Freddie Flintoff: "Barry is a mentor to me, not just in boxing but in everything."
Maybe if I’d met Barry McGuigan when I was 18, I would’ve been a different animal. I’d have been fitter, that’s for sure. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had as much fun, though! But cricketers these days are real athletes. The England boys are ripped, they train as hard as any sportsman. Well, maybe not quite… They don’t train as hard as boxers.
I first interviewed Barry for a documentary about depression in sport. My mate and I were big fans. We were like kids, asking, “Barry, can we punch these pads?” And he put a pad on and I had a go, and he said, “You’ve got a good right hand there.”
I thought nothing of it, but one day I saw him sitting having a meeting in my management office. I said, “Barry, are you sorting my fight out, then?” Just as a joke. And he turned round and said, "Well, do you want to?” And I said I’d have a go. I had no idea how hard it would be, but now I’m training for a pro fight [he’s licensed as a professional] on 30 November.
Working with Barry was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. He’s a legend, an inspiring man. The energy and excitement he has for boxing are infectious. I never imagined I’d be training under him, but Barry’s discipline has come at the right time.
When this came along, it was almost as if the spark came back. I’m not walking the dog and having a couple of pints every night, then next day sitting on the sofa watching Cash in the Attic. I’m getting up with purpose every day, working towards something, trying to improve.
Reitrement is tough for sportsmen and women to handle. I will miss playing cricket when I’m 60, that’s never going to change. I played my last game in 2009, but I wasn’t ready to finish. Barry is a mentor to me, not just in boxing but in everything. He’s someone whose brains I can pick, who I can talk to openly and honestly about my career, my future.
Boxing isn’t like cricket – you don’t lose, you get beaten. With cricket I had years of experience to draw on, but with this, all I have to draw on for confidence is Barry. It’s not a bad place to get it, because what he did as a fighter is incredible. I can’t imagine the dedication and discipline that it must have taken to do what he did for years and years. This sport is so tough. You wake up sometimes and all you can think about when you’re lying in bed is, “Oh no, someone’s going to want to punch me again today!”
I wouldn’t have done this without Barry behind me, both because of his stature in the sport and his manner as a human being. He almost treats me like I’m one of his; he wouldn’t wish any harm on me. I’m putting my 35 years into his hands and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Barry McGuigan: "Freddie's not naturally gifted in the ring. But he’s tough, driven and very determined."
Freddie Flintoff is an extraordinary young man. To do what he has done in the cricket world is amazing, and since his career ended, he’s been very busy. He cycled more than 1,000 miles from Athens to London without any training. He rowed across the English Channel with John Bishop. He’s doing A League of Their Own and other television projects.
But I think what I found when I met him was that he’d lost his way a little bit. Freddie needs something to challenge him, and boxing has been the greatest challenge he’s ever taken on. There is jeopardy, there’s no question about that. And it’s because of that jeopardy that he’s now as focused as he is.
I can empathise with Freddie wanting to keep himself occupied after retiring. I retired at 28 and had my whole life in front of me. But I’ve done what he doesn’t want to do. I went into commentary and writing about boxing, and yes, I did various different TV things as well. But all of it emanated from my achievements in the ring. Freddie has his own ideas about what he should do to occupy his time.
I feel responsible for him. I need to get him into the best shape of his life. There’s only so much you can do in four-and-a-half months of training, but he’s made huge improvements. He’s dropped from 119kg to 99.5kg. I’ll be honest with you, he’s no Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s not naturally gifted in the ring. But he’s tough, driven and very determined. And he wants to have a number of professional fights. This is just the beginning.
Fitness and commitment are everything. People who don’t understand that learn the hard way in the boxing game. Mistakes are punished immediately. You make mistakes in anything else, you don’t get quite such a brutal reprimand.
Freddie knows that and understands that, and so do I. He hasn’t touched alcohol the whole time. He’s living on the diet that my son Shane has put him through. The only fluids he drinks are green tea, black coffee and water. He eats like a caveman: meat, vegetables and nuts. You can’t get any simpler than that.
A lot of people think it’s a publicity stunt, but if you spend more than a couple of hours with Freddie you’ll realise that’s not the case. He’s had enough reasons to turn around and say he doesn’t want to do this. He’s had his head battered a few times. There were one or two weeks where he was bruised the whole time, going home with black eyes, bloody lips and a bleeding nose. He’s shown me grit and determination, that’s for sure.
I live in a fairly solipsistic, cocooned environment. I’m a boxing person. This is my domain, and Freddie’s stepping into that domain. It’s a dangerous business. I’ve got to take as much of that danger away as possible, but ultimately I can never take it all away. Because when people are throwing punches at you, and your head meets an immoveable object, something’s going to happen.
Flintoff: from Lord's to the Ring starts tonight at 9:00pm on Sky1
You can watch Freddie take on boxer Richard Dawson in his first professional fight live from Manchester Arena on BoxNation (Sky 437, Virgin 546) on Friday 30 November from 10:00pm