MANCHESTER: Former England cricket captain Andrew Flintoff came off the canvas to mark his professional boxing debut with a points win over American heavyweight Richard Dawson on Friday.
The 34-year-old was floored in the second round of a lively affair but after dominating the other three rounds had his hand rightly raised in victory on a score of 39-38 on the referee's scorecard.
It was a deserved win for the former England and Lancashire fast-bowling all-rounder who dropped three-and-a-half stone to weigh in at 15st 6lb for his first foray into boxing after a five-month training camp with former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan.
“As a personal achievement, this tops the lot,” said Flintoff, who won two Ashes series during his cricket career.
“The crowd made a massive difference tonight. I'll appreciate I was sloppy at times, but it was a humbling moment.”Flintoff, who was perceived as overweight during his days playing cricket, certainly took the training seriously for this as he looked in much better shape than his American opponent in the four-round clash.
The unbeaten Dawson did not have much more experience in the ring himself with just two previous outings against opponents without wins, and he gave away five inches to the taller Flintoff while carrying in almost an extra two stone in weight.
Around 5,000 fans turned up at the Manchester Arena -- including a mix of boxing fans, those who followed Flintoff's cricket career and some who were just intrigued to find out how an ex-cricketer could get on in the boxing world.
Some of Flintoff's former England team-mates, including Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison amongst others, were ringside to see the man more known for knocking wickets down than fighters,
The 34-year-old entered the ring in a Lancashire cricket shirt but it was a walk very different to the one he used to make from the pavilion to the crease, this time the roped-off ring awaited him after Dawson had entered to a chorus of boos.
Flintoff looked confident as he stared down the American and soaked up the applause.
The British fighter, roared on by an excited crowd, pawed out jabs in the opening stages against a clearly tentative Dawson, but every time he got close and tried to swing a right hand, the American tied him up.
It was a scrappy opening round in what was clearly two very raw novices but that did not stop the crowd from bellowing out “Freddie” from the rafters.
Flintoff went wild at the start of the second and was duly punished.
After missing with a right, Dawson landed a lovely left hook that put Flintoff down but he climbed to his feet before taking the standing eight count.
He was rightly given a dressing down in the corner by coach Shane McGuigan, son of Barry, and came out in the third a little less gung-ho.
While able to push Dawson back, Flintoff's shots were still missing and turning into slaps but the occasional jab was getting through.
Dawson battled back towards the end of the third and landed a jab that flicked Flintoff's head back but the ex-cricketer kept the pressure on.
Flintoff again dominated the fourth, constantly coming forward with a barrage of shots that Dawson, who looked disinterested, could not handle.
The former cricketer was then rightly awarded the win and the supporters went wild in approval for his successful debut.