Rio Ferdinand will attempt to become a professional boxer at the age of 38 after taking up the sport to stay fit in retirement from football and to channel his grief after the death of his wife.
It is understood Ferdinand’s training will be filmed for a TV documentary series and that he will aim to have his first fight as its concluding episode.
In a move that echoes Victoria Pendleton’s move into horse racing, which culminated in her coming home fifth in the Foxhunter Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Ferdinand is taking part in Betfair’s ‘Defender to Contender’ project “The chance to prove myself in a new sport was a real draw,” said Ferdinand, who will be training with the former WBC super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall. “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.”
he former Manchester United and England defender has posted training videos to his social media accounts in recent months jokingly challenging professional boxers such as Tyson Fury, Tony Bellew and David Haye to a fight.
Ferdinand is expected to reveal more details at a press conference in London later on Tuesday. The former Sheffield United midfielder Curtis Woodhouse and the former Norwich striker Leon McKenzie made the switch to boxing with some success.
It is believed Ferdinand intends to fight only once, following in the footsteps of Andrew Flintoff, whose short-lived boxing career was much ridiculed but who beat the American Richard Dawson in a four-round heavyweight contest in 2012.
Ferdinand is a regular pundit on BBC and BT Sport and earlier this year appeared in a documentary focusing on his life after his wife Rebecca died of cancer two years ago.
He has extolled the virtues of boxing and working out as a way of coping with his grief. He told Men’s Health magazine: “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 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 is friendly with Anthony Joshua and has attended his fights. He has already begun preparing for his debut, doing pad work with the former rugby union centre Mel Deane, who will work to condition Ferdinand in the coming months.