Freddie Flintoff Admits Boxing Bout Nerves

Ashes winner Andrew Flintoff is no stranger to big crowds, or huge pressure, but stepping through the ropes in front of 5,000 fans at the Manchester Arena for his heavyweight boxing debut will be a whole new experience for him.

The former England, Lancashire and Chennai Superkings all-rounder has trained for over four-and-a-half months and sparred for over 300 rounds under the watchful eye of former World Champion Barry McGuigan and his trainer son Shane.

A man who named his son Rocky clearly has a passion for boxing. He said this new adventure started as a simple conversation with McGuigan, but soon turned into a plan to turn professional and make a television documentary series From Lord's To The Ring .

"A chance to work with a legend like Barry was too good to miss," he explained during his first pre-fight press conference.

"I miss professional sport, and I've worked really hard to make sure I put in a good performance."

But is the ex-cricketer, who has lost 20kg in training, nervous about stepping into the ring with Richard Dawson, the American who weighed in almost two stone heavier?

"I think anyone would be nervous - it's human nature," Flintoff said. "But I used to get nervous before I played cricket, and it never affected my performance, so I don't think it's going to affect me."

His decision has been criticised by some in the sport, including promoter Frank Maloney, whose own heavyweight fighter David Price is taking on former kickboxer Matt Skelton at Aintree Racecourse.

He claims the Manchester Evening News Arena bout of four two-minute rounds will "shame the fight game".

But Flintoff's mentor, Barry McGuigan, says the criticism makes him angry.

He said: "This is my business, I've been in it for 40 years, and I wouldn't get involved in a publicity stunt or do anything to discredit the sport.

"Freddie's trained hard, and the British Boxing Board of Control thought long and hard before granting him his licence. He's got it now and he's worked incredibly hard to get his body and his mind in the right shape."

Flintoff's friend Ricky Hatton, still carrying the bruises from his recent comeback defeat, said: "Freddie deserves to be given a chance to do this. There's millions out there who wouldn't even get into the ring to do a bit of sparring, but he's doing it.

"He's always been professional in his sport, and he's doing this very professionally too."

His opponent is also relatively new to the sport. Richard Dawson has had just two fights, but won the first of them by knock-out within 20 seconds.

"I'm here to win, and Mr Freddie is here to win," he said at the weigh-in. "I respect Freddie, but I'm going to attack him. I'm here to win and get it over with."

Freddie won't be the first professional to swap their own sport for the square ring.

Footballer Curtis Woodhouse is now the current English light welterweight champion, All-Black Sonny Bill Williams is an undefeated heavyweight boxer, and Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper has also announced his plans to don the gloves.

The Flintoff v Dawson fight is on the undercard of a programme headlined by the Commonwealth welterweight title clash between Ronnie "Razor" Effron and Denton Vassell.