ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – It wasn’t the usual safety blitz that people have grown accustomed to witnessing from Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski in the boxing ring.
Zbikowski went the distance for the first time in his professional boxing career on Saturday night, bloodying rugged former cage fighter Caleb "True Grit" Grummet with a series of sharp uppercuts as he earned a unanimous victory in four rounds.
Zbikowski’s improved to 3-0, but Saturday marked the first time the former Notre Dame star hasn’t knocked out his opponent in the first round. The judges’ scorecards ruled in his favor, 39-36, 39-36 and 38-37.
About the only real advantage Grummet had was his superior girth at 215 pounds to Zbikowski at a lean 195 pounds, which is cruiserweight size. Grummet fought a rough fight, penalized once after being warned early in the fight for a low blow when he struck Zbikowski in the hip area.
"He’s a big man," said Zbikowski, who had legendary boxing trainer Emmanuel Steward advising him in his corner. "Obviously, he can take the punches. My punches had effect, but not like it would if the guy had 20 less pounds on him. …
"I’m very, very critical of myself. You want knockouts. Overall experience is what you need; you’re not always going to get knockouts. .. You can’t always throw punches trying to knock the guy out. It drains you and it shows. It’s a learning experience."
In the final round, the NFL player was wobbled by a heavy uppercut from the brawling, bearded Grummet. Zbikowski appeared to be staggered and fought defensively for the remainder of the fight as he got backed up against the ropes repeatedly.
"Good, learning experience," Steward said. "He got hit real hard. He’s beginning to learn what it’s all about. People think boxing is easy, but it’s not. I want him to come with me for personal boxing training."
Winded after his longest fight since his Golden Gloves days growing up in the Chicago area, Zbikowski emphasized that he was never hurt. Fatigue may have been as much a factor as anything else.
"Nah, it wasn’t that big of a deal," said Zbikowski. "Obviously, it looks a little worse when you’re tired. You don’t want to sit and absorb those punches. Being light on your feet always helps."
During the third round, Zbikowski unleashed a powerful round of combinations that caused Grummet to bleed from his nose. It looked like that was the opportunity for Zbikowski to put him away, but Grummet survived the onslaught.
"I know I wobbled him," Zbikowski said. "I give him all the credit. He’s a tough, tough dude."
Grummet’s face was a mess with his corner swabbing blood off of him in between rounds, but they were able to stop the bleeding enough that the referee didn’t step in.
"Blood is blood," Zbikowski said. "He wasn’t ever really hurt too bad."
Zbikowski agreed with a suggestion that the rugged Grummet resembled Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, who grew a legendary beard last season. The Ravens’ backup safety said he was never concerned about losing, but his opponent didn’t seem to be too upset about losing.
"I didn’t come to win the fight, I came to fight," Grummet said. "Not bad for training with four kids at home by my side. Not bad for a wrestler, huh."
Although the fight didn’t end in impressive fashion for the former third-round draft pick and Fighting Irish captain, it’s another step in a burgeoning career that Zbikowski hopes will keep him sharp during the first NFL work stoppage in nearly a quarter-century.
Rather than remaining idle during the lockout as the labor dispute continues, Zbikowski is staying active.
"It’s great for me in both my careers, but it’s still very, very ripe in my boxing career," Zbikowski said. "Getting those rounds in and getting that experience is going to make me that much better."
Zbikowski is faring better in the boxing world than flamboyant Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is in his MLS soccer tryout in Kansas City.
Zbikowski’s next fight is set for late next month in the Dallas area, and he would like to eventually fight in Baltimore.
He has ambitions of claiming the cruiserweight title, but this fight displayed that he still has some things to learn about boxing as he gains seasoning to prepare for bigger, tougher fights.
"It’s still young," Zbikowski said. "This is my third fight and only my second fight back after five years off. So, just keep progressing and see how it goes."