Rio Ferdinand to become professional boxer at the age of 38

Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United and England captain, is to attempt to become a professional boxer.

The 38-year-old has confirmed he is taking up the sport in what had been billed as a “major news announcement”.

Ferdinand will try to follow in the footsteps of Conor McGregor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship star who last month lost to Floyd Mayweather on his boxing debut.

He will also seek to emulate Curtis Woodhouse, the former Sheffield United midfielder who went on to a successful boxing career, becoming British lightwelterweight champion.

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Woodhouse tweeted his support on Monday night, saying: “Wish Rio Ferdinand all the very best if he decides to give pro boxing a go. Who is anybody to say what he can or can't do. Live ya life.”

Ferdinand, who is hoping to get his British Boxing Board of Control licence with the help of bookmaker Betfair, said on Tuesday morning: “When Betfair approached me about the Defender to Contender challenge, the chance to prove myself in a new sport was a real draw.

“Boxing is an amazing sport for the mind and the body. I have always had a passion for it and this challenge is the perfect opportunity to show people what’s possible. 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.”

Ferdinand, the BBC and BT Sport pundit, has posted footage of himself this year in boxing training on his Instagram page. In a video uploaded in January, he can be seen doing pad work with former rugby union centre Mel Deane while calling out British boxing stars Anthony Joshua, David Haye and Tony Bellew.

Between each flurry of punches, he yells: “Tony Bellew? I’m here. I’m waiting. I’m ready, pal. Are you ready?

“David Haye, you want some? I’m here, mate. I’m here. Working.

“AJ, we had a holiday together, mate, Dubai. I’ll take you out. I will cut you down. I’ll take you out, AJ! Come on son! You want some!”

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In a post alongside a similar video in June, Ferdinand goaded former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, saying: “Boxing Fridays... left right left right... boom! Don’t beat round the bush... When ya get ur licence back Tyson Fury?!!”

Ferdinand, who will need a licence himself in order to box professionally, also revealed this summer how keeping himself in shape had helped clear his mind after the death of his wife.

Breast cancer claimed the life of Rebecca Ellison two years ago, the same year Ferdinand retired from football.

Discussing how his post-retirement fitness regime helped him cope with bereavement, he told Men’s Health that it “enabled me to free my mind”.

He said his gym work replicated the “release time” football had provided him until he left the game, adding that “until you start working out regularly, you don’t understand it. You don’t understand that sometimes that hour, or even that brief 20 minutes you snatch as and when, can be the most chilled out hour or 20 minutes of your day”.

“Without the gym,” Ferdinand said, “I don’t know where I would’ve had that release time – that time just to think about nothing, or to think about something other than what was going on in my life.”

Ferdinand spoke of the beneficial effect that working out had on his mental health.

Rio Ferdinand in training
Ferdinand in training

He said: “I’m simply happier when I’m in the gym and working out, and I think everything else flows better when I’m doing that. It invigorates me and calms me at the same time.”

In March, Ferdinand made a BBC documentary that charted his life as a widower.

In ‘Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad’, the former West Ham United and Leeds United defender allowed cameras into his grieving after a year of silence.

In the programme, he discussed the difficulty of taking sole care of his children, Lorenz, Tate and Tia, and talked about men’s reluctance to speak about grief.

Andrew Flintoff  - Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Flintoff went into the ring in 2012 for a four-round bout in ManchesterCredit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images

Other sports stars to try their hand at boxing include Andrew Flintoff, who beat American Richard Dawson in a four-round heavyweight contest in 2012.

Outside the ring, former Olympic cycling queen Victoria Pendleton took up horse racing in 2015 with the aim of riding at Cheltenham Festival the following year.

She went on to finish an impressive fifth in the 2016 Foxhunter Chase.

Woodhouse had words of caution for Ferdinand, posting. “The training and everything didn't take me by surprise but I found learning the technical side of the game really difficult," he said.

“There’s a lot of things go on in a boxing ring that you don’t realise until you get in there. It takes a long, long time to feel comfortable in the boxing ring. Your ego will take a bit of a knock.

“He’s going to have to get used to a few setbacks along the way. He’ll definitely struggle with the technical side of the game.”