Rio Ferdinand has stressed he is ready to “walk the walk” after it was announced he will attempt to become a professional boxer, with the ultimate aim of challenging for a title.
The 38-year-old former England captain, who retired from football in 2015, is taking part in Betfair’s ‘Defender to Contender’ project and will be training with former WBC super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall.
A press release from Betfair on Tuesday said Ferdinand would be seeking to qualify for a British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) licence before starting training to fight in “a succession of bouts in 2017/18 with the ultimate aim to compete for a title belt.”
Speaking to the London Evening Standard, the ex-Manchester United defender said: “A lot of people sit and watch huge fights, plus other sporting events and say ‘I can do that’ or ‘they’ve messed it up’.
“There are a lot of armchair fans wanting to pass judgement. Well, I’m going to walk the walk and actually do it.
“I’m into keeping fit and one of the big things I have missed since retiring from football in 2015 is the competition, whether it be as a team or as an individual going one-on-one against a striker.
“I just miss that chemical that comes out of you. I have not been able to replace it. This is a great way to get that back.
“I’m doing this for many reasons. I’m doing this to test myself as a man, as a human being.
“Can I change sports? Can I be a respectable performer in other sports? Can my body get through it?
“Can I mentally get up early at 5-6am in the morning when it is dark and cold to go on long, dirty runs? Then get back, take my kids to school, go to the gym and eat properly all of the time.
“This is a test of my mind and body, that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m not looking at it to become the world champion, I’m not stupid.”
Ferdinand, who will hold a press conference in London on Tuesday afternoon, added as part of the Betfair press release: “It’s a challenge I’m not taking lightly – clearly not everyone can become a professional boxer – but with the team of experts Betfair are putting together and the drive I have to succeed, anything is possible.”
BBBC general secretary Robert Smith told Press Association Sport that Ferdinand had yet to apply for a boxer’s licence but said there was no reason he would be treated any differently to the likes of fellow ex-footballers Leon McKenzie and Curtis Woodhouse and retired cricketer Andrew Flintoff , who were all granted licences by the governing body.
Boxing promoter Barry Hearn, meanwhile, has accused Ferdinand of being “totally naive” and feels talk of him fighting for titles should not be taken seriously.
Hearn told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It’s laughable isn’t it? He is being totally naive and is totally underestimating boxing.
“But he has the choice of what he wants to do with his time and his life.
“The authorities are there to make sure the sport is safe, and that involves very tough tests to make sure he is capable of getting into the ring.
“If he can achieve that, let him have his chance, it’s not a problem. But let’s not take it seriously and talk about fighting for titles and things like that.
“I wish him luck, I hope he enjoys it, but be very careful because it’s dangerous.”
Woodhall, a former Olympic bronze medallist turned Team GB trainer, said: “I think Rio can definitely box as a professional given time.
“He has all the natural ingredients…and definitely has potential to win a title in the future.”
Bookmakers Betfair previously backed Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton’s transformation into a Cheltenham jockey in the ‘Switching Saddles’ challenge.