ATLANTIC CITY - Baltimore Ravens safety Tommy Zbikowski got his first real taste of the brutal side of professional boxing Saturday night.
After starting his career with a pair of first-round knockouts, he found himself in a bloody, rugged brawl with Caleb Grummet on the Yuriorkis Gamboa-Jorge Solis undercard at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom.
Zbikowski (3-0, 2 KOs) managed to remain undefeated with a four-round unanimous decision, but barely had enough stamina to hold off Grummet's late charges. After the fight, he slumped on a chair while struggling to catch his breath. Minutes later, he vomited on the staircase leading to his dressing room.
"This was a learning experience for me," Zbikowski said before he got sick. "I knew it was going to be a tough fight and that's what I needed. Those are the kinds of fights I need if I'm going to progress as a fighter."
Judges Debra Barnes (39-36), Donald Givens (39-36) and Jon Mckaie (38-37) all favored Zbikowski, as did The Press (38-37). Grummet (0-1-1), who lives in Lake Odessa, Mich., was penalized a point in the third round for a low blow.
A sellout crowd of 2,913 disagreed with the decision. While Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Trevor Laws - Zbikowski's college teammate at the University of Notre Dame - and members of Zbikowski's family stood and cheered, the rest of the fans showered the ring with boos.
"I can't complain about the decision because I did what I came here to do," Grummet said. "I enjoy boxing, but I'm an MMA guy (with a 2-2 record). I just wanted to come here and fight this guy, to give everything I had and make it a tough fight for him. I thought I did that and that's all I can ask."
Zbikowski, with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward in his corner, started strong. He dominated the first two rounds by attacking Grummet's midsection and mixed in sharp combinations that left Grummet with a bloody nose and a swollen left eyebrow.
As the fight progressed, however, Grummet's 20-pound weight advantage - he weighed 215 pounds to Zbikowski's 195 - began to be a factor. Grummet's aggressiveness wore him down to the point where Zbikowski spent the entire fourth round against the ropes.
"Tommy found out that not everybody is going to just fall down like his first two opponents did," Steward said. "Today he learned what it's like to be in a tough fight. This is not football. There are no timeouts and no substitutions. But I thought he showed progress. He's got what it takes to make it in boxing."
The best fight of the night took place in the next bout.
Everyone stood and cheered at the end of a thrilling, bloody brawl that saw Philadelphia junior-featherweight Teon Kennedy (17-0-1, 7 KOs) remain unbeaten with a 12-round unanimous decision over New Brunswick prospect Jorge Diaz (15-1, 9 KOs).
"My plan was to outbox him, but I ended up getting in a war," Kennedy said. "He doesn't really punch that hard. He hit me a lot, but he didn't hurt me."
Kennedy, who sold more than 400 tickets, had his fans roaring by scoring two knockdowns. He dropped Diaz with a counter left in the third, then nearly ended the fight with a right hand that sent Diaz to the canvas in the sixth.
Diaz's face was covered with welts and bruises, but he kept throwing punches and staged a minor rally down the stretch. Kennedy, who suffered a cut above his left eye early in the bout, proved to be strong enough to weather the blows and countered with his own combinations.
"He's a great fighter," Diaz said. "He hit a lot harder than I thought he could. I gave it everything I had."
In Saturday's co-feature, featherweight Mikey Garcia (25-0, 21 KOs), of Oxnard, Calif., proved himself to be a legitimate challenger to Gamboa and fellow champs Juan Manuel Lopez and Chris St. John with an 11th-round TKO over formerly unbeaten Matt Remillard (23-1, 13 KOs). Remillard's corner stopped it after the 11th after seeing him suffer two knockdowns in the 10th and another in the 11th.
Garcia's toughest challenge was a bout with food poisoning. He got a stomach ache early in the fight after eating some pizza on the Boardwalk earlier Saturday. He thought about stopping the fight after the second round, but his brother/trainer, Robert Garcia, convinced him to continue.
In early fights, Passaic super-welterweight Glen Tapia (9-0, 5 KOs) remained unbeaten with a six-round unanimous decision over Eberto Medina (5-6, 1 KO), of Philadelphia. Camden super-bantamweight Miguel Cartenjena (1-0) won his pro debut with a four-round unanimous decision over Omar Gonzales (2-6), of San Antonio. Puerto Rican featherweight Camilo Perez (2-0, 2 KOs) scored a first-round knockout over Desi Williams (0-2), of Durham, N.C.
Punchlines: Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon announced Saturday that the next big fight headed to town will be in the hall's ballroom on June 4, when WBC super-middleweight champ Carl Froch (27-1, 20 KOs) takes on former IBF light-heavyweight champ Glen Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KOs) in the semifinals of Showtime Championship Boxing's Super Six tournament.
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