LONDON • Former England football captain Rio Ferdinand confirmed yesterday that he will train to become a professional boxer with the ultimate aim of challenging for a title belt.
The 38-year-old former Manchester United defender, who retired from football in May 2015, is taking part in online betting firm Betfair's "Defender to Contender" project and said he will be training with former World Boxing Council super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall.
Ferdinand will be seeking to qualify for a British Boxing Board of Control licence before starting training and competing for a title.
"Boxing is an amazing sport for the mind and the body," he said. "I have always had a passion for it.
"It's a challenge I'm not taking lightly - clearly not everyone can become a professional boxer - but with the team of experts Betfair is putting together and the drive I have to succeed, anything is possible."
Ferdinand, who will also work with personal trainer Mel Deane, added on Twitter: "It's happening... Can't wait to get started with the team @betfair have put together, @richiewoodhall and @meldeane #DefenderToContender."
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Woodhall, a former Olympic bronze medallist turned Team GB trainer, believes Ferdinand has the ability to turn professional.
"In all honesty, I think Rio can definitely box as a professional given time," he said. "He has natural power in his right hand, is extremely fit and is very enthusiastic to learn, which is encouraging.
"Style-wise, he's very raw and I'll have to develop this, which will take time but he has all the natural ingredients, height and reach advantages over boxers in his weight division and definitely has potential to win a title in the future."
Ferdinand's love of boxing is apparent on social media, with a picture on his Twitter profile showing him draped in the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and International Boxing Organisation heavyweight title belts of his friend Anthony Joshua.
The Londoner, who won 81 England caps, was present when Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko in April and posed for pictures with the Olympic gold medallist.
Earlier this year, Ferdinand appeared in a documentary focusing on his life after his wife Rebecca died of cancer two years ago.
He said boxing and working out helped him cope 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 will not be the first footballer to make the switch. Former Sheffield United midfielder Curtis Woodhouse won the British light-welterweight title in 2012 after swopping football for boxing.
The 37-year-old tweeted: "My advice to Rio would be to show the game the respect it deserves. This is no joke, you can die 'playing' boxing. I wish him well."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN