Tommy Zbikowski's first professional boxing match was 11 years ago in Madison Square Garden in New York, while he was an All-America football safety for the University of Notre Dame. He won by technical knockout in 49 seconds.
What a start to a career.
He's still undefeated, and tonight he'll be fighting at Camp Jordan Arena in East Ridge as part of the "King of the Hill" event relocated from AT&T Field downtown because of the threat of rain. It starts at 6 p.m., and the headliners for local fans are Chattanooga brothers Roger "The Hitman" Hilley and Joseph "2Fast" Francisco.
It's another start for Zbikowski, who's 7-0 as a pro fighter but now is 32 and hasn't had a fight since his third win in as many months in June 2016.
Although he had 100 or so amateur fights — "I had 60 before high school," starting at age 10, he said Friday — his other professional sport was his priority. He was drafted in 2008 by the Baltimore Ravens and was in the NFL until 2013. He squeezed in three boxing wins in 43 days in March and April 2011 during the league's offseason lockout of its players.
A five-sport athlete growing up in the Chicago area, where he worked as a firefighter in recent years, Zbikowski got with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward in Kronk Gym in Detroit in 2011. Steward — who most notably trained Thomas Hearns, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko, among many others — died in late 2012, but Kronk still cranks out boxers under the leadership of his nephew, Javan "Sugar" Hill.
Zbikowski took the place of an injured Kronk fighter, Anthony Barnes, on the Chattanooga card. Barnes acted as a go-between in setting it up, said Zbikowski, who played football in Knoxville and Nashville but is making his first visit to Chattanooga.
Weighing in at 193 pounds, he'll be in a cruiserweight bout tonight against Martez Williamson, also 32, of Akron, Ohio. They will be between Francisco's lightweight contest against 28-year-old Donte Bryant of Kalamazoo, Mich., and Hilley's show-closing fight against fellow left-hander Adam Young of Memphis, who's 29.
The first two fights match light heavyweights Darius Shorter of Memphis, 28, and Christian Montano of Houston, 19, and heavyweights Kendrick Houston of North Carolina, 27, and Carlouse Welch of Mableton, Ga., 37.
Hilley is 23 and 3-0 as a pro, Francisco 29 and 3-2 — but 2-0 since his return to boxing after a five-year prison term. They both grew up in Chattanooga's Y-CAP boxing program headed by Joe Smith and his son, Andy Smith.
"We're trying to build their records and their resumes," Andy said Friday at the weigh-ins at AT&T Field. "They've been working hard, twice a day. They work every morning with Brice Johnson of Bridge City Strength & Performance (with the Chattanooga YMCA), and they train in our gym in the evening."
Admitting that he shared their regret that the "under the lights" outdoor plan for tonight's event had to be scrapped, Smith added, "Here's what I told Roger and Joseph: 'Control the things you can control and let God control the things you can't control. Just focus on your job.' And their job is to win."
The message seemed to take.
Said Francisco: "This atmosphere was going to be great, but we'll take the same vibes and outcomes to the (arena). It's all about getting the W's."
Said Hilley: "I'm a little bit disappointed, but I still have a job to do and I'm going to get it done."
Asked what he knew about Young, he shrugged and said, "He's next on the hit list."
General admission tonight costs $35, with children 10 and under admitted for $10. VIP tables also are available.
Connect Promotions is presenting the fight card, and company owner Clint Powell expressed appreciation to East Ridge recreation director Marvin "Stump" Martin for accommodating the move to Camp Jordan Park.
Contact Ron Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6291.