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Zbikowski will make pro boxing debut at MSG

NEW YORK -- Long before he was intercepting passes and
punishing runners in the shadow of Notre Dame's Golden Dome, Tom
Zbikowski was a boxer.

He began boxing a month before he turned 10, got a license on
his birthday and was fighting amateur bouts near his suburban
Chicago home within several months -- years before he turned the
Fighting Irish from a nickname to a literal description.

"It got in his blood," his father, Ed, said.

Inspired by the hours he and his father spent watching boxing
while he grew up -- "That's all we did," Zbikowski said -- he's
climbed into the ring in such far-flung locales as Las Vegas and
Ireland, eaten dinner with Jake LaMotta and trained in the same
Chicago gym Andrew Golota sometimes frequents.

Now, with spring football practice in full swing and
expectations for the Notre Dame football team high, Zbikowski is
readying for another step in his secondary sport -- his professional
boxing debut.

The 5-foot-11, 202-pound Zbikowski, who sports a 75-15 amateur
record, will be fighting at Madison Square Garden on June 10 on the
undercard for the WBO junior welterweight championship bout between
champion Miguel Cotto and Paulie Malignaggi.

Zbikowski's opponent hasn't been picked yet.

"I would have done this for free," Zbikowski said Wednesday at
the news conference announcing the card, "just to fight in Madison
Square Garden."

With a smile, he quickly added: "Maybe I shouldn't have said
that."

As for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, he had a simple message
when he heard about his star safety's boxing plans: Don't get hurt.

"He just wanted to get all the details cleared up and then he
gave me permission," Zbikowski said.

Notre Dame has said that Zbikowski is free to promote the fight,
though he can't promote any commercial products. The NCAA allows
college athletes to be professionals in one sport while remaining
eligible to play another NCAA sport, as long as they don't accept
commercial endorsements.

Colorado football player Jeremy Bloom lost his eligibility in
2004 when he refused to give up his skiing endorsements.

For all of his boxing ambition, Zbikowski remains committed to
football. Apparently, that doesn't faze the fight's promoters: When
Bob Arum introduced Zbikowski on Wednesday, he first signaled for
the Notre Dame fight song to be played.

"I thought that he would have been a better boxer than a
football player, because being a football player you have to have
size, you have to have speed," said Ed Zbikowski, himself a former
amateur fighter. "It's a lot more difficult to get a scholarship
for football than it is to go into the gym and go box."

So far, Zbikowski has done just fine in a helmet and pads.

A third-team All-America last season, he was fourth on the team
in tackles with 71 and led the team with five interceptions. He was
also was 13th in the nation in punt returns, averaging 14 yards a
return.

He believes the Irish have a shot at the national title this
season and he admitted Wednesday that it was tough to be in New
York promoting his fight while his teammates were back in South
Bend practicing.

Heading into his senior season, Zbikowski is undecided about his
future. If he draws interest from the NFL, he'll surely give it a
shot. But, if not, he can always climb back into the ring.

"We'll see where it takes me," he said.