The Return of Tom Zbikowski: How Far Can He Go?

Tom Zbikowski, a third-generation Chicago fireman, returns to the ring after a five-year absence on Friday, April 22, on a small club show at the Belvedere Hotel in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove. Zbikowski (4-0, 3 KOs) opposes Keith Jackson from Springfield, Missouri. Jackson is reportedly 2-2-2.How deliciously ironic that Zbikowski’s opponent bears the same name as the man considered the greatest play-by-play sportscaster in the annals of college football. It’s no exaggeration to say that Tom Zbikowski, a safety and return specialist, ranks as one of the most popular players in the modern era of Notre Dame football. A third round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens, he spent five seasons in the NFL, appearing in 11 post-season games.

.A portion of the proceeds of Friday’s show will go to the family of a firefighter who died in the line of duty this past December. But while Zbikowski jumped at the opportunity to assist the family of a fallen comrade, he insists that his return to the ring is no one-shot deal.

A small heavyweight (5’11”, 212 pounds) when he made his pro debut in 2006, he says that his ultimate goal is to win a world title as a light heavyweight or a cruiserweight, whichever weight feels most comfortable. To this end, he recently spent time at Abel Sanchez’s famous Summit Gym in Big Bear Lake, California, home to Gennady Golovkin.

Zbikowski started boxing at the age of nine, reportedly winning 75 of 90 amateur fights. He had his first pro bout in the summer between his junior and senior seasons. With several of his Notre Dame teammates looking on, he knocked out a fighter of no renown in 49 seconds. The bout was on the undercard of the Cotto-Malignaggi fight at Madison Square Garden.

Bob Arum had big plans for him, even entrusting him to the renowned trainer Emanuel Steward, but the NFL intervened. The standard players contract prohibits a player from engaging in another sport without the consent of management. A brief league-wide lockout in 2011 invalidated the clause. Zbikowski slipped in three more pro fights in a six-week span but didn’t continue with boxing after leaving the league.

In retirement, Zbikowski battled alcohol and drug problems. A four-week stay at a rehabilitation facility in Arizona in the summer of 2014 was therapeutic. In a conversation with South Bend Tribune writer Mike Vorel, Zbikowski stated that he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol since July 12, 2014.

Down the road — if Zbikowski is serious about pursuing prizefighting full bore — it wouldn’t be shocking to see him lock horns with Mike Lee. A cruiserweight, currently undefeated, Lee (16-0, 10 KOs) is a fellow Chicagoan and, like Zbikowski, a Notre Dame alum with a football background.

Friday’s show is promoted by Bobby Hitz, a former fringe heavyweight contender whose opponents ran the gamut from Pete Susens to George Foreman. First bell for the five-bout card is 7 PM local time.