Haskell taking sport swap ‘much more seriously’ than Flintoff

Former England rugby union international James Haskell has vowed to treat his switch to professional fighting more seriously than Andrew Flintoff.

Haskell, 34, who played 77 times for England, announced last week that he will compete in mixed martial arts after signing with Bellator.

Haskell retired from rugby in May and will follow in the footsteps of Flintoff, who turned to boxing following the conclusion of his cricket career.

Flintoff was victorious in his only bout in 2012, but the fight attracted much criticism from the professional boxing world.

“You have to respect Freddie for getting in the ring, but I am very different, this is a different sport and I am taking it much more seriously,” Haskell told the PA news agency.

“The gym I am training at will put me in a position where I don’t look like I haven’t taken a punch before. I am not here for fun. I want to do it properly.

“I only saw parts of Freddie’s boxing and it didn’t go well for him, but I only worry about myself.”

Andrew Flintoff beat Richard Dawson on points in his only professional bout
Andrew Flintoff beat Richard Dawson on points in his only professional bout (Dave Thompson/PA)

Haskell, who played for Wasps and Northampton Saints, has been training alongside current MMA star Michael Page in London and will compete in the heavyweight division. He has also worked as a television pundit in MMA.

Bellator want Haskell’s debut to take place in the UK against a fighter with similar experience and have earmarked the first half of next year as a likely date for his inaugural bout.

Haskell, who played in two World Cups and won three Six Nations titles with England, added: “I am not messing around with this.

“Some people think it is like that scene out of Rocky III, where he is wearing the gold gloves, it is all showbiz and then he gets filled in. But I am not about that.

“I am dedicating my life to this and I want to be in the best possible shape. I am putting in as much dedication to this as I did to rugby.

“It is part of my journey and, if I was to die tomorrow, I have had a go at everything in life.

“Who doesn’t want to know how to handle themselves? The world is going down the toilet at the moment, so it would be quite good to know what I am doing and the benefit of this is that I will be trained within an inch of my life.”

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