Bunce on Boxing: Freddie Flintoff has put hard yards in – but he's no Mundine

 

When former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff is finally left alone on Friday night at the MEN Arena, hopefully he will not look down at the wet imprint left by his pal Ricky Hatton's stricken body on the same canvas.

Flintoff's decision to fight as a professional boxer has never been a hoax and his slow and painful and bloody progress to novice heavyweight has been commendable. Flintoff is not a natural boxer and was denied a licence the first time he applied, but he has doggedly pursued the craft in the gym, even if it mostly remains out of his grasp.

Nobody is certain where Flintoff's adventure will take him and there is wild speculation that a distant showdown with All Black Sonny Bill Williams is a possibility. Well, it is not, trust me. Williams, like Flintoff, is a fighter rather than a boxer, but he has in five pro fights just about managed to keep the cynics on their back foot; next year Williams meets former leading contender Frans Botha in potentially a bad, bad move. I can't see how Botha loses, but stranger things have happened.

On the same night in Brisbane, when Williams fights next February, his friend and on-field enemy Quade Cooper will, having gained an Australian boxing licence, have a professional fight. The Wallaby fly-half is taking a break from rugby, and boxing and rugby league look certain to play a big part in his future. "I have always liked boxing and wanted to give it a go, to test myself," said Cooper, which seems to be a familiar cry from other converts.

A few years ago Curtis Woodhouse turned his back on a football career that included a multimillion-pound move and an England Under-21 cap, and decided boxing was his future. He had a difficult baptism live on ITV, refused to quit, won and lost a few, and is now, six years and 21 fights later, a genuine contender for the British title.

"I have heard people giving Freddie some stick, but he's put the hours in and has been honest about it," said Woodhouse. "I wish him the best and I know that by now he has realised just how hard it is. It's not a game." Woodhouse has been an inspiration during his years as a boxer.

I tend to dismiss the cash-and-grab antics of the converted American footballers who invariably end their flirtation with real contact in a heap on the canvas. However, the search is still on in America for the next heavyweight champion and discarded college football players have been targeted. Who knows? Perhaps one will have a muscle on his chin.

However, it is impossible to ignore the achievements of Australian rugby league player Tony Mundine, who is arguably the greatest crossover athlete in boxing history. Mundine played for Australia's Under-19 team against GB, lost in the 1999 NRL Grand Final and was considered a real star before walking away at just 25 in 2000. He is also a great talker and harsh critic of "racist" Australia's treatment of Aboriginals.

Mundine has twice won world titles and is still going strong. His fight next year against Daniel Geale, an Aboriginal fighter from Tasmania, will be a guaranteed sell-out after Mundine challenged Geale's roots. "I thought that they wiped all the Aborigines in Tasmania out," Mundine said, which caused outrage. It is lucky that he can fight and that his own roots are reinforced every time he lashes out at the Government.

Flintoff's debut is real and, even if it turns into a carnival of luvvies swapping air kisses at ringside, the reality is that after all the sacrifices our Freddie will have to fight. Nobody has been conned and a dozen other fighters will benefit from the exposure. I just hope he doesn't look down.

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