Rio Ferdinand has said he’s only going to use the negative reaction to his transition from football to boxing as fuel to prove his critics wrong.
Joe Calzaghe has been the latest in a long line of boxers to brand the move “a joke” and “a publicity stunt” this week, after the 38-year-old former England and Manchester United defender announced his switch to the ring last month.
Tony Bellew also said it was “making a mockery of our sport”, while promoter Barry Hearn said “it’s laughable” and that “he could get himself badly hurt.”
But in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Ferdinand said: “There’s always going to be a negative area over here and people that back you in what you’re doing over there.
“I’ve always used negative vibes as fuel for when I’m training or on the way towards doing something.
“No matter what age you are, you will always have a bit of negativity somewhere from some quarters, and it’s how you deal with it.
“I respect the sport totally and I’m not taking it lightly,” he said on the sidelines of a Football Escapes soccer school in Dubai at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jumeirah last weekend.
“I’ve even got a boxing trainer coming out here, so I’m not taking time off, I know I need to do it consistently to make sure I’m ready. I’m going to prepare myself as well as I possibly can mentally and physically and then see how we go.”
So far, there’s no time frame on when Ferdinand hopes to get a boxing licence or announce his first opponent. “It would be wrong of me to give you a date really. I’ve got to work with my coach and then he will tell me when I’m ready.
“It’s a process and there are steps that I have to go through, first I need to try and get to the point where I’ve got a licence, and then after that we’ll see how far I go.”
Either way, he says, boxing has given himself something to focus on following the loss of both his wife and mum to cancer, and the end of his football career. All of which has occurred within the last two years.
“It’s just a challenge to myself mentally and physically to prove that I can actually go out there and be a boxer.
“The one thing I miss is the competition, and this is a chance to get that back.
“The first few months after my football career came to an end I didn’t miss anything, but then after a while you sit around. I don’t miss the travelling and being away and mentally getting yourself up and down 2-3 times a week for games. I don’t miss that but I do miss the feeling of being in a dressing room after a game and that satisfaction of winning a game, that feeling of being around your mates and going out there together to win something. I miss that.”
He wouldn’t be the first athlete to have switched sports. Former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff fought and won his only professional boxing bout in 2012, while Team GB cyclist Victoria Pendleton became a jockey in 2015. Curtis Woodhouse and Leon McKenzie also went into boxing after football, and there’s also Conor McGregor, of course, who delved into boxing from mixed martial arts in August to fight Floyd Mayweather.
Ferdinand is in Dubai with Football Escapes, conducting soccer schools alongside former Chelsea and Iceland striker Eidur Gudjohnsen at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jumeirah from October 23-27.
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