Since retiring from cricket, Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff has been on a mission to entertain. He has cliff-dived in Acapulco, ridden bulls in Texas, and even turned his hand to fashion designing, with a catalogue clothing line for the big-boned.
But he might have overstepped the mark with his latest venture, professional boxing. Critics dubbed his Friday night fight "a mockery" despite the result: a Flintoff victory over an American opponent, Richard Dawson, who looked as if he'd missed the memo to lay off the pies in the pre-match build up.
For some, the smiles had started earlier that day, with the pictures of Flintoff, 34, in his Union flag boxers at the weigh-in providing amusement to those stuck watching Sky News on a loop. Five months off the booze and a rigid training regime devised by the former world champion Barry McGuigan and his son Shane had done the trick abs-wise, but there was still something vaguely odd about fisticuffs Freddie getting ready for the ring.
As shows go, the evening was pure farce. But this wasn't theatre and the thousands watching were looking for more than mindless entertainment. The 6,000-strong Manchester crowd, which included front-rowers Darren Gough, Rob Key, Steve Harmison, Jack Whitehall and John Bishop, got their drama in the second of the four two-minute rounds, when the 23-year-old Dawson landed his only punch of the night, a left hook.
It was – briefly – nerve-wracking stuff, but Flintoff managed to blurt out his name during a standing count of eight and his win quickly followed. Despite Flintoff's fitness, even McGuigan will concede this was a match of novices, and technically Flintoff is probably still a cricketer.
That said, McGuigan was quick to bat off any suggestion this was anything other than A Very Serious Boxing Match. "Don't besmirch me," he said yesterday. "It was a very difficult fight for him. Anyone that says anything else is jealous and a green-eyed monster."
McGuigan added: "Yes, he got excited. Yes, he lost his composure a bit. But we proved resoundingly that he was prepared properly. We weren't trying to mock the game. We were celebrating this sport. It wasn't a publicity stunt, it was honest. How could it be anything other than that?"
The promoter Frank Maloney, who managed Lennox Lewis, has his theories. "As a spectator event it was a success, but as a boxing event it was a mockery. Henry Cooper would have been turning in his grave. After Dawson's punch was thrown, his [Flintoff's] eyes were wobbly, his head was wobbly. The American never threw another punch."
Whether Flintoff will return to the ring for a second go is something he intends to decide after Christmas. Maloney, for one, is imploring him to hang up those gloves. "He'll get hurt if he doesn't stop. How many more Mexican road sweepers can they dig up from the ground to fight him?" he said.