Boxing reality hits television

Two Northern Nevada boxers will help usher in a new era of boxing coverage with tonight's premier episode of "The Contender," which begins at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

Yerington's Jesse Brinkley and Reno's Joey Gilbert will be among 16 professional middleweights who live together, train together and ultimately fight each other while vying for a $1 million prize.

The new reality show is the latest brainchild of Mark Burnett, the creator of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," and will be hosted by Sylvester Stallone and former champion Sugar Ray Leonard.

"It's great boxing at its finest," said Steve Rivera, the show's director of boxing. "There will be a fight every episode and one boxer will be eliminated each week."

Rivera said the series was taped in Los Angeles during a six-week period starting last August. With the exception of the final bout, which will take place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on May 24, the bouts were held in California under the auspices of the California Athletic Commission.

So how did two boxers from Northern Nevada end up getting selected from a pool of several thousand aspiring contenders?

Rivera said there were several criteria: In addition to being skilled enough, the fighters were matched evenly by the California Athletic Commission, had to fill certain personality requirements and also make for good television.

Apparently Brinkley and Gilbert made quite an impression.

"They were two of my favorites on the show," Rivera said. "Jesse had the bad boy image - he has the bike and the tattoo - and he has kids. And he's kind of a farm boy. Joey has a law degree and a compelling story. Both are great guys."

All of the boxers signed a confidentiality agreement, precluding them from discussing the show. And the resulting veil of secrecy, in addition to solid promotional work, have conspired to add an element of intrigue, which is the surest way to get viewers to tune in.

In an unfortunate development, Najai Turpin, one of the show's contenders, committed suicide in Philadelphia on Feb.14. Rivera said the shows would be edited "as is" and one episode would be dedicated to Turpin, who left behind a 2-year-old daughter.

Rivera said a trust fund is being established for Turpin's daughter and viewers would be able to contribute.

In addition to heated competition Rivera said the show was also a breeding ground for friendship and several of the fighters remain in communication, including Gilbert and Brinkley.

Gilbert - of the Nevada law firm Gilbert & Schopper, LLP - said he had reached an agreement with Brinkley to do his public relations work.

"As the only two Northern Nevada boys on the show, we watched out for each other," Gilbert said Thursday. "I told Jesse he was bad at returning calls. It's the time of his life and he needs someone doing these things."

Apparently Gilbert, who is also a sports model for Stallone's nutritional company Instone, will be a busy man.

"The Contender" will have three different episodes this week. It will also air Thursday and Sunday at 8 p.m. before settling into its 8 p.m. Sunday slot.

What: "The Contender."

When: Tonight, 9:30 p.m.; Thursday, 8 p.m.; then each Sunday at 8 p.m.

Station: NBC.

JOEY GILBERT

Hometown: Reno.

Age: 28.

Weight: 160.

Height: 5'11".

Pro record: 8-0, 7 knockouts.

Amateur record: 30-1.

Titles: Three-time National Collegiate Boxing Association national champion (two at welterweight, one at light middleweight); Nevada Golden Gloves light middleweight champion.

School: Bishop Manogue High School (1994); University of Nevada (1999); Thomas Jefferson School of Law (2003).

Web site: [ http://www.joeygilbert.com ]http://www.joeygilbert.com

JESSE BRINKLEY

Hometown: Yerington.

Age: 28.

Weight: 160.

Height: 5'10".

Pro record: 23-1, 16 knockouts.

Amateur record: 3-3.

Titles: APBA West Coast Middleweight Champion (2003).

School: Yerington High School, 1995.

Web site: [ http://www.jessebrinkley.com ]http://www.jessebrinkley.com

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