Tag Archives: boxing

Friday Night Fights IX: Tom Zbikowski vs. Blake Warner, 2011

What would our Friday Night Fights series be without a Tom Zbikowski bout?

Zbikowski, the future Ravens safety/special teamer, was still in college — a junior at Notre Dame — when he made his professional debut in June 2006 by knocking out Robert Bell in 49 seconds.

Zbikowski as a returner with the Ravens.

Zbikowski as a returner with the Ravens.

It was a semi-big deal. Bob Arum was the promoter, Angelo Dundee worked Tommy Z’s corner and the setting was Madison Square Garden.

According to NCAA rules, Zbikowski, a cruiserweight, could accept his $25,000 purse and still retain his football eligibility, but he couldn’t “accept any money from any manufacturer to wear a specific brand of boxing apparel,” The New York Times reported.

By that time he’d had 90 amateur fights, compiling a 75-15 record. “I think I avenged all those losses,” he once told the Los Angeles Times, “and I probably had 10 to 20 more fights not listed, in smokers and stuff around the [Chicago] area.”

The Ravens drafted Zbikowski in the third round in 2008, and he spent four years in Baltimore backing up strong safety Ed Reed, returning kicks and running down under them. After that came a season with the Colts that was ended, five games early, by a shin injury.

Tommy Z was a Wild Child, as you might expect of a boxer-footballer. “I’m the only guy who can drink six beers, then spar 10 rounds on the same day,” he bragged to the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh last November. Wrote Haugh:

Alcohol had become such a part of Zbikowski’s routine the night before games that he compared it to a superstition. His ideal mix: four glasses of scotch and four Guinnesses. Of the 64 NFL games Zbikowski participated in, he estimated at least 12 were played with a massive hangover.

“Get a little messed up, sneak a girl into your room, feel on top of the world,” Zbikowski said. “I had some of my best games off of benders — some of my worst, too. My two best seasons ever were 2005 [at Notre Dame] and 2009 [in Baltimore], when I was the most out of control drinking, so I thought, hey, maybe I should go back to that.’”

But for the first time in Indy, Zbikowski felt his nighttime activities affecting his game-day ability.

“I was drinking too much,” Zbikowski said. “I got fat.”

To lose the weight, he said, he took a diuretic, a blunder — the substance was banned by the NFL — that earned him a four-game suspension at the start of the 2013 season. It turned out to be moot, though, because he didn’t make it out of training camp. His hometown Bears, who had signed him in the offseason, released him, and that was the end of his football career.

But back to boxing. In March and April of 2011, when NFL players were locked out by the owners, Zbikowski climbed in the ring three more times — the last three of his four professional bouts. He TKO’d Richard Bryant in one round, won a unanimous four-round decision over Caleb Grummet, then had the following fight against Blake Warner, who, as you’ll see, had the body of a middle-school assistant principal.

All told, Tommy Z spent less than 17 minutes in the ring as a pro — 16 minutes, 54 seconds, to be exact. How good was he? Arum thought he had prospects, though Bob was probably thinking mostly about all the Notre Dame subway alumni who might come to his bouts. We’ll give Emanuel Stewart, who trained Zbikowski at the end, the final word on the subject. After Tommy hung on in the fourth round to beat Grummet, a mixed-martial-arts guy, Stewart said, “Thank goodness it wasn’t a six-round fight.”

One more thing: This clip has Spanish broadcasters — a Friday Night Fights (and Pro Football Daly) first. Don’t worry, though. “Zbikowski” in Spanish is still “Zbikowski.”

Friday Night Fights IV: Fridge Perry vs. Manute Bol, 2002

For sheer grotesqueness, it’s hard to top the celebrity bout between William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the former hole-clogger for the Chicago Bears, and Manute Bol, the erstwhile three-point shooting machine for the Golden State Warriors. Perry weighed over 400 pounds — at least 50 above his playing weight — when he climbed through the ropes at Atlantic City’s Emerald Queen Casino on May 22, 2002. As for Bol, he was still the 7-foot-7 stick figure of his basketball days when he climbed over — yes, over — the ropes:

In a pre-fight interview, Fridge seemed undaunted by Manute’s 102-inch reach (as well as his reputation, as a youth in his native Sudan, for killing a lion with a spear). “He’s seven-foot-something,” he said. “I’m 6-3 or whatever. But, you know, you don’t fight standing up. You got to bend down, you got to bend your knees and everything. So he’s got to come down to size.”

Ring analyst Ray Mancini, the onetime WBA lightweight champ, wasn’t sure how Perry could attack Bol — legally, at least. “This guy is so tall,” he said, “I don’t know where [Perry]’d hit him without it being below the belt.” And indeed, watching the two paw each other was like watching a giraffe tangle with a water buffalo.

