Walking past a dormant glass of whisky in a London pub, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff stops to sniff the amber liquid. This isn’t a result of the 34-year-old ex-cricketer falling on hard times, but rather a comical gesture to prove the teetotal lengths he’s gone to for what he describes as “the toughest challenge of my sporting career”: a professional heavyweight boxing fight. Having lost more than three stone in three months to take on unbeaten American Richard Dawson, he’s clearly dedicated. There’s a lot to catch up on…
I’ve always liked the sport, and when I met Barry [McGuigan] for a BBC documentary last year and hit a few pads for him, he was impressed. A few weeks later, we had a meeting and he asked if I wanted to fight. I said yes, and he said “Well, let’s go in the ring and see if you can take a punch.” After he saw that I could, he and his son Shane started coaching me.
Who was the test puncher?
I went in the ring with a 19-and-a-half-stone boxer for five rounds and was punched hard. Really hard. After the initial dizziness, I thought, “I’m still here,” and that gave me confidence. Sparring is tough. It isn’t like cricket training.
You’ve lost a lot of weight. Have you found people don’t recognise you as often?
Yeah, which makes me wonder how fat I was [laughs]. But contrary to popular belief, I trained harder than anyone in the last few years of my career. To come back from my injuries meant that I had to train my nuts off. The reason I’ve lost a lot of weight recently is that Barry and Shane have put me on a caveman diet. I’ve had to eat steak for breakfast for the past two months.
That sounds great.
Oh, it’s not. It’s no fun to get up and cook a steak at quarter to six in the morning while your kids are having cornflakes. Then I have a few nuts or berries, and chicken or fish for dinner.
Did you get into scraps when you were a kid?
Not intentionally. I went to a football-mad school in Preston and used to get stick for being a cricketer, so I played football just for acceptance. I didn’t get an easy ride, but my aim was never to look for fights.
How do you channel your aggression in the ring?
I’m aggressive but focused. Mike Tyson came to watch me and said a boxer needs to be skilfully vicious. You need spite, but must remember it’s a technical sport.
Did you ask Iron Mike to join you for a sparring session?
Did I heck! Sugar Ray Leonard also came down and gave me a masterclass on the pads, but those are guys you don’t want to ask to fight. Mike just chatted. He spoke articulately and openly, and I thought if Mike Tyson can feel nervous from time to time, it’s all right for me to do likewise.
Would you want to follow Tyson into acting?
Yeah, send your scripts in [laughs]. Maybe in the future, but I don’t want to dance or do other reality stuff, I want to commit to something I’m passionate about. This is hopefully one of many real boxing fights. Films, though, are good for inspiration. I watched Rocky Balboa the other night. What an ending, and it’s a lot better than Rocky V. I couldn’t see myself chasing chickens or anything. I need to develop my own training style.
Did you ever come close to blows with anyone in the England dressing room?
It got heated from time to time, which is only to be expected when spending time with the same people for months. Dressing rooms can be difficult, as we’ve seen with Kevin Pietersen coming back.
Would you have welcomed him back?
Yeah, because I’d know we’d start winning again. But it’s not just him. He’s apologised, he’s owned up. A few other players have had things to say in the press or their books, so I think there are more sources for trouble than just one player in that dressing room.
What do your fellow A League Of Their Own panellists make of your new career?
They’ve all been supportive. [John] Bishop and [Jamie] Redknapp have come to
watch me train. Obviously, they took the mickey. Redknapp had a go on the pads and was pretty useful, but I can’t imagine he’d want to go against me. He wouldn’t want to damage that face, would he? He’s beautiful.
Does he have any imperfections?
Not one, he’s untouchable. He even smells beautiful [laughs].
Who is your Sports Personality Of The Year?
Bradley Wiggins. For him to win the Tour de France and claim gold at the Olympics is simply unbelievable. It’s also refreshing for cycling after the Lance Armstrong scandal.
Finally, are you aware that most boxers abstain from sex before a fight?
I don’t know what the rules are on that. I’ll have a conversation with my coaches and see what the score is. So I’m dodging that question for now.
The fight airs live on BoxNation on 30 Nov. From Lord’s To The Ring is on 29 Nov, 9pm on Sky 1 HD
Images: Chris Sugden