- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - Mike Tolbert is always ready for a good fight - even during the NFL offseason.

The Panthers feisty fullback spent his downtime in a familiar setting: a sweaty boxing gym in San Diego sparring with some aspiring professional heavyweight boxers and stepping up his conditioning workouts with his trainer.

The result: the squatty 5-foot-9 Tolbert lost 13 pounds of unwanted weight to get down to 250, which he says left him faster, quicker and better conditioned than last season.

Tolbert is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and the man teammates refer to as “the bowling ball” is eager to make sure his play doesn’t slip entering his seventh NFL season.

“It’s tough, but the strong survive - and I have to be ready,” Tolbert said of the workouts.

Tolbert started boxing five summers ago in San Diego while playing for the Chargers as part of a program his trainer Dale Soliven called “cross box.” Soliven said Tolbert couldn’t get enough of it.

The two have been working together ever since.

Soliven said after watching Tolbert move in the ring he’s confident he could make it as a boxer if he wanted.

He said Tolbert recently stepped into a ring to spar with a young boxer who was preparing for his first professional fight.

“Mike was just destroying the guy. His hand speed is unreal,” Soliven said. “I had to pull Mike out of the ring and say, ‘That’s enough.’”

Tolbert said boxing suits his personality.

“It’s man on man,” Tolbert said. “It’s the ultimate sport of either you win or I win. That takes a lot of intensity. Everybody knows the mentality I have is that I will never let the man across from me beat me.”

Soliven said Tolbert is the most dedicated athlete he’s been around.

When Tolbert was at the Pro Bowl last January in Hawaii he called Soliven saying he needed to get into the gym to work out as soon as he hit the mainland.

“I was like, ‘Mike don’t you want to take a couple weeks off?” Soliven said. “And he was like, ‘No, this Pro Bowl thing has already put me behind on my training.’”

Story Continues →