Getting drunk or snorting coke before a fight: Maybe it’ll help, but probably not. Getting stoned: Not a chance. Thus, this story about five different boxers — including boxer/Baltimore Raven Tom Zbikowski — testing positive for marijuana from this past Saturday in Oklahoma is being met with skepticism, and it’s not just all the boxers’ representatives being all high and paranoid themselves. You have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the tests were screwy. (UPDATE: Yes, it seems, they were. Zbikowski passed a follow-up test.)
The wacky tobaccy headline nonetheless gives me a chance to weigh in on Zbikowski’s boxing experiment, since all my pals who don’t follow boxing extraordinarily closely keep asking me about him. I caught his allegedly stoned fight over the weekend, and here it is. His total lack of lack of focus betrays how not-high he probably was Saturday.
That fellow he’s fighting is less than a tomato can, with all due respect to anyone who gets in the ring at all. He’s the kind of guy you bring in to lose to other guys who lose a lot. Really, mad respect for someone in that line of work, but it must be said to keep in proper context Zbikowski wrecking the fellow. Like everyone else he’s fought, the dude had less than four pro fights on his record, and I am willing to wager there’s no amateur background of any consequence for any of Zbikowski’s conquests. It’s normal for a new pro to take easy bouts early in his career, but Zbikowski’s have been easy even by that standard.
Zbikowski still did some good things and some bad things in that fight independent of whom he did them against. He looks very comfortable in the ring, befitting a man who has a fairly extensive amateur boxing career. Apparently he was nervous in some other outings, but not this weekend. That flurry of body punches was pretty nifty for someone in just his fourth pro fight, and he was properly explosive in finishing off his hurt man. His speed looks like it might be pretty good for a cruiserweight, although his power will be an open question until he fights someone with a pulse. I didn’t like him reaching so much. He made himself needlessly vulnerable. At 5’11”, that could become a permanent problem for Zbikowski, since most cruiserweights stand above 6′ and they’d be able to keep him reaching. (I wonder whether he’ll keep dropping divisions; Zbikowski’s first three fights were at heavyweight.) Zbikowski primarily defended himself by jumping back, and that made it so that at one moment he got trapped on the ropes, something this opponent couldn’t capitalize on but that a better boxer could have. With trainer Emmanuel Steward in his corner, he is learning from one of boxing’s best teachers.
Truthfully, we probably won’t know anything about Zbikowski’s chances as a pro prospect for a long time, and given that the NFL labor strife could end and lure him back to the gridiron before he gets many nights in the ring, we might never really find out at all. Pro boxing is not an easy sport to pick up for a 25-year-old, even for a proven athlete like Zbikowski with a boxing background, so among boxing fans and writers the confidence level is not high. But I’m glad he’s giving it a try, and that Top Rank is taking advantage of it by putting him out there regularly. He’s drawing attention to the sport, and boxing can never get enough of that kind bud.