This summer, former England captain Rio Ferdinand won’t be joining his old teammates for their World Cup matches in Russia, although many people think he is just as likely to get knocked out! Having retired from international duty in 2013 after 81 appearances for England, and retired from football altogether in 2015, Ferdinand was looking for a new challenge. He wanted to maintain his fitness and focus, and to channel some of the emotions and anger he feels after the death of his wife in 2015 from breast cancer, he so he settled on boxing.
He has been training hard with Richie Woodhall and has even joined the GB Olympic team in training at the Sheffield Institute of Sport. The former central defender is hoping to get his British Board of Boxing Control license in time to defend his first fight this month, with an additional fight lined up for the summer if things go well.
His decision has been controversial, with Tony Bellew claiming that Ferdinand is “making a mockery of our sport.” However, Rio says he is taking his move from the penalty box to the boxing ring quite seriously.
“I have the utmost respect for the boxing fraternity. I am not saying I am going to be a world champion,” he told a press conference recently. “I am taking this seriously, this is not a joke. Boxing can’t be a gimmick. If I take it lightly, I will get hurt.”
Not everyone in the boxing world is against the move, with Anthony Joshua apparently offering to spar with him. Ricky Hatton, a big fan of the former United player’s Manchester rivals, City, has even offered to come out of retirement to take him on.
As tempting as a fight with Hatton would be, in all likelihood, his first opponent is probably going to be an inexperienced boxer with a losing record. No serious contender is going to get drawn into the circus at this stage. But for an unpromising fighter, the potential payday may be too hard to resist.
Ferdinand left professional football weighing 192 lbs., which would place him in the cruiserweight category. But if the reports and photos in the press are to be believed, he has been training hard and is likely to make his debut as a light heavyweight, super middleweight or possibly even middleweight where his six-foot-two physique would give him a significant advantage.
“I’m really enjoying the challenge; it’s given me a renewed energy and focus that you only get from learning something for the first time,” said Ferdinand. “I’m loving seeing the gains, and physically I feel in great shape.”
Of course, Ferdinand is not the first famous sportsman to cross the ropes. Cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff went four rounds with American fighter Richard Dawson in 2012 at Manchester Arena, winning his first and only fight on a points decision, despite being knocked down in the second round.
Despite turning 40 this year, Ferdinand has a lot going for him, least of which his physical fitness and competitive temperament. After all, you don’t get to win six Premier League titles and be part of one of the most dominant teams of your era without knowing how to fight. However, his many years as a professional footballer may yet work against him, as he struggles to resist the urge to go down like a sack of spuds at the first sign of contact to claim a penalty!