EXCLUSIVE: Flintoff: When I fill in those forms that ask for your occupation, I now say 'boxer'
22:46 GMT, 27 November 2012
Andrew Flintoff owns a motorbike and has tattoos, so difficult conversations with his mother are nothing new.
But discussing his latest career move was a little more awkward. 'It was a few months ago and we were watching television when some boxing came on,' he says.
'I was thinking, “How am I going to tell her that I'm going to start fighting” Then she starts saying, “I'm glad you played cricket and didn't go for boxing”'. Oh god.
Hitting hard: Andrew Flintoff will fight Richard Dawson on Friday evening
'I just went for it: “Mum, I have something to tell you”. I'm not sure she was too pleased – or is too pleased. I guess it's one thing watching your son go out to play cricket at Lord's in his whites, and another to watch him have a fight.'
Mrs Flintoff is fast running out of time to get used to the idea.
On Friday, at Manchester Arena, her son will step into a ring with Richard Dawson, once a street-fighting gang member from Oklahoma and now a professional heavyweight with two wins in his first two fights.
Trim: A slimline Andrew Flintoff is ready for his first professional boxing fight
'It's bizarre where life takes you,' says Flintoff, sipping black coffee in a London bar.
The former England cricket captain hasn't had a drop of alcohol for four months.
His upper lip, as it often has been since he started mixing with Barry McGuigan and his son Shane, is looking a little fleshy. His 34-year-old body isn't.
Flintoff weighs roughly 15-and-a-half stone, about four less than when he started making himself sick after meals at cricket grounds around the world.
That was one of the revelations from the first part of his most recent, most compelling documentary, Flintoff: From Lord's to The Ring.
Another was that occasionally he was bullied at school and this venture is, in part, an attempt to gain closure.
There was also talk about finding it difficult to fill the void that appears when the structure and purpose of professional sport goes.
Flintoff says: 'I'm happy with the documentary. I had an idea of what I wanted it to do and I think it has done.
'But people should know, I decided first that I wanted to do the boxing, to get back into professional sport, and then we decided to make a documentary.'
The sentence has almost become a reflex against the critics.
Frank Maloney, a promoter, says Flintoff is making boxing a 'laughing stock' and called the fight a 'publicity stunt'.
He cited James Cracknell's charity fight in 2007 that left the two-time Olympic gold medal-winning rower unconscious.
'I just went for it: “Mum, I have
something to tell you”. I'm not sure she was too pleased. It's one thing watching your son go out to play cricket and another to watch him have a fight.'
– Andrew Flintoff
Heavyweight David Price called the whole thing 'a joke'.
'It hasn't felt like a joke,' Flintoff says. 'It's not a stunt. If you don't take this sport seriously you get hurt. Believe me, I'm serious about this. I've put a lot into this.'
He looks tired from the day's training. Each week he has been doing 12 sessions, most lasting two hours, with Shane McGuigan.
What started last year with an impromptu pad session with Barry during filming for another programme progressed recently to hard, full-contact sparring with no headguards.
'That was a big step,' he says. 'You feel sharper but also more vulnerable. You obviously feel the punches more. But it was the next step. It's all a process.
'It has been a very long, hard road to here – I was starting right from scratch. It has been my life for four months. The months of diet, eating steak at 6am, training, sparring, bleeding noses, thick lips – it's all been for this fight. I have done this properly.
Real deal: Flintoff (right) says he is serious about professional boxing, despite David Price (left) describing his fight as a 'joke'
'I understand people having opinions about this, that is fine – people are protective of their sport, as I'd be of cricket. People had opinions of me when I played cricket. But we are not trying to disrespect the sport. I would never do that – I genuinely love boxing.'
He talks of staying up late as a child to watch big fights broadcast from America, especially if they involved Mike Tyson.
'I used to love watching Tyson,' he says. 'I remember staying up until the middle of the night for the first Frank Bruno-Tyson fight and, oh my god! Frank had rocked him, the commentator's telling him to get stuck in.
'He came so close. He almost took him and then Tyson did what he does.' Tyson dropped into Flintoff's gym during a recent visit to the UK.
So did Sugar Ray Leonard. 'I couldn't believe it,' Flintoff says. 'I had Sugar Ray talking about my footwork and Tyson saying stuff about the mental side.
'He used to be so nervous before a fight and had to control that. I was as nervous meeting Tyson as I was meeting Ian Botham for the first time.
Lord of the ring: Flintoff (centre) with his father and son training team Barry (left) and Shane (right) McGuigan
'I used to love British fighters like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Ricky Hatton. I spent time with Collins in Vegas a few years ago.
'He spoke about his battles with Eubank. I was sitting listening to him about how Eubank was such a strong puncher, and about the time he got hypnotised before fighting him.
'It was fascinating – I love those stories.'
Quite how this chapter in Flintoff 's career will end is anyone's guess.
He won't talk about his strengths or weaknesses but Barry McGuigan thinks he 'could floor a mule' with his right hand.
The rumour is that Flintoff hasn't even been put down in sparring, though he has flattened a few himself.
'It's not a stunt. If you don't take
this sport seriously you get hurt. Believe me, I'm serious about this.
I've put a lot into this.'
– Andrew Flintoff
'It has been getting harder,' he says. 'It's tough, but I love the feeling that I'm improving.'
He laughs about the scene in the first part of the documentary when he stops to see if an early sparring partner is OK after a big head shot.
'This is the hurt business,' a less-than-impressed Barry McGuigan says to camera.
'I've developed a bit more spite since then,' Flintoff says. 'You'll see. It's feeling a bit more natural. I feel like a boxer.
'It's funny, when you go on planes and you fill in those forms that ask for your occupation – I put that I'm a boxer now.'
His mother might have to get used to it.
Flintoff: From Lord's To The Ring continues on Thursday at 9pm on Sky 1. The fight will be shown live on Boxnation (SkyCh 437, Virgin Ch 546) on Friday night.