Betting company Betfair announced earlier this month that they are sponsoring ex-professional footballer Rio Ferdinand, 38, to take up boxing and aim for belts.
Ferdinand, who retired from football in 2015, has no previous experience of boxing, yet has confidently stated that he is “now aiming for a belt” as he sees this as a fresh challenge. His social media in recent months has contained numerous videos of him training with personal trainer Mel Deane as he seeks to improve his boxing style and fitness.
Whilst Ferdinand’s switch from football to boxing is an unprecedented move, many other professional athletes have made similar cross-sport transitions. In 2016 Betfair sponsored former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton in her quest to become a jockey, culminating in her coming fifth in a race at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Similarly, retired cricketer Andrew Flintoff successfully entered into the world of boxing in 2012, beating his opponent Richard Dawson on points in his only professional match. There is no certainty, however, that Ferdinand will be able to successfully follow sportsmen and women such as Flintoff and Pendleton into another sport.
Boxing is stereotyped as a sport where two large fighters enter the ring and attempt to pummel the other into a state of unconsciousness. In contrast, the typical view of football in the modern day is that it’s a game full of overpaid players who spend more time rolling around on the floor appealing for fouls than they do kicking a ball. This clearly puts Ferdinand’s decision into some context; it doesn’t seem likely that a footballer will find success in one of the world’s most dangerous sports.
Sports promoter Barry Hearn highlighted the danger of an inexperienced boxer entering the ring to fight world-renowned fighters by stating that Ferdinand “could get himself badly hurt.”
Whilst Ferdinand was seen in his footballing days as a hard defender who could outmuscle any opposing player, he hardly compares to the powerhouses of boxing, such as Anthony Joshua and Tony Bellew. Richie Woodhall, Ferdinand’s new coach and former WBC super-middleweight champion, has claimed that his new trainee has “all the natural ingredients” to become a successful boxer with “height and reach advantages”. Whilst this may be true, it is far from being enough for Ferdinand to protect himself in the ring.
Being new to the sport, Ferdinand has a great deal to learn, yet that does not mean that he can’t do it. If Flintoff can do it, then why can’t Ferdinand? There’s no suggestion that he’s going to launch himself into the ring straight away, so given time and practice, he could well capitalise on his natural advantages and progress to become a successful competitor. At 38, however, he isn’t blessed with an abundance of time. Age took its toll on Ferdinand on the football pitch, so he may have to move quickly if he truly wants to compete in boxing.
Ferdinand’s switch also highlights an important issue in the world of boxing and sport at the moment, which is the increasingly commercial nature of it. The recent Mayweather versus McGregor fight was admittedly a spectacle where two professionals took part in a high-quality match, yet in reality it was a remarkable commercial feat.
The fight was watched by millions world-wide and the sums of money going to the fighters and sponsors was incredible. Whilst Ferdinand may see this as a personal challenge, it is clearly a great promotion point for Betfair, Ferdinand himself and the sport of boxing.
Only time will tell whether Ferdinand is ambitious enough and capable of performing as a boxer. This move has caused a sudden outburst of media attention, but we won’t be seeing Ferdinand in a boxing ring in the immediate future.
Image courtesy of Web Summit