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Manchester United great Rio Ferdinand to launch boxing career

Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has confirmed he is to launch a new career as a professional boxer.

The 38-year-old, who retired from football two years ago, is to compete in a series of fights over the next year with a view to earning a shot at a title belt.

The challenge, backed by betting company Betfair, will see Ferdinand work with a team of boxing coaches and fitness trainers as he attempts to earn his professional licence.

"When Betfair approached me about the Defender to Contender challenge, the chance to prove myself in a new sport was a real draw," the former England international said in a statement.

"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."

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Ferdinand will be coached by former WBC super-middleweight Champion turned Team GB trainer Richie Woodhall.

"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, a six-time Premier League champion and a Champions League winner with United, has worked mostly as a television pundit since his retirement at the end of the 2014-15 season, which he spent at QPR.

He described in an interview with Men's Health in July how maintaining an exercise regime has helped him to cope mentally since leaving football and following the death of his wife Rebecca in 2015.

"It's enabled me to free my mind," he said. "You've got to remember, when I played football, when I'd step onto the pitch, there was nothing I thought about but football. It was a clear space, a little release time.

"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.

"The gym really played a part in that, and that's why I've clung onto it."