Zbikowski: 'Boxing is a very addictive drug'

May, 25, 2011
5/25/11
12:00
PM ET
Tommy ZbikowskiMark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesRavens safety Tom Zbikowski is 4-0 with three knockouts in fights during the NFL lockout.
After a successful -- albeit brief -- season in the pro boxing ring, Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski has decided to hang up his gloves -- for now.

The 26-year-old withdrew Tuesday from his June 4 undercard fight, scheduled to be held at L.A.'s Staples Center versus cruiserweight Mike Howell, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

"It's kind of been teetering back and forth in my mind," Zbikowksi said via phone on Tuesday of his decision. "I thought it was about time to start getting ready for football ... seeing everyone getting prepared now and that's all they're doing [football training] ... I'm really the only one in my situation."

Zbikowski, a boxer since he was 9 years old, is 4-0 with three knockouts in his NFL-lockout-inspired boxing season, his first return to the ring in five years. His most recent fight was April 23, when he knocked out Blake Warner in the first round.

[+] EnlargeTom Zbikowski
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesTom Zbikowski, standing, defeated Richard Bryant in the first round of their fight in March.
Zbikowski says that he first entertained the idea of boxing while watching the Ravens fall to the Steelers in the playoffs at the end of last season. Recovering from foot and back injuries, Zbikowski thought about how the specific moves of boxing -- elements of which he's always incorporated into his football workouts -- might aid his body's healing while also challenging him through a sport he's loved since childhood. As a teen, moved by his godfather's inspiration and his brother's "motivation" (he said his brother kicked his butt every day, pointing out that he's 5-foot-11 to his brother's 6-5 frame), Zbikowski was a three-time Silver Gloves national finalist and competed in the Golden Gloves before heading to Notre Dame on a football scholarship.

When the offseason began, the chiseled safety started sparring. "Once I got a taste of it ... it was five years in the waiting," Zbikowski said. "Boxing is a very addictive drug."

Soon he began scheduling fights and focusing full time, training outside of his hometown of Chicago and traveling to work with Emmanuel Steward of Kronk Gym in Detroit before each scheduled fight. He said his best fight was his worst performance -- Atlantic City, which went all four rounds -- because he gained the respect of boxing fans while showcasing what kind of fighter he is. He loves the pressure of boxing -- the individualized expectations and the highs of stepping into the bright lights of the ring.

Still, he realized that on the off-chance he were injured or knocked out in the June 4 fight, his recovery would take several months -- an injury that would be "unfair to the Ravens."

Zbikowski also pointed out that while he knows he's in excellent physical shape, he wants to ensure his body is prepared for a 16-game gridiron season. "Especially if [the season] might start without minicamps, you're looking at potential injuries, of guys that won't be prepared to go through 16 games," Zbikowksi said. "Everything has got to be ready."

Despite having to abandon boxing for the immediate future, Zbikowski has learned from his offseason switch. "I've got a bigger chip on my shoulder now because I think of how vicious the fight is," Zbikowski said. "You have to bring it every second, every round, every day -- all it takes is one punch and your credibility is gone. The battles, the training and everything that goes into boxing helps you realize that in football, you always have more left in you no matter the situation, what beating you've taken, if you're still standing you still have a chance to win. It's taking whoever you're competing against to that level that they don't want to go to. Very few people can handle that pressure late in the game --they look for an excuse to lose and for a reason not to have that much pressure. In boxing, you have to have that every time you walk into the ring. There's no team to hide behind."

Zbikowski said he isn't sure when exactly he'll return to Baltimore; for now, he'll continue his football-focused workouts outside of Chicago.

And if there's still no football in August? He hasn't ruled out a return to the ring. "You feel the insecurities of not having a job and it's freakish not knowing where your next paycheck comes from," Zbikowski says. "As of now, I'll get ready for the [football] season. But if they continue to lock us out, I gotta consider what I'll do for a job, for a living, for money."

No matter what he’ll be doing this fall, he admits he'll continue to feel the pull of both beloved sports. "There are times playing football in college or the pros and I think, 'After this, all I want to do is box,'" Zbikowski said. "You get to control everything in a fight. You've got coaches, you have people in your corner but still when the bell is rung, you have the control. As a defensive player in football, sometimes you have to sit on the sidelines. Everyone has your turn -- but in boxing, you get to make that turn."

For now, he's ready to get back to football with the realization of what he's accomplished in a few short months. "I'm fighting world-class fighters and I'm a legitimate contender," Zbikowski says. "That's what I set out to do, and that's what I accomplished."
Anna Katherine Clemmons is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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