Freddie Flintoff was known for his boozy escapades off the pitch nearly as much as his international cricket career.
But these days you won’t see him touching a drop of alcohol, eating a carbohydrate or behaving badly – because he’s on a mission to become a professional boxer.
And what began as a bit of a laughable twist on a reality TV show seems to have turned into a big deal.
For the past nine months he’s been trained by former world champion Barry McGuigan and his son Shane to become a professional boxer and on November 30 he will face his first opponent in the ring.
But whereas during his cricket career as one of England’s best ever ‘all rounders’ he became known for his infamous benders to celebrate accolades, he’s now ridiculously focused.
He even admits he’s not even considering touching a tipple after his fight and confesses it was easy for him to change his party animal ways.
Freddie, 34, said this week: “It was easier than you would think for me to give up the booze.
“The first week or a fortnight maybe you wouldn’t mind a pint but then after that you just get involved in the training. I’m getting up now with a purpose and there’s no battle on my hands.
“It’s been harder eating a steak at 6am in the morning than it was giving up booze. The thing I miss most is picking at my kid’s meals like fish fingers and chips – those are my favourite meals. I’m not allowed to alter my diet in any way.
“For the first few weeks of training back in March I got one meal a week where I could eat whatever I wanted. So I would pig out on that! But that doesn’t happen now.
“I don’t want to celebrate the fact I’ve done all this work to my body for the fight by going and ruining it all with some bender. I love the fact I’ve got healthy and fit and I don’t want to go out on some bender and ruin it.”
This is a huge change from the Freddie who hit the front pages throughout his cricket career for all the wrong reasons.
Who could forget the time he walked into No10 Downing Street celebrating the historic Ashes win in 2005 after he’d been celebrating all night and was clearly worse for wear.
And of course his time with England was also marred by the infamous pedalo incident during the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean when he was stripped of the vice-captaincy. A drunken Freddie had to be rescued after falling into water trying to board the seacraft.
The change in his life right now is extraordinary.
The dad-of-three wakes up at 6am and makes himself his a steak or a buffalo burger (“minus the bun and the mayo”) and then hits the gym with fruit and cashew nuts for snacks before three balanced meals of chicken or fish with fresh greens before getting an early night.
The three-part Sky1HD documentary Flintoff: From Lords To The Ring documents the star in his quest to become a boxer and on November 30 he will face unbeaten American Richard Dawson.
Freddie’s lost 45lbs in weight during his gruelling four-month training camp and admits his body has changed shape – including his nose after numerous bloody sparring sessions.
“My nose has completely changed shape,” he admits. “My wife Rachael keeps pointing it out. It’s flattened down and I’m morphing into Barry McGuigan. I’ve got his nose now.
“At the start of my training when I was punched in the face I couldn’t even breathe through my nose but now I’m fine – it’s been a learning curve and I had to get used to it.
“Rachael’s noticed my body changing too – in a good way, I think. But you know, it’s not a big deal really. I’m always too tired…so there’s none of that. I just flake out on the couch.”
Freddie, who married wife Rachael in 2005, even reveals he’s not sure if his boxing career will end after his first fight. He appears keen to continue with his training. “I’m going to see how I go,” he admits. “I’ve worked so hard for this – to be able to face a professional boxing match and if I’m honest it would be sad to give it all up.
“I want to take things as they come and concentrate on the fight and getting through that. It will be my first experience with a big crowd for the first time and my eyes will be eyes wide open to see what that feels like.”
The star, who has children Holly, eight, Corey, six and Rocky, four, with wife Rachael, has benefited from the best in the business training him on his boxing challenge. Both Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard offered their expertise and visited Freddie at the training centre in Battersea.
“Sugar Ray gave me a coaching session for an hour which was amazing and then Mike Tyson comes down to the gym in Battersea and pitches up to see me,” he beams. “I was the one stood in the ring with my boxing shorts on and vest and I’m getting to hear Tyson’s thoughts. Tyson talked about the emotional side of it all and the way to deal with nerves and fear. It was strange to listen to him because it was the exact way that Tyson always fought. Tyson was amazing in the old days. He was immense.”
But not everybody is happy with the former cricketer’s decision to box. His wife’s secretly a bag of nerves and his mother’s struggling to understand why he’s doing it.
Freddie says: “Rachael’s way of dealing with things is to act like me being a boxer isn’t a big deal. She will obviously come to watch me when I box. Her grandfather boxed so she’s seen it before.
“But I’m not sure what my mum’s doing. She says she wants to come, but I’m negotiating with her right now. It’s one thing to watch your son play cricket but being in a ring boxing is a different matter. I think for her it would be a bizarre experience to watch.
“The kids are fine with it – but they’re not happy I’ve lost my belly flab. We used to play this game called ‘The Tummy Man’ where I’d talk to them with my belly button – but the flab has disappeared and we’ve lost The Tummy Man.”
There’s one down side to boxing!
Flintoff: From Lord’s to the Ring, November 22, 9pm, Sky1HD.