Both men had retired in 1994. They also were the same age: 39. In his sports afterlife, Perry goofed around in wrestling and Toughman boxing, while Bol engaged in various publicity stunts to raise money for relief efforts in his war-ravaged country. He even tried to play hockey with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League, “but his arthritic feet swelled in his custom-made skates before he could take the ice,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The bout was scheduled for three rounds of about 90 seconds (by my watch). Looks like Michael Buffer is ready to introduce the fighters. . . .

Thankfully, there was no rematch.

Friday Night Fights III: Vai Sikahema vs. Jose Canseco, 2008

Nothing like a football-vs.-baseball brawl to get the juices flowing. Of course, when Vai Sikahema squared off with Jose Canseco on July 12, 2008, both were well past their playing days. Sikahema, a two-time Pro Bowl return man with the Cardinals, had been out of the NFL for 15 years and was working as a sportscaster in Philadelphia. He was 45. Canseco, the power-hitting poster boy for MLB’s steroid era, had played his last big-league game 7 years earlier. He was 44.

For their celebrity bout in Atlantic City, the two former jocks wore headgear. Sikahema, 5-foot-8, tipped the scales at 205 — 24 pounds above his football playing weight. Canseco, 6-4, came in at 248, giving him a huge size advantage. Vai, however, had had scores of amateur fights when he was younger, while Jose’s background was mostly in the martial arts.

So much for the preliminaries. We’re about ready for the introductions:

Sikahema said it all after the fight:

As for Canseco, when he his head had cleared — sort of — he conceded the bout had been a blunder:

Poor Jose. He was so discombobulated, he didn’t realize it was a left hook that knocked him down the first time, not an overhand right.

Two years later, a story by Doug Robinson in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News revisited the bout. Apparently it was Canseco’s people who thought it would be a good idea. When his agent called Sikahema out of the blue one day and proposed that the two meet in the ring, Vai tried to dissuade him.

“You don’t want to do this,” Sikahema continued. “Canseco is going to be in trouble.”

The agent was surprised. How big are you, he asked?

“5-8. 200.”

“Well, Canseco is 6-4, 250.”

“I’m telling you he’s in trouble. Does he know what a Tongan is?”

“No.”

“Well, he’ll find out. I come from a warrior culture and we fight till one of us is lying on the ground. I grew up boxing.”

“Canseco has five black belts.”

“OK, we’ll see.”

Canseco and his backers didn’t know that boxing was the reason Sikahema had come to this country in the first place. They didn’t know that his father had brought his family from Tonga to live in a hellish hot garage in Arizona so he could train his son to be a fighter. They didn’t know that he spent his youth boxing around the West, living out of the back of a pickup truck, and that he might have fulfilled his father’s plans for him if he hadn’t discovered something better. There was one other thing they didn’t know: His father had trained him specifically to fight big men, because he knew all his opponents would be bigger than his son. He had been taught to weather blows to get inside, then pummel the body and unload that left hook.

Like the one that felled Canseco.

Friday Night Fights I: Lyle Alzado vs. Muhammad Ali, 1979

We’re beginning a new feature at Pro Football Daly: Friday Night Fights. It’s a series of boxing or wrestling matches involving pro football players — and sometimes, if we’re lucky, brawling with each other.

Let’s start with a classic July 1979 matchup between Lyle Alzado, the Broncos’ wild man of a defensive end, and Muhammad Ali at (the old) Mile High Stadium This was the year after Ali won his rematch with Leon Spinks to reclaim the heavyweight title for the last time (after which he said he was retired, not that anyone believed him).

Both men had a gift for gab, so the pre-fight talk was particularly entertaining. Ali, as you might expect, didn’t take Alzado too seriously:

Alzado, meanwhile, climbed into the ring with a confidence of a 6-foot-3, 255-pound bruiser (though he reportedly weighed in at 243):

Alzado was toying with the idea of becoming a boxer but eventually came to his senses. (Later that summer, he walked out of the Broncos’ camp and forced a trade to the Browns.)

His fight against Ali was billed as an eight-round exhibition — with no scoring, as you heard Lyle mention. Still, there were some decent shots landed.

And Dick Schaap, who complemented Sam Nover’s blow-by-blow, was in top form. Some of his better lines:

“There are quarterbacks all over the country who are rooting for Muhammad Ali today.”

“[Alzado] can now say that he’s the first man to sack Joe Namath and smack Muhammad Ali.”

And: “Alzado is ahead on smirks.”

I just heard the bell for Round 1. . .