London: Andrew Flintoff believes that his attempt to forge a career as a professional boxer will attract a new audience to the sport.
The former England cricketer, and occasional TV personality, fights Richard Dawson of the United States at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Friday, an event that has attracted a good deal of criticism, with promoter Frank Warren describing it as “car-crash television”. But Flintoff insists that he is showing due respect to the sport.
“There’s a lot of passionate people about boxing, and they want to protect it,” he said on Thursday, after weighing in at 15st 6lb for his four-round heavyweight bout. “But maybe it’ll attract a different audience to boxing, who will see how hard it is, the sacrifices we make.”
Flintoff is aware, but not perturbed, that a sizeable proportion of the watching television audience and 5,000 ticket-holders will be waiting for him to fail.
“The great thing about Twitter is I didn’t know how many people wanted to punch me,” he said. “People wanted me to get out first ball when I played cricket. But I can’t worry about outside pressure. It’s just the pressure you put on yourself.
“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few nerves… I will be nervous before the fight. But I’ve been nervous before playing cricket and used it to my advantage.
“It’s dragged on a little bit now, I’m glad it’s finally come round and in Manchester tomorrow night hopefully all that hard work will pay off.
“There will be critics and doubters out there and it’s a big task I’ve taken on, I’m just concentrating on the fight and we’ll see what the reaction is.
“It depends if you take it on board — as a cricketer I didn’t read too much of the press, I just wanted to be comfortable in what I’m doing.
“It’s not something we’re talking about in our camp, we’re concentrating on tomorrow night and putting all the good work into practice.”
Dawson has won his first two fights, and Flintoff said: “He’s fought before, he’s unbeaten, he’s flown over from America and he’s made good progress in his career so far.
“It’ll be a competitive contest. You can’t go into this for a bit of fun, it’s a serious sport and a serious business. He’s come here to try and win, as have I.
“Every fighter experiences nerves before you go in the ring, it’s how you deal with that and overcome it.”
Dawson, meanwhile, has promised Flintoff a rough ride. “I’m an attacker,” he said. “I put on pressure, pressure, pressure. I’m here to win and I’m going to win. The first fight I had, it wasn’t sanctioned, and I knocked him out in nine seconds.
“The second fight, I broke his ribs, because it was all body shots. No shots to the face. My third fight, I went to the fourth round and gave him a pretty good fight.
“Whatever happens, happens. Mr Freddie, he here to win. I respect Freddie, so I’m going to get him out and get it over with.”