What you always get with former cricket star Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is commitment, enthusiasm and heart.
Flintoff is synonymous for his skill with a bat and ball, having carved out an illustrious career with England.
Having undergone a gruelling training regime under the watchful eye of former world champion Barry McGuigan, the 34-year-old had his sights set on knocking a very different opponent for six.
McGuigan and son Shane had put Flintoff through his paces ahead of his first professional bout. His preparations included training sessions in Belfast, with the ex-cricket ace working the pads at Holy Trinity and Monkstown boxing clubs.
His training had been filmed for Sky documentary From Lord’s To the Ring, with this fight being the climax of the series.
On his professional boxing debut here, Flintoff added little to our understanding of the game. What he did do was enthral a packed house, who enjoyed every minute of what was in truth no better than a cab-rank fight.
Richard Dawson proved a durable foe and even had Flintoff over with a flash knockdown in the second round. It was a sharp lesson the American did not have a clue how to harvest.
Flintoff simply dusted himself down and continued with the agricultural barrage. A respectable gathering of friends from the world of cricket and television, Darren Gough, Rob Key, Steve Harmison, Jack Whitehall and John Bishop, squeezed in at ringside wondering what their chum was doing putting himself through this torment.
On the undercard Peter McDonagh had stood before Bradley Saunders for eight ugly rounds swallowing leather. Flintoff’s wife Rachael sat at ringside as Saunders went through his repertoire. She could barely watch.
And then at 10 minutes to eleven Dawson was welcomed into the ring. A year ago he was reflecting on a three-month spell in a Oklahoma slammer convicted of aggravated assault and battery. He looked well prepared for his night’s work.
Flintoff bounced through the ropes to the sound of Oasis singing “Roll With It”. This was some kind of boxing debut, Lord’s with spit and sawdust on the wicket. An ashen face beaded with sweat betrayed his hyped state. He advanced behind a stiff jab and chopping right, catching Dawson with a swathe of lusty blows.
Flintoff was a revelation. Not for his command of technique but his fighting heart. He walked onto a counter early in the second and received a standing count. It was more his own momentum that sent him tumbling rather than the weight of shot by Dawson.
Back at his corner he complained bitterly to trainer Shane McGuigan, who told him to set aside his disappointment and focus. In his eagerness to dispatch his man Flintoff was often falling into punches rather than planting his feet as boxing orthodoxy demands.
The crowd loved him for it. Four and half months of training went out of the window when the bell went. All those disciplines carefully drilled by the McGuigan clan evaporating in the heat of battle. Freddie was all hustle and bustle. The clean shot was never going to come. Still he was the busier man and exploded into the fourth landing with a roundhouse right.
Rachael was watching now, screaming her instructions and clapping along with the animated throng. Over came that big right again. In the corner Shane implored him to swing from below. It was too late for that. He is a long way from landing an uppercut.
It ended in a blur of meshed flesh tangled on the ropes, Dawson trying to escape the flailing windmill crowding him out. Of course he got the decision, by a point. And yes, down he went on one knee à la Lord’s after an Ashes five-for.
“Freddie, Freddie” yelled the crowd, acclaiming our hero. It was marvellous stuff, not boxing as we know it, but the punters lapped it up.