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Baltimore safety Zbikowski eager to return to ring

Tom Zbikowski admits he isn’t happy unless he’s hitting someone.

For the past three years, Zbikowski has been laying the wood to opposing receivers in NFL stadiums as a safety for the Baltimore Ravens. But before he was trying to level guys like Chad Ochocinco and Hines Ward, Zbikowski was hitting people in the ring.

“Boxing’s always been my first love,” the 25-year-old Zbikowski said. He’s had 90 amateur fights and won 75 of them. “Growing up in Chicago, I was always in the gym.”

With the status of the 2011 NFL season in limbo, Zbikowski isn’t going to wait around to hit someone. He’s returning to the ring Saturday as a heavyweight as he faces Richard Bryant at the MGM Grand Garden in a four-round bout that is part of the undercard for the WBA super welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Ricardo Mayorga.

“I’m going to do what I’ve always done: I’m going to fight my fight,” said Zbikowski, who figures to weigh about 200 pounds when he enters the ring against the 225-pound Bryant (1-2, one knockout). “I’m going to give a lot of cruiserweights and heavyweights trouble because I’ve always fought like a welterweight. I fight at a high pace.”

It will be Zbikowski’s second pro fight. Top Rank signed him in 2006 when he was a student at Notre Dame. Zbikowski’s debut came on June 10 of that year at Madison Square Garden, where he was on the undercard of Cotto’s fight with Paulie Malignaggi.

Zbikowski dominated that fight, knocking out Robert Bell in the first round. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has wanted to get Zbikowski back in the ring ever since, but Zbikowski’s football career always has taken precedence.

With an NFL lockout looming, Zbikowski and Arum decided in February it was time to get back in the ring. And when Christy Martin had to pull out of her fight with Dakota Stone because of a rib injury, Zbikowski was the perfect replacement.

“This is not a freak show,” Arum said. “Tommy Z. can fight. And this is not a one-shot deal. Our matchmakers, Bruce (Trampler) and Brad (Goodman), feel he can compete at the top level as a cruiserweight.

“At some point, he’s going to have to go back to training camp. But as long as he’s available, we’re going to keep him very, very busy.”

Zbikowski said even if the NFL and its players settle on a new collective bargaining agreement this week, he still plans to box.

“I’d like to fight two or three more times before camp,” he said. “The Ravens know about my boxing plans, and they don’t have a problem with it.”

Zbikowski said the chances of him getting hurt in the ring are slim, especially when compared to football.

“Other than getting knocked out, there’s not really many problems,” he said. “There’s not really going to be any torn ACLs or bad ankles, things like that.

“I’ve never been injured in a fight or sparring. All of my injuries have come from football. If you can make it through four years of college football and three years in the NFL without getting too many injuries, then you should be all right because that’s the most dangerous sport in the world.”

Zbikowski said fighting professionally, not playing in the NFL, has been the crowning achievement of his athletic career.

“I remember everything about that night,” he said of his first pro fight. “I remember the locker room, the fight night, afterward. It was a lot of fun. It was 100 rounds of sparring for 50 seconds of fighting. So I’ve been itching and itching to get back to fighting.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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