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Adebayo Akinfenwa will make his professional wrestling debut later this month

Former footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa is set to make his professional wrestling debut next week, Sportsmail can exclusively reveal.

The 40-year-old, who retired from football late last season after a career spanning more than 20 years, will take on former Olympic boxer Anthony Ogogo for his fight with Mailk in PROGRESS Wrestling on Sunday October 23 accompany the ring.

Known for his charismatic personality both on and off the field, Akinfenwa spoke exclusively to preview the event, claiming that he will always stand behind Ogogo and that the world of pro wrestling is something he is always passionate about thought, even if he’s not sure where his debut might lead.

“I was always asked when I would retire, and the answer was always new experiences,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to do what I love for 22 years, but it was a job. When you retire, it’s just freedom and experiences.

“Because of my love for wrestling, it was always in the background. I’ve known Anthony Ogogo for a while, years. We met when he was a boxer and stayed in touch and the wrestling thing never went away.

“He sadly couldn’t box anymore and he found this love for wrestling and he hit me and said, ‘Listen, do you want to try some things?

“When you find something you enjoy, it makes it a little bit easier. But then the mindset is try new things and if it lands, it lands. I enjoy it, I enjoyed the training, I enjoy that it’s intense.

Ogogo turned to wrestling after retiring from boxing in 2019. He was a regular in All Elite Wrestling, one of the world’s most important promotions, and in the independent scene.

He meets Malik at PROGRESS Chapter 145 – Wrestling Witch Face – Trick or Treat at Camden’s Electric Ballroom.

Despite the entertainment side of things, the two have developed quite a personal rivalry in recent weeks and Akinfenwa insisted he didn’t hesitate when asked for assistance.

“We’re part of the same agency, when he first came onto the boxing scene at the Olympics that’s when we met,” said the former Wycombe forward.

“He won’t admit it but I think he always wanted to be as tall as me because he’s a lightweight so he started hitting in the gym. But I’ve seen the process of him growing up and we’ve trained together a couple of times. It’s more his domain than mine, but he shows me a few tricks.

“I’m going to bat for my people. Any Wycombe player could call me and I would. When he called me that people were trying to harass him there was only one answer.

“They were cool at one point and it’s like you’re up against a defender and he starts talking about wanting the smoke, it gets under your skin a bit and I expect it to be technical. No matter how technical it gets, me and Ogogo will be there, so we’ll work it out no matter what.’

Akinfenwa’s personality is based around his workout routines, with his catchphrase “They say I’m too big to play football” based on his love of fitness and the gym.

Ahead of WWE’s UK pay-per-view Clash At The Castle last month, he trained with wrestler Sheamus and commented that while much of the training is the same, it’s an improvement over what he’s used to.

“I’ve tried and I won’t lie, it hurts,” he said. “Anyone who’s watched me play football knows it took me a while to get up when I went down, and it takes me even longer to get up in wrestling when I’m trying to move.

“Training is training, but there are several physical things that hurt. I’m usually the person who pushes people down, but now I’m a lot more down-to-earth. I enjoy my weights, I still do the bike.

“I work for BT and they cover wrestling. You know I enjoy wrestling and he came over. I enjoyed training with him, it’s fun because there’s an entertainment element, but when you’re in the gym it’s real work and that’s about it.

“I spoke to Anthony, I saw him having surgery. It is real. Regardless of the conversation that goes in, you will get hurt. You’re going to see the statement, “Don’t do this at home,” and you need to practice, you need to work on it, you need to know that eventually you’re going to hurt yourself, that was a conversation we had.

“That’s what people sometimes don’t understand. Broken ribs, broken shoulder, broken eye socket, these are things that happen in sports. Even me, you have to do your due diligence, it’s really not like everyone can do it and I really see that.

Though he’s retired from playing, he has several other commitments on his plate and isn’t sure where his debut might lead. It could be WWE, just a match, or something in between – but he’s most looking forward to trying it out.

“I have a lot to do at the moment and I always knew that this would be the way to go,” said Akinfenwa, who is known to have been the strongest player on the computer game FIFA for several years.

“I knew I was going to throw myself into a lot of things to keep my mental health busy more than anything because I’m used to that but also wanted to try different things because you can’t do that as a footballer.

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