Zbikowski-Ocho headlines ultimate NFL boxing card

(NFL.com Illustration)

After improving to 2-0 with a first-round knockout of Richard Bryant on March 12 in Las Vegas, Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski has signed up for two more fights.

So we turned to NFL Network’s Bob Papa — who, in addition to being a top NFL play-by-play man, is a boxing commentator for HBO and during the Summer Olympics — to get the scoop on Zbikowski.

Just how legit is he?

“He needs some reps,” Papa said. “Just like a football player needs practice, he needs to box more. But you can tell by the way he holds his hands, moves his feet and the way he punches, that he is a boxer and has some skills.

“He’s not Mark Gastineau.”

Gastineau’s failed — not to mention controversial — boxing career should serve as a cautionary tale for those NFL players who fancy themselves a boxer. The NFL has a number of guys who are competent when it comes to boxing workouts. These are world-class athletes we are talking about, after all. But Papa says the true test comes when guys are done shadow boxing and actually lace up the gloves to throw down in the ring.

Chad Ochocinco catches a pass against Tom Zbikowski. (Ed Reinke/Associated Press)

And that’s what a guy like Chad Ochocinco should consider when challenging Zbikowski to a fight.

“(Ochocinco) plays the most graceful position in the NFL, and he’s in crazy shape, so it’s no surprise that he looks great doing boxing drills,” Papa said. “He has a fluidity to him. But when you are ringside and you see another take off the robe, and he’s in gloves, shorts and has his mouthpiece in ready to go, that’s a whole different dynamic.”

“That and taking off the headgear.”

So Ochocinco has no chance, then?

“He doesn’t have the fighting experience,” Papa said, diplomatically.

Still, let’s not allow that to stop us from putting together a good fight night. Ochocinco vs. Zbikowski might be a mismatch, but most of these hyped fights are anyway. Besides, if we learned anything from the “Great White Hype,” the boxing is secondary to promoting a good fight. And with the labor issue being what it is, we kicked around the idea of who the best boxers in the NFL would be and a fictitious boxing card we could promote. The key would be the weight classes.

“Boxing has so many different entities giving out handles, why can’t we do that with NFL guys?” Papa asked. “Maybe have a fantasy tournament. We could have an NFL heavyweight defensive end division. The NFL light heavyweight strong safety division. NFL inside linebacker cruiser weight division.”

A division for kickers?

Papa paused before he added, “I think Jay Feely would like to get after somebody.”

Feely vs. Sebastian Janikowski seems like a lock. But what else do we have?

Papa says the best boxer is Giants RB Brandon Jacobs, who was an amateur boxer during his youth in Louisiana and still continues to train. Jacobs is especially dangerous as a southpaw, following in the footsteps of other great lefty fighters such as Pernell Whitaker and Michael Nunn. But we need to give the public something to look forward to, so Jacobs is the No. 1 contender to face the Zbikowski-Ochocino winner.

But who in the NFL was born to be a boxer? Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware.

“He has those long arms, he’s big, strong, moves well, and has great footwork,” Papa said. “If he never went to college and started boxing as a kid, I don’t think the Klitschko brothers would be heavyweight champions right now.”

Another great option would be Texans DE Mario Williams, who, like Ware, has that long reach. The key to a fight between Ware and Williams would be who could develop the power jab similar to Lennox Lewis.

Some other great matchups would be a battle of the Johnsons, Andre vs. Calvin. Hopefully “Megatron” could avoid being the next Cortland Finnegan.

Ed Reed would make an interesting matchup for Hines Ward because the Ravens’ safety has the lanky build to be a good boxer. But Papa points out that Ward would not blink once he got hit.

Boxing could also put to rest the argument of the decade … Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

“That would come down to who had the better jab, because I think they would be afraid to throw the right hand,” Papa said.

So we put together our card. Who do you guys have?

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