Andrew Flintoff has won his first heavyweight boxing match against Richard Dawson at the Manchester Arena.
Flintoff beat Dawson on points by 39-38 at the end of four two-minute rounds in front of a roaring crowd in his native North West.
The former England and Lancashire cricket star was afforded a hero’s welcome by the 5,000-strong crowd.
But after taking the first round he was sent tumbling to the canvas by a punch from his American opponent early in the second.
Flintoff – who lost 20kg while training with former world champion Barry McGuigan – came back into the match as the heavier Dawson showed signs of tiredness.
And the Ashes winner showed impressive composure to take a narrow points win according to referee Phil Edwards’ scorecard.
The win was the perfect response to critics including promoter Frank Maloney, who said the fight would “shame the fight game”.
Flintoff was thrilled to have made a winning return to the limelight.
“You mention the Ashes at international level, but as a personal achievement I think this is the best,” he told Box Nation.
“It’s something that isn’t natural to me. I’ve had to work hard.”
The 34-year-old, who has been training for four and a half months with McGuigan and his son Shane, added: “The feeling of being back in front of a crowd and winning at the end – I can’t describe it.
“I wanted to experience it. The people around Manchester, and the county, supported me so well playing cricket. It was a no brainer to have it up here.
“The crowd made a massive difference. It’s been amazing – humbling, really.”
Flintoff’s progress was charted in a Sky television documentary, where his commitment and dedication to achieving prime physical condition were clearly evident.
But doubts were raised by seasoned observers about the former all-rounder’s technical boxing skills.
More than three years on from his last outing as a professional sportsman – helping England regain the Ashes from Australia at The Oval in 2009 while battling a knee injury that would ultimately curtail his career – Flintoff entered the ring wearing his old Lancashire Lightning one-day top.
The crowd favourite had tipped the scales at a trim 15st 6oz – giving Dawson a near two-stone weight advantage.