Notre Dame Safety Wins Pro Boxing Debut

Teammates watch as Zbikowski knocks out a heavyweight opponent 49 seconds into the first round in New York.

June 11, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — It was over in a New York minute -- 49 seconds.

Making his professional boxing debut, with raucous teammates chanting from ringside, Notre Dame safety turned heavyweight Tommy Zbikowski did a summer job on Robert Bell of Akron, Ohio, on Saturday night, scoring a first-round technical knockout at Madison Square Garden.

Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stopped the undercard bout after Zbikowski, who had already dropped Bell once, raced across the ring and landed a deciding right blow to his opponent's chin.

"I'm going to keep these trunks on for a while," said a beaming Zbikowski after his first pro victory. "I think I'll keep them on all night."

NCAA rules allow an eligible player in one sport to turn professional in another, but Zbikowski is believed to be the first active college football player to turn pro as a boxer.

He was allowed to keep his $25,000 but could not accept endorsements related to the fight.

As it stands, Zbikowski may now retire undefeated at 1-0 with less than a round fought on his professional ledger.

The 21-year-old senior captain will report back to Notre Dame later this month to try to help the Irish win a national championship.

He is considered a top NFL prospect in next April's pro football draft.

An amateur fighter with 90 bouts of experience, Zbikowski fulfilled his dream of fighting in Madison Square Garden and proved his intriguing endeavor was no joke.

"People are skeptical when football players climb in the ring," Zbikowski said. "I proved I could fight."

Zbikowski entered the arena through a human tunnel of Irish teammates, which included star quarterback Brady Quinn and receiver Jeff Samardzija. A gospel singer sang the Notre Dame fight song.

Samardzija, also a baseball star who was drafted in the fifth round last week by the Chicago Cubs, said his two-sport effort doesn't compare to Zbikowski's.

"What he's done is amazing," Samardzija said.

Bell wore a No. 12 Ohio State jersey into the ring in an ill-advised effort to draw power from the Buckeyes' 34-20 win over the Irish in last year's Fiesta Bowl.

Was that a bad idea?

"You saw what I did," Zbikowski said.

Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis, unable to attend because of a planned charity event, watched the fight on pay per view and offered congratulations with a post-fight phone call.

Quinn, the Irish quarterback and a Heisman Trophy candidate heading into the 2006 season, said Zbikowski's victory would kick-start the Irish's football campaign.

"It was almost symbolic," Quinn said. "The guy wearing the Ohio State jersey. We lost to them in the Fiesta Bowl.... This fight erases the sour taste in our mouths. We're revived and ready to go."

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