Ravens' Zbikowski excited to step back into the ring

Safety will fight Bryant in heavyweight fight in Las Vegas on Saturday

March 11, 2011|By Lance Pugmire, Tribune Newspapers

Leverage is everything, and for Ravens safety Tommy Zbikowski, that means boxing for a living should the NFL season not happen.

The 25-year-old former Notre Dame star is preparing to earn $10,000 for no more than 12 minutes of work Saturday night.

With a restricted free-agent tender deal from the Ravens on his table, the three-year NFL player will return to the pro boxing ring at MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday against 35-year-old Richard Bryant in a four-round heavyweight fight.

Zbikowski is back after a five-year hiatus necessitated by his NFL preparation, part of the pay-per-view ($49.95) card headlined by the World Boxing Association super-welterweight fight between champion Miguel Cotto (35-2, 28 knockouts) and Ricardo Mayorga (29-7-1, 23 KOs).

"I was looking to get on this card for awhile, to get another fight after being away for five years," said Zbikowski, 25. "Before I go back to football, I might be able to get some more fights — a six-rounder or eight-rounder — and having the NFL interest in me is obviously a good marketing thing."

Several Ravens and other NFL players are expected at the fight, promoter Bob Arum said, and Zbikowski's involvement resulted in another publicity boost driven by a back-and-forth Twitter exchange between the safety and receiver Chad Ochocinco of the AFC North-rival Bengals.

Ochocinco, who has trained in Hollywood with Manny Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach, assessed that Zbikowski was too slow, to which Zbikowski invited the boisterous receiver to meet him in a charity fight in May.

"It's good stuff, [Ochocinco] knows how to draw attention," said Zbikowski, who said his first NFL play had him lined up against the player then known as Chad Johnson. "I'd like to see if we can work something out to have that fight."

Arum said he doesn't believe Ochocinco has the contractual flexibility of Zbikowski, who said his understanding of the Ravens' tender offer is that he'd earn between $1.1 million and $2 million if there is a 2011 season.

The Chicago-area native is so enamored with boxing that he said he might make it his first career if the Ravens weren't so competitive.

"My goal in football is a Super Bowl, and we're knocking on the door," Zbikowski said. "If I was on a terrible team, I might've given football just three or four years and then go back to boxing. I will not go back to a team that's not competitive."

Zbikowski has had at least 70 amateur fights, and is 1-0 as a pro after training and sparring in Chicago with the city's best fighters, including David Diaz, Fres Oquendo and Angel Manfredy.

Zbikowski was so skilled while at Notre Dame that he was barred from competing in the university's Bengal Boxing Club.

Arum is thrilled with his charisma and skill, and has tentatively scheduled the 195-pound Zbikowski to fight on the undercard of a March 26 bout in Atlantic City, and again April 23 at a casino outside Dallas.

"[Promoter Don] King wants to match him against his world cruiserweight champion," Arum said. "It's a bit too soon for that, but Tommy is extraordinarily talented. Very quick, good punch. He's the goods. He isn't a gimmick, like [former NFL-players-turned boxers] 'Too Tall' Jones or Mark Gastineau. This kid was raised as a fighter, boxing was his first sport."

Zbikowski calls boxing his "first love, what I always wanted to do."

As for Saturday's challenge, he said of Kentucky's Bryant, "There's no such thing as an easy fight. He's not a world beater, but I'm giving up about 30 pounds, so let's get this one over and see where we are."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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