We’ve recently witnessed Freddie Flintoff make his first bold step into the boxing ring, defeating Richard Dawson (not the off-spinner) on points. Ball Control confesses that the whole build-up to this event passed us by; the post-bout reports thus came as a bit of a shock.
The surprise was amplified by the caricature of Freddie that had been readily subscribed to; that of an inherently undisciplined very-ex-cricketer who had never shown the inclination to train hard for success, preferring instead to rely on God-given ability (or other shortcuts to fame – i.e. celebrity reality TV). These are traits that won’t get you very far in the brutal, pure sport of boxing, where chinks in the armoury are ruthlessly exposed. Though perhaps Dawson was not equipped to do that. Still, it’s more common for retired cricketers to try and eradicate a golf hook rather than hone their right hook.
It is not, however, uncommon for any generic sportsperson to cross codes, for there has been, and continues to be, many instances of this. Including in the world of boxing. Contemporaneously, Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper has announced his planned professional boxing debut, scheduled to appear on the undercard of his friend and fellow rugby union player Sonny Bill Williams’ next fight. Sonny Bill, indeed, has three sporting mistresses; having previously forged a professional career in rugby league too.
The testosterone-powered world of Australian winter football codes is notoriously incestuous. For instance, as of next season, Israel Falou will become a professional rugby union player, having turned his back firstly on league and, most recently, Australian Rules football.
But while boxing and rugby are incredibly physical endeavours, they hardly suggest themselves as requiring similar skill-sets in the same way as do the oval ball sports. The same is even more true of boxing vis-à-vis the genteel sport of cricket, regardless of their shared dependency upon hand-eye coordination and (for bowlers) explosive strength.
BC’s first awareness of an ‘athlete’ making a foray in a new sport was the legendary ex-Spurs striker Clive Allen, who made the ill-judged step into Gridiron as a placekicker with the London Monarchs. The novelty value of this move was compounded by the bizarre razzmatazz which accompanied the doomed attempt to embed a European competition for the most American of sports. Allen was not alone in swapping an Anglo form of football for the American version, the legendary former rugby full back Gavin Hastings played for the Scottish Claymores in 1996, with comical results – missing 4 of his 27 extra point attempts, and failing with his solitary field goal attempt.
Regardless (or perhaps because) of the litany of failed crossovers in sport – see Michael Jordan – Ball Control greatly admires those that try. Where admiration crosses over into concern is in cases where the sportsperson appears to be motivated by an attempt to prolong their time in the spotlight, rather than in pursuing a new sport out of a competitive thirst for the challenge. To this bracket can be added retired sportspeople who return to their sport when they are clearly past it, i.e. Michael Schumacher, Ricky Hatton and, er, Michael Jordan.
Flintoff’s motives remain unclear but it is hoped that now he has proven his all-round sporting ability – and amply demonstrated that should he and Ricky Ponting disagree over a mulligan on the 18th hole then he would comprehensively win the ensuing fist fight – his boxing gloves will be hung up beside his cricket spikes.