The NFL labor fight has led Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski to put on his boxing gloves.
As football's impending work stoppage draws nearer, Zbikowski has decided to fight in a professional boxing match on March 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It will mark his second pro fight and first since 2006.
Zbikowski said it's not about the money. He estimates that he'll make $100 profit. He isn't motivated by the notoriety, either. Zbikowski is fighting on the undercard against an undetermined opponent.
He just sees it as his best way to stay active. So, as the players prepare for a lockout, Zbikowski is going for knockouts.
"It's an opportunity for me to do what I love," Zbikowski said. "It's tough to pass on. What am I going to do with my free time until August anyways? If you know me, I'd go nuts. It's not healthy for me to do nothing."
NFL players' contracts prohibit them from activities in which the risk of injury is significant, but Zbikowski hasn't signed his tender as a restricted free agent. Technically, he's not under contract.
A third-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2008, Zbikowski hasn't spoken to team officials about his decision to box.
"I don't think there's much that they can say with all of this stuff going on," Zbikowski said. "They're not even allowed to talk to us after today. When they drafted me, they knew I had that one other fight before."
Zbikowski started the first six games for the Ravens last season when Ed Reed was on the physically-unable-to-perform list. There is a chance he could return to the starting lineup next season because safety Dawan Landry is expected to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Ravens declined to comment on their feelings toward one of their players boxing, outside of general manager Ozzie Newsome saying, "I have not had any conversation with him."
The biggest concern is Zbikowski hurting himself in the ring. But Zbikowski considers boxing one of the "safer sports."
"The worse that's going to happen is I get knocked out," he said.
Zbikowski believes boxing is safer than football.
"It's simple mathematics," he said. "There's only one guy with two hands that is coming at you. There are not 11 guys on the other team trying to take out your legs, knees and ankles. I don't think people understand how dangerous football is. We're talking about the most dangerous sport in the world. If I can get through that, I can get through fighting one person."
At 5 feet 11, 200 pounds, Zbikowski is known as one of the Ravens' toughest players and hardest hitters. But injuries cut short a promising season last year.
He was missed five games with a foot injury and returned to play two games before getting hurt again. A back injury sidelined him for the final give games of the season.
Zbikowski said he was about 100 percent during the playoffs but never was able to make it back onto the field. He explained that his back has gotten better with boxing because all of the power and punches come from the muscles around the spine.
"It's actually helped me out more than it's hurt," Zbikowski said. "I feel like I'm going to be in the best shape of my entire life when I get back to football season."
Zbikowski always planned on getting back to boxing once his football career was over. His record as an amateur boxer was 68-13 (although he had about 20 more fights in exhibitions). He's been boxing since he was 9 years old and fought 60 times before starting high school.
"It's not something I just picked up. It was something that slowed down because of football and the other sports I was doing," he said. "I was a professional boxer before I was a professional football player."
Zbikowski's first pro fight came in June 2006. After wrapping up spring football at Notre Dame, he spent six weeks training for a match at New York's Madison Square Garden.
He made quick work of Robert Bell, winning by a first-round technical knockout.
"I put almost 100 rounds of sparring into that fight for 50 seconds," Zbikowski said. "I just wasn't satisfied after putting that much work into it and getting only 50 seconds of something that I've been waiting my whole life for."
Zbikowski estimates he could fight five or six more times if the work stoppage lasts through August.
"I'll keep going depending on how the labor talks go," he said. "I'll keep myself busy until further notice."
Zbikowski won't be living off his purse money. He said he'll make $10,000 for this month's fight, but nearly all of that will go toward training expenses.
That's not much compared to the $1 million that he's scheduled to make as a restricted free agent next season.
"I'll maybe make $100 for this fight," he said. "That's why I'll have to fight five more times."
Most of the Ravens' defensive backs — Landry, Ed Reed, Chris Carr, Domonique Foxworth and Haruki Nakamura — are expected to attend Zbikowski's fight in Las Vegas, where he adds another experience to an impressive sporting resume.
"I've played in an AFC championship game and Notre Dame Stadium. I've fought at Madison Square Garden and MGM Grand," he said. "I would like someone to beat that."