Ravens' Zbikowski getting back in the ring

OWINGS MILLS – Delivering a knockout punch is what's consuming the thoughts of Tom Zbikowski, not a potential NFL lockout. The Baltimore Ravens' hard-hitting safety is resuming his boxing career March 12 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand in a four-round bout against Richard Bryan

Zbikowski is on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga show promoted by Bob Arum of Top Rank.

"I love boxing, I've always loved that sport," Zbikowski said in a telephone interview. "Boxing is something I have so much respect and passion for. It means a lot to me. I love football, but I've always been into boxing. This is serious. I can't wait to get back in to the ring and start fighting again. I can't even tell you how excited I am. In the ring, it's just you and the guy across from you.

"It's the purest sport in the world. It's the only sport where guys hug each other afterward because there's so much respect for each other. You can get embarrassed in the ring. It reveals what you are. If you don't have heart or skills, people are going to see that. Boxing is the sweet science." This will mark the second professional fight for the former Gold Gloves boxer. While attending Notre Dame, Zbikowski (1-0) won by technical knockout in his pro debut at Madison Square Garden. Back then, he was a 214-pound heavyweight. Now, he's a chiseled 195-pound cruiserweight with five-percent body fat.

"I'm always going to fight my fight, which is a much faster pace than cruiserweights and heavyweights," said Zbikowski, whose opponent is 1-2 with one knockout. "I've always fought like a welterweight. I'm an all-around fighter and I'm going to fight with an exciting style. You've got to be able to fight every type of style. I let it flow and listen to the way my body feels."

As an unsigned restricted free agent and a potential work stoppage looming, Zbikowski isn't under contract. So, he's free to do what he wants. Zbikowski said he has spoken with Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano about resuming his boxing career. The Ravens can't technically block him from fighting.

"They gave me a tender as a restricted free agent, so technically there is really nothing that can stop me from fighting," Zbikowski said. "I've just continued on training and hope they respect my decision. I think they have and will because they know of my prior experience. They know I was a professional boxer before I was a professional football player. .. They can't stop me from making a living." Arum envisions scheduling Zbikowski for several more fights, characterizing him as one of the most talented cruiserweights. He might fight as often as once per month or every few weeks.

"As long as he is available to fight, we plan to keep him very busy," Arum said. "Our matchmakers feel he can compete at the top level in boxing as a cruiserweight, and we're going to keep him busy as long as his schedule permits." That could mean several more fights before football season.

"I definitely think so," Zbikowski said.. "I was still a young kid in college and was still pretty impressionable as to what I thought needed to be done being a football player and athlete, which was lifting weights. That really did not help out my boxing at all.

"Since then, I've moved on to being all functional and not really any weightlifting. I'm at about 5 ½ rounds to where I feel like I can fight at my pace without getting tired." Zbikowski's not worried about suffering an injury in the boxing ring.

He considers football to be far more dangerous. He dealt with heel and back injuries last season. "Football is the most dangerous sport in the world," said Zbikowski, who started the first six games last season when Ed Reed was on the physically unable to perform list. "As long as I don't get knocked out, there's not a lot of problems that are going to happen,. There's not torn ACLs, MCLs, ankles, things like that.

"I've never actually been injured in a fight, sparring or boxing. My injuries have come more from football than anything. If you can make it through four years of college football and three years of NFL football without many injuries, you should be all right." Zbikowski said he's not concerned about getting injured.

With a huge contingent of Fighting Irish teammates cheering him on in New York, Zbikowski scored a technical knockout of Robert Bell in June 2006 in the first round. "I put almost 100 rounds of sparring into that fight, and it only lasted 50 seconds," Zbikowski said. "I loved the result, but it made me want more. I put so much into that fight and it didn't even last for a minute. At the same time, it's exciting and frustrating. I want to get some rounds in and get sharp." Zbikowski has recovered from his injuries.

Now, he says he's even stronger than before. "My back feels great," said Zbikowski, who has been training in his hometown of Chicago and Miami. "I feel quicker at this weight, too. I'm going to be in great shape for the season." He has been working with Orlando Cuellar, Glen Johnson's trainer in Florida. Johnson is a former light heavyweight champion. An accomplished amateur fighter who went 68-13 before turning professional, Zbikowski isn't doing this as a lark. He started boxing when he was nine years old. "I'm serious about this," Zbikowski said. "I have so much respect for this sport. I've been doing this for a long time." He could see himself becoming a full-time boxer eventually.

"If I leave football too early, I know I'll feel like there's a pretty long section of my life missing," Zbikowski said. "I'm still young. A lot of boxers don't hit their prime until 29, 30, 31. I have time. God I've missed it. I'm enjoying every minute of doing the hard work of training and getting the feeling of fighting again."

Zbikowski emphasized that he's not doing this for the money. He's doing it for the competitiveness of the sport and to remain busy.

He'll make about $10,000 for the fight. However, he'll spend it on his training. Several members of the Ravens' secondary are heading out to Las Vegas to cheer Zbikowski on, including Reed, Chris Carr, Haruki Nakamura, Domonique Foxworth, Dawan Landry as well as defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Paul Kruger.

Between that entourage and his family, Zbikowski should have plenty of support in Las Vegas.

"That means so much to me," Zbikowski said. "Those are my guys and I don't plan on disappointing them. I can't wait to get back in the ring."

NOTES: The Ravens didn't give a restricted tender to reserve linebacker and special-teams ace Prescott Burgess, but may retain him as an unrestricted free agent when the collective bargaining agreement is resolved. … Outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, whom the Ravens are retaining as an exclusive rights free agent, said his visits to neurological specialists in Boston and Michigan went well. "It was good," said Kindle, whose future is uncertain after missing his entire rookie season with a fractured skull. "They didn't really say where things stand for me, but it went good." … Arum said that New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is going to attend the fight.

… Zbikowski would like to see the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Ngata get into the ring. "If you let me train Haloti Ngata, I guarantee he would do some damage," Zbikowski said. "He's one of the most gifted athletes I've ever seen in my life. He's a bear."

… Zbikowski was glad to hear that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to a seven-day negotiating extension as they try to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. "It's good that they're talking," Zbikowski said. "I don't know exactly what's being done or being said, but at least they're talking."

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