Call it the quest for validation. Ricky Hatton misguidedly embarked upon it, emerging mangled and emotionally ruined from his brawl with Vyacheslav Senchenko, and Andrew Flintoff on Friday night treads a familiar, perilous path in the same crucible of Manchester’s MEN Arena.
For the cricketer-turned-pugilist, the notion of leather on bone suddenly assumes an altogether more sinister resonance. At best, his is a noble enterprise; at worst, profoundly irresponsible.
Even Frank Warren, whose company BoxNation is screening Flintoff’s maiden fight against Oklahoman Richard Dawson, brands the spectacle “car-crash television”.
For to hear of the retired all-rounder’s latest exploits is to be reminded of the fate that befell rower James Cracknell, who entered a charity bout in 2007 and was knocked out after 45 seconds. And that was against Kerry Walmsley, a New Zealand seam bowler.
One shudders to imagine what might fate befall ‘Freddie’ should Dawson, who cut his teeth in street fights, turn out to be half-decent.
Why on Earth is Flintoff doing this? His mother is apparently beside herself with worry.
Wife Rachael, if the Sky documentary on his progress is any gauge, betrays more than passing concern when the family breadwinner returns home with a busted lip and crushed naval cavity.
He is experimenting with what trainer Barry McGuigan labels “the hurt business”, and for a man with three young children – the youngest of whom, in a clue to his boxing passions, is called Rocky – the consequences for his health can only be guessed at.
And yet Flintoff is desperate to superimpose a worthy back-story upon an occasion that his detractors deem grotesque. The revelations in the carefully sequenced series of programmes building towards the fight suggest as much: his long-standing battle with bulimia, the disclosure that he was once a victim of childhood bullying.
It is as if the 34 year-old is turning to boxing as an emancipation from past traumas, and as an expression of some primal, long-suppressed desire to hit back at those who tormented him.
Perhaps. Or it could simply be that he is in thrall to the tyranny of television.
Ever since he hung up his whites in 2009, Flintoff has been a self-made ratings machine. In the service of broadcasting he has leapt off cliffs, gone wrestling in Mexico, lived in Tanzania as a Masai warrior and headed to Australia to coexist with Aborigines.
With his expansive shoulders and hay-coloured hair, he is peddling a curious image of himself as everybody’s favourite farm boy, one for whom no challenge is too arduous and no indignity too extreme. Entering the boxing ring represents an extension of that continued journey towards the ragged edge.
Everything Flintoff does is designed for mass consumption, from those oh-so-wholesome Morrison’s adverts to the terribly scripted comedy lines he trots out on A League of Their Own.
There is a suspicion, too, that given the heritage of the ‘Fredalo’ incident and the many almighty binges, that he is holding himself up as a freewheeling everyman whom anybody could share a pint with – the supermarket own-brand version of Ian Botham, if you like.
Most who have ever interviewed Flintoff would attest that he is not extravagantly furnished in the charm department, but that he compensates through sheer pluck and a disarming Lancastrian bluffness.
These are the qualities he will parade for the public in Manchester, even if they seem not to be biting thus far.
A meagre 5,000 tickets have been sold for his MEN Arena date, at a venue that can accommodate more than 19,000.
Where the local demand to watch Hatton’s comeback was near-insatiable, the appetite is not nearly so great to see a superannuated cricketer who ought never to have been given a boxing licence in the first place have his face smashed in.
Curtis Woodhouse, the one-time Sheffield United midfielder, is one of the very few to have navigated a successful transition to boxing, winning 16 of his 20 bouts since 2002.
But there the parallels end for Flintoff, whose baptism in the heavyweight arena comes against a man a stone-and-a-half heavier. As might be expected of a man who peppered Ricky Ponting with 90mph bouncers, he is credited by McGuigan with a “big right hand”.
However, he also harbours a more susceptible side ill-suited to this merciless trade. In the same way as he bowed down at Edgbaston to make sure Brett Lee was unscathed, Flintoff was visibly upset when he rocked one of his sparring partners.
In boxing, one has to hate, but does Flintoff even have the capacity to feel it?
We shall discover soon enough whether he achieves his moment of validation, or if he instead follows Hatton as the next hard-living northern hero whose struggles with retirement force him along the fast track to oblivion.