cricket stripped to his underpants, presenting his honed physique on a set of scales. Before him sat an eclectic mix of boxing folk, professional voyeurs fascinated by this mad flirtation with the sweet science and a ribald retinue attached to Manchester welterweight prospect Ronnie Heffron.

Emboldened by an audience they otherwise would not draw, the Heffron posse tickled Flintoff’s ribs with the standard gym banter. “Bang him out,” they shouted as he posed nose to nose with his American opponent Richard Dawson. For them Flintoff’s appearance is a curiosity, a sideshow, a bit of candy floss to be consumed at the interval.

His 23-year-old adversary did not seem overly concerned either about tonight’s engagement at the Manchester Arena. He dismissed cricket as a “female sport” and smirked when Flintoff’s mentor Barry McGuigan described him as a novice.  He has been fighting since he could walk. Both parents served jail sentences, an experience he shared for three months last year after a conviction for aggravated assault and battery.

Dawson claimed to be breaking up a fight. The truth is he has been involved in petty crime since the age of five. According to his legal adviser, Michael Johnson, Dawson’s adolescence was typical of the disenfranchised African-American experience in Okmulgee, stealing cars and running drugs just to survive in a nowhere town in the Oklahoma hinterland 40 miles from Tulsa.

Five years ago, Dawson saw his best friend murdered in the same drugs trade that resulted in him taking four bullets in the back, the scars of which were visible at the weigh-in. Dawson has been hand-picked for this duty by a McGuigan associate in the United States. His record boasts two wins in as many fights, though he claims to have had three as a pro. In one he broke his opponent’s rib, in the other he knocked him out inside 90 seconds.

Johnson said he would be surprised were Flintoff to survive a round. Who knows? This is the world of the untestable claim, where the credibility of the men Dawson beat can hardly be verified. Flintoff has trained for four and a half months, shedding 20 kilos. He had his last spar on Monday. The difference between that and his first spar was, claimed McGuigan, night and day.

“Freddie is up against an opponent who has had a handful of amateur fights and a couple as a pro. He weighs 241 pounds and stand 6ft 3 ins. We don’t know whether Freddie is going to win. Hand on heart. All I’m hoping is that he doesn’t get hurt. That has always been my main objective, to get him as fit as possible, make him mobile and tighten his defences and hope he gets through without any damage. If he is beaten but comes out unscathed then I have still achieved my objective.”

Flintoff said the hardest punch he has taken was in the nets in Lahore when a frisky young Pakistani let a quick one go that smashed into his nose and cheek. Dawson was unmoved. “I looked at some tapes of that cricket,” he said. “It don’t mean nothing to me. It looks like a female sport, you know, cissy stuff. But we ain’t here to play cricket.

“I grew up in a real rough neighbourhood close to Tulsa, fighting my whole life. You had to be in the gangs, because every time you walked to a new block there was another gang waiting to get you. I only stopped fighting on the streets when I went to the gym and learned to box. There was drug dealings and shootings happening the whole time. It was happening everywhere you went.

“My best friend got shot and killed by drug dealers. I was doing the driving and I got shot in the back four times. They were trying to kill me too, and when I was lying in the hospital I was sure I was going to die.

“That made me want to change, and getting into boxing was my way out”.

The rough and tumble of Flintoff’s teenage oppression in Preston comes a distant second in comparison.  He says he is ready, and trusts that his career playing cricket for Lancashire and England has prepared him for the walk to the ring and the interest it has attracted.

“You’ve got to put all the time in so when you walk out there you’re comfortable knowing you’ve done everything that Barry asked me to do,” said Flintoff.

“The first two weeks were probably the hardest. But when you start seeing the results and feeling better, it just drives you on to stick with it.”

There is a deal of authenticity about this project. Flintoff has done the work. The British Boxing Board passed him fit to box. He is not facing Muhammad Ali tonight but an opponent with similarly shallow exposure to the rigours of the game. Yet still some want to see him fail.

“People wanted me to get out first ball when I played cricket. I didn’t know how many people wanted to punch me. There are a lot of people passionate about boxing, and they want to protect it. But maybe this will attract a different audience to boxing, who will see how hard it is, the sacrifices boxers make.

“I can’t worry about outside pressure. It’s just the pressure you put on yourself. This is so far out of my comfort zone and such a big challenge I find it a much harder thing to do. I have felt real fear. It is about using your nerves and your emotions to your advantage and not letting them take over.”   

Life and Style

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
Privately schooled, Oxford educated and a former editor of arguably the world's poshest magazine 'The Lady', it's perhaps unsurprising that Rachel Johnson rarely mixes with ordinary Proles.

The Mayor of London's sister, Rachel Johnson, apologises for shocking tweet about the PM

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environmentNepenthes zygon had been growing for almost a decade and helping to keep down cockroaches
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £20,000

£12000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Langley James : IT Helpdesk Technician; earn £'s for Xmas; Brighton; £120+ p/d

£120 - £130 per day: Langley James : IT Helpdesk Technician; earn £'s for Xmas...

Recruitment Genius: Junior SEO / Content Executive

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior SEO/ORM Content Execut...

Recruitment Genius: Search Account Manager

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital