Developing boxer already a celebrity: ‘Contender’ fighter Joey Gilbert on card | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Developing boxer already a celebrity: ‘Contender’ fighter Joey Gilbert on card

Mike Houser

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune file / Joey Gilbert knocks out Thomas Haines at Ceasars Tahoe.

As an amateur boxer for the University of Nevada, Joey Gilbert picked up his share of titles, including four National Collegiate Boxing Association regional titles and three NCBA national championships. And in the open amateur division he added another – the Nevada Golden Gloves light middleweight title – to his collection.

Now 29, Gilbert has garnered a slew of other titles out of the ring. He is an attorney, publicist, consultant, product spokesman for Sylvester Stallone’s InStone product line, and an international model for Tommy Hilfiger, Everlast and other product lines.

He’s also served as a sports commentator, ring announcer and is in the process of writing two books. He acts as a spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and, among many other things, is starting up the Joey Gilbert Foundation, which will provide mentoring and academic coaching to help young athletes and individuals to successfully study while pursuing their dreams.

Gilbert, who appeared in the NBC reality show “The Contender” earlier this year, resumes his quest for his first professional boxing title Saturday, when he takes on James North (7-7-1 with 2 knockouts), of Weston, W. Va., at Caesars Tahoe in a six-round super middleweight bout.

Although he hasn’t fought since dropping an exciting five-round technical decision to “Contender” runner-up Peter Manfredo Jr. more than 13 months ago, Gilbert, 9-1 with 7 KO’s, hasn’t been a stranger to the ring.

On a recent celebrity tour to Afghanistan, Gilbert thought he’d do something a little different to entertain the troops.

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“I told them I heard some movie stars had come over to take pictures and sign autographs,” Gilbert said. “I wanted to do something my trainer wouldn’t want me to do. Everlast gave me four sets of headgear and four sets of gloves.”

When Gilbert welcomed one and all to step into the ring with him he got more than he bargained for.

“I realized I was in deep when a line started forming,” Gilbert said. “I got a bloody nose and a bloody lip. I sparred a guy who fought for West Point. I was in with a guy who could’ve played center for the Utah Jazz, who was smacking me with a jab.”

Gilbert would’ve made Jack Dempsey in his barnstorming days proud. In places like Camp Phoenix, Camp Salerno and other outposts, Gilbert sparred 10 soldiers each night for six shows in altitudes up to 7,500 feet.

Upon returning to the U.S. he signed with promoter Gary Shaw and for the last several weeks has begun training under Dan Birmingham at Lake Tahoe with IBF super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy, middleweight contender Winky Wright, and prospect Chad Dawson, among others.

“It’s everything I ever imagined a training camp with champions could be,” said Gilbert, who appeared in “The Beat” section of the June 20, 2005, issue of Sports Illustrated. “I train with Jeff, Chad and Winky at 10 (a.m.). We eat together, run together and go to movies.

“Jeff’s been working on my mind, telling me how to relax, that I have the tools. And it doesn’t hurt my confidence to have Jeff Lacy tell you that you take a good punch.”

Birmingham said he likes what he’s seen in Gilbert.

“He’s a real strong, real determined kid,” Birmingham said of Gilbert. “There’s no retreat in Joey. He’s intelligent. We’re teaching him some new moves and he picks them up fast.”

Part of refining Gilbert, Birmingham said, has involved tempering the aggressiveness that guided him to seven consecutive knockouts to open his career.

“I told him he was a modern day Ray Mancini because he was fighting (standing) straight up,” Birmingham said. “He needs more lateral movement and to slip the jab and counter with the hook. We’re teaching him how to escape. He has a jab and uses it well often – it’s just what he does before and after (which needs work).”

The result is an even more confident Gilbert.

“I’m stronger than ever. It’s a whole new ballgame,” Gilbert said. “It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been waiting for fight night to come. I want to wrap my hands right now. Let’s go. You’ll have to shoot me for me not to give 110 percent (Saturday).”

In addition to returning to Afghanistan in the near future, Gilbert said he would continue his media blitz (he has appeared on several radio and TV talk shows and can usually be found at a Nevada football game or speaking at local schools) as well as his pursuit of a movie career in Hollywood.

Asked if Matt LeBlanc, who stars in the NBC sitcom “Joey,” has anything to worry about, Gilbert was magnanimous.

“He’s safe for now,” Gilbert said.