Former soccer star Rio Ferdinand poses after announcing he will be transforming himself into a boxer on Tuesday in London, England. Photo: IC
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has decided at the grand old age of 38 that he wants to become a professional boxer. The ex-England defender is well within his rights to do so and his reasons might well be understandable - Ferdinand's post-retirement years have seen him lose his wife to cancer and have to bring up their children and he cites boxing as helping him cope - but that doesn't mean his path will be easy.
The truth is that to become a pro boxer - let alone one that wins a belt, as Ferdinand has stated as his goal - is incredibly difficult. He can expect no quarter in that regard. In fact, his celebrity might mean that much like when he was at Manchester United, opponents will see him as a big-name scalp and try that bit harder to win. Similarly, just because he has excelled at the elite level of one sporting pursuit does not mean that he will automatically be able to pass muster in another, let alone in boxing where greater proponents than him have been found out in the ring.
Ferdinand has been in training for some time, but now with the sponsorship of UK gambling outfit Betfair he will step that up as part of their "Defender to Contender" campaign, the previous iteration of which saw Olympic gold medalist Victoria Pendleton go from track cycling to horse riding. Pendleton competed in one event but her new "career" lasted no longer than that.
The ex-England defender will turn 39 in November. He has not yet applied for his boxing licence and is highly unlikely to be granted one by the British Boxing Board of Control, let alone arrange his first pro fight, before his 39th birthday. Some in the boxing community have said it is in the balance whether he will be given the licence, while others have pointed out that his profile means that it will be rubber-stamped despite legitimate concerns over both his age and experience.
The boxing fraternity has concerns beyond Ferdinand putting his health at risk by stepping into the ring against trained, experienced fighters. They worry whether this "stunt," as some see it, will further damage their sport. Boxing is currently reeling from the Mayweather vs McGregor fight and the scoring of the GGG vs Canelo Alvarez fight, amid calls that the result was a fix to guarantee a pre-agreed rematch but these are just the latest blows to boxing since its heyday. Meanwhile, other sports - martial arts and otherwise - have stolen its spotlight. There are those who are asking whether Ferdinand pulling on the gloves really show the sweet science at its very best?
Naysayers can point to another England international who has gone on to a media career in Ashes-winning cricketer Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff. The all-rounder made the move to boxing after retiring from cricket and fought a televised bout against the American fighter Richard Dawson in Manchester in 2012. The four-round fight was not one for the purist and while Flintoff battled to a points win to end his boxing career undefeated, many in boxing branded it a farce.
Many other sportsmen (and sportswomen) have swapped over to boxing and some have done so very creditably. But for every Anthony Mundine, who swapped his rugby league career in Australia's NRL to become a world champion boxer, or Sonny Bill Williams, a man who has represented the All Blacks at both rugby union and rugby league while simultaneously being New Zealand's heavyweight champ, there are tens more who have added nothing to boxing.
A lot of those went into the ring with more fighting experience than Ferdinand, who admits to not having used his fists since his youth on the housing estates of south London. Australian rules footballers, rugby players from both codes and ice hockey players all call on their fists from time to time within their own sports. Ferdinand, on the other hand, used to have Nemanja Vidic do his dirty work.
Ferdinand's age might not necessarily be a factor - Mundine is 42 and currently calling out Jeff Horn for a fight, after Horn's Manny Pacquiao rematch collapsed - but boxers who carry on into their 40s tend not to start in their late 30s. None of this means Ferdinand shouldn't try to achieve his dream and he can look to other soccer players for inspiration.
Leon McKenzie played for Norwich City and Crystal Palace among others in a career that saw him play in the Premier League before turning to boxing in 2013. The difference is that McKenzie has boxing in his blood: His father was British Olympian Clinton McKenzie while his uncle Duke held world titles at three weights. McKenzie's career spanned four years and 11 fights (eight wins, two losses, one draw) and only ended earlier this month after he lost the Southern Area title fight to Cello Renda, when McKenzie decided to retire at 39.
An even better role model might be Curtis Woodhouse who played in the Premier League with Birmingham City before quitting soccer to take up boxing at 25 in 2006. He went on to win the British Super Lightweight title eight years later before retiring to return to soccer as a manager and document his remarkable career in his autobiography Box To Box. Woodhouse has since written another chapter by returning to the ring this year. The 37-year-old beat Arvydas Trizno in Doncaster in early September to extend his record to 23-7-0 and has his sights on regaining his British title, all while managing Northern Eastern Counties league side Bridlington Town. He fights again in November.
Ferdinand might want to take his inspiration from another player who represented their country before boxing. Katie Taylor represented Ireland 11 times before winning 18 amateur titles including gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Taylor turned pro last year and has won all six of her fights so far with the 31-year-old's next scheduled fight in October for the WBA World Lightweight title.