Ravens safety returning to ring for March fight
Just like any NFL player, Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski is planning around a potential lockout. The difference is he's doing it in a boxing ring.
Zbikowski is scheduled to fight for the second time as a professional on the undercard of Miguel Cotto's title defense against Ricardo Mayorga on March 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Zbikowski will face Richard Bryant from London, Ky., in a four-round heavyweight bout.
''Right now, I'm enjoying every minute of being a fighter and being a boxer again,'' Zbikowski said Friday. ''I was a professional fighter before I was a professional football player.''
The former Notre Dame star had a stellar amateur boxing career, going 75-15 and reaching the finals of the Chicago Golden Gloves, where he had to withdraw because of a family emergency.
He turned professional before his senior season with the Fighting Irish, and knocked out Robert Bell in the first round at Madison Square Garden on June 10, 2006. He then shelved his boxing ambitions when it became apparent that he would be a high NFL draft pick.
Baltimore selected him in the third round in 2008, and he's made 10 starts in 39 games.
The Ravens recently tendered Zbikowski as a restricted free agent, so he said there is legally and contractually nothing the team can do to prevent him from fighting. Still, he's informed defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano of his plans, and Zbikowski believes the franchise supports him given his previous experience in the ring.
''Other than getting knocked out, there's not much of a problem that can happen in there,'' Zbikowski said. ''If you can make it through four years of college football and three years of the NFL without any major injuries, you should be all right.''
The bigger question is whether Zbikowski will keep boxing, especially if there's a lockout.
The NFL and its players' union agreed Friday on a seven-day extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which was set to run out Thursday before a 24-hour extension was granted.
For the moment, it at least staves off the NFL's first work stoppage since the 1987 players' strike.
''As long as he is available to fight, we plan to keep him very busy, whether it's once a month, every two or three weeks,'' Hall of Fame promoter Bob 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.
''Obviously once they have to go back to training camp, we'll be on a hiatus again,'' Arum said, ''but as long as he's available, he's going to be kept very, very busy.''
He also figures to have plenty of support in his return to boxing.
Among the teammates planning to attend the fight are safety Ed Reed, defensive end Paul Kruger, and defensive backs Chris Carr, Dawan Landry and Domonique Foxworth. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Troy Smith plans to lead him to the ring, while fellow NFL players Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants and Trevor Laws of the Philadelphia Eagles expect to be in the crowd.
Zbikowski even floated the idea of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' 6-foot-4, 350-pound defensive lineman, coming out and performing the Haka - the traditional Polynesian war dance - to put a little bit of fear into his opponent standing across the ring.
''If he sees Haloti Ngata in my corner,'' Zbikowski said, ''no way he's going to fight me.''