Andrew Flintoff climbed off the canvas to record a points win on his heavyweight boxing debut against Richard Dawson lqst night.
The former England and Lancashire cricket star was afforded a hero’s welcome at the Manchester Arena but, after taking the first of four two-minute rounds, he was sent tumbling to the canvas by a counter left from his American foe early in the second.
However, Dawson’s inferior conditioning prevented him from mounting a sustained assault and Flintoff showed impressive composure to take the contest 39-38 on referee Phil Edwards’ scorecard – something of an anomaly given the round two should have been award to Dawson 10-8 by virtue of the knockdown.
A lengthy and painstaking training process under the expert guidance of former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and his son, highly-regarded trainer Shane, was undertaken by Flintoff to whip himself into fighting shape.
The 34-year-old’s progress was charted in a Sky television documentary where, although his commitment and dedication to achieving prime physical condition was clearly evident, doubts were sown among a number of seasoned observers regarding the former all-rounder’s technical boxing skills.
More than three years on from his last outing as a professional sportsman - helping England regain the Ashes from Australia at The Oval in 2009 while battling a knee injury that would ultimately curtail his career – Flintoff entered the ring wearing his old Lancashire Lightning one-day top, having tipped the scales at a trim 15st 6oz.
That gave the rotund Dawson a near two-stone weight advantage despite giving away five inches in height to the 6ft 4ins Flintoff.
At yesterday’s final press conference, Dawson, who won both his previous bouts, spoke of his troubled upbringing which featured a three-month spell in prison for aggravated assault and battery and derided cricket as a “sissy” sport, but he certainly felt his opponent’s power in the opener.
After confidently mugging to the crowd with arms aloft – a pose that became iconic during his triumphant moments wearing the Three Lions, Flintoff moved swiftly to control the centre of the ring, with his right hand held high protecting his chin from Dawson attacks which were not forthcoming.
Stalking behind the jab, Flintoff brought his right into play over the top and, despite the ungainly appearance of the shots, Dawson was briefly troubled on the ropes.
Over-exuberance was the debutant’s undoing in the second round when he rushed in to be sent to the canvas by a chopping Dawson left.
McGuigan senior cut a highly-animated figure at ringside, but Flintoff recovered control by the end of the session and Dawson again staggered into the ropes during round three – as much a result of shoddy physical state as the right hands he was taking.
Dawson belatedly brought the jab into play as the third stanza drew to a close but, when the final round began with the fight in the balance, he wore a precise right uppercut that stood as Flintoff’s best shot of the contest.
The Oklahoma native then sought refuge on the ropes and in clinches as Flintoff closed out victory amid rapturous scenes.
Flintoff was thrilled to have made a winning return to the limelight.
“You mention the Ashes at international level, but as a personal achievement I think this is the best,” he said on Box Nation. “It’s something that isn’t natural to me. I’ve had to work hard.”
The 34-year-old, who has been training for four and a half months with former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and his son Shane, added: “The feeling of being back in front of a crowd and winning at the end – I can’t describe it. It’s down to these guys (Barry and Shane McGuigan).
“I wanted to experience it. The people around Manchester, and the county, supported me so well playing cricket. It was a no-brainer to have it up here.
“The crowd made a massive difference. It’s been amazing – humbling, really.