After making his pro boxing debut nearly five years ago, Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski will return to the ring a week from today to face heavyweight Richard Bryant in a four-round bout.
But Zbikowski might not be done boxing after the final bell rings that night.
The three-year NFL veteran, who started boxing when he was nine years old and has fought over 90 times in his career, says he expects to take part in at least a few more fights during the football offseason.
And sometime, perhaps in the not too distant future, he plans on making a permanent transition to the boxing ring.
"At some point, I will (move to boxing full-time)," Zbikowski said yesterday on a conference call. "I'm still young. I know a lot of boxers' primes are 29, 30, 31, so I know I have time, but God, I miss it. I've enjoyed every minute of getting back in, and just doing the hard work of training and the feeling of fighting again.
"At some point, I will be in the ring full-time."
For now, Zbikowski is scheduled for one fight a week from today, on March 12. His fight against Bryant (who is 1-2 with one knockout in his pro boxing career) will be on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto vs. Ricardo Mayorga fight from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
After that fight, those around Zbikowski expect him to strap on the gloves a few more times before he's needed back at Ravens headquarters.
"As long as he is available to fight, we plan to keep him very busy, whether it's once a month or every two or three weeks," legendary promoter Bob Arum said. "He's been off for a while, (but) 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."
Zbikowski's schedule is fairly open for now - not just because of the pending NFL lockout, but also because he's currently a restricted free agent. Zbikowski informed defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano of his decision to box on the Cotto-Mayorga undercard, but because Zbikowski isn't under contract, the Ravens have no say in whether he decides to box or not.
"They gave me a tender as a restricted free agent, so technically there is really nothing that can stop me from fighting on March 12," Zbikowski said. "Nobody can really say no to me. I've just continued on with the training and hope they respect my decision, which I think they have and will because they know of my prior experience in my fight at Madison Square Garden (in 2006). They know I was a professional boxer before I was a professional football player."
Zbikowski has long been a boxing enthusiast, and he said he considers his professional boxing debut five years ago the top moment of his athletic career. At the time, Zbikowski was entering his senior season at Notre Dame, but the then-21-year-old knocked out Robert Bell, 11 years his elder, in just 49 seconds in a fight at Madison Square Garden.
Now weighing around 195 pounds, Zbikowski understands that some Ravens fans might be nervous about him stepping into the boxing ring, but he says he's not at all worried about the potential for injury during the fight.
"Other than getting knocked out, there's really not many problems that are going to happen," Zbikowski said. "There's not really torn ACLs, MCLs, ankles, things like that. I've never actually been injured in a fight - sparring or boxing. All 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 getting too many injuries, you should be alright, because it's the most dangerous sport in the world."
While it might be reasonable to guess that Zbikowski's coaches aren't thrilled with his decision to take part in the fight next weekend, his teammates are very much in his corner.
A number of Ravens are expected to attend the fight in Vegas, including safeties Ed Reed, Dawan Landry and Haruki Nakamura, cornerbacks Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth, and defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Paul Kruger.
Other NFL players like the Giants' Osi Umenyiora and the Eagles' Ty Law will also be in attendance, but Zbikowski is particularly excited about one teammate showing up for the fight.
"I might have to have Haloti do the Haka before he walks in," Zbikowski joked. "That dude for sure will not fight me. If he sees Haloti Ngata in my corner, no way he's fighting me."