After four scrappy two minute rounds, Andrew Flintoff’s arm was raised and the already raucous crowd in the M.E.N. Arena went ballistic. In the build-up, many in the game derided the whole exercise and suggested that the former England captain’s clash with Richard Dawson brought the fight game into disrepute. From my point of view, the opposite is true. Freddie’s pro debut has given the noble art a huge boost.
In the Sky reality show that followed Flintoff’s preparation, we were greeted with a hellish view of the existence of a retired sporting icon; a never ending nightmare of obesity, depression and golf with Harry Redknapp. Two episodes and six months later, the lardy shadow of an Ashes hero has been transformed into a contented dude with cheekbones and abs. If that doesn’t inspire more people to get down their local gym, what will?
On the night, Freddie was relentless, pushing forward and getting up off the canvas after eating a left hook in the second round. I salute his guts and true warrior spirit; however the greatest thing about the fight was the irredeemable ineptitude on show. Boxing is the most underrated fighting art. Anyone who has ever pulled on a pair of gloves knows the truth. The footwork, the refinement of the punching, the combinations- to get anywhere near good enough to even step through the ropes is a massive achievement. As most viewers rarely watch a fight below British title level, it is easy to forget how tough it is to reach that standard. Flintoff had the luxury of training full time with the McGuigans for six months-not to mention personal seminars with Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard- yet he still had a stance reminiscent of Bambi and threw his right hand like he was trying to put a fire out with a hammer.
In his post-fight interview, Freddie was pure class- paying tribute to his opponent and his training and ranking his pugilistic turn as his best personal sporting experience. The legendary drinker wouldn’t even take the bait when questioned about his celebration plans- stating that he would adhere to the terms of his BBBoC license and not take a drop for 12 hours.
Flintoff has got boxing onto the back pages where it belongs, and, by the time the fight has been edited for the Sky One audience, it will be another 60 minute advert for the benefits to be gained from the study of the sweet science.
Freddie is 1-0 and that is how it should stay. Pro-boxing is not a sport you can play at and it is certainly not a long term option for a beginner who is approaching his 35th birthday. As BoxNation’s Steve Bunce said: “Let’s draw a line under it, it’s been fun, the TV show was great, the fight was fantastic- but he should never fight again”.
Another guy who should be hanging the gloves up is former British and European champ and world title challenger Matt Skelton. Like Flintoff, he was a late starter from another sport, but the hard knocks world of Muay Thai and K-1 kickboxing are a more appropriate apprenticeship than the cucumber sandwiches of Lord’s. The boxing insiders who were vocal critics of the Flintoff fight all seemed to be OK with the idea of a 45 year old (some cynics would say nearer 50) fighting one of the most lethal KO artists in business. Immediately before his challenge for the British and Commonwealth titles; SportingBet.com rated the champion, David Price, a 1/100 chance with Skelton available at 25/1. The big Scouser went in like a hot favourite should; withstanding the crude assault of Skelton, making room to get his own shots off then finishing the job with spiteful left hands to the body. Another punch perfect performance from the Beijing bronze medalist
Afterwards, David was joined by Frank Maloney-a man who had described Andrew Flintoff’s foray into the sport as a ‘stunt which should never be allowed to happen’. Frank moved quickly onto his own publicity stunt, offering Tyson Fury £650,000 to take on his man. Of course he doesn’t really want the fight. Price versus Fury is far more lucrative down the line, preferably when one or both of them own a world title belt.
Price is slated to face American Tony ‘The Tiger’ Thompson in February followed by a big domestic fight (almost certainly Chisora) in the Summer before a world title shot towards the end of 2013. Based on his performance against Wladimir Klitschko, it is hard to believe that Thompson will be able to handle Price’s power.
In the past, Price has been hired to impersonate Wlad in sparring. Whether he has what it takes to beat a real Klitschko is a moot point. Despite his undoubted technical excellence, there will always be a question mark against him until he proves himself in adverse circumstances. The big lad has yet to go beyond the seventh and, bar the awkward moment when he got stopped in his tracks by a dig after break had been called in his debut against journeyman David Ingleby, he has breezed through the pro ranks. Knocking over Matt Skelton confirmed what we already knew about David Price’s ability. Hopefully, when he mixes it with the elite, he’ll prove he has the character to dig deep and get the win- just like Freddie.