When a boxer graduates from being an undercard fighter to a main eventer who begins talk of winning a world championship, he must begin to face some tough questions.
Especially if this fighter is also a promoter and headlines his own cards.
Especially if this fighter-promoter's MySpace page begins with a fairy-tale testimonial such as "I'm a man who set sail long ago, in an attempt to live my dreams and slay the dragons that stand in my way...."
This pretentious prose belongs to 30-year-old Reno boxer-promoter Joey Gilbert, the reigning North American Boxing Organization middleweight beltholder.
Gilbert, 14-1 with 10 knockouts, is still sailing and living his dreams, but if he really wants to slay a dragon, he need venture no farther than the town of Yerington, where a certain foul-mouthed, fire-breathing super middleweight named Jesse Brinkley is making some noise.
In fact, he doesn't even have to travel that far, as Brinkley will fight July 6 in Gilbert's backyard - in the Eldorado Hotel and Casino's parking lot to be exact - against an opponent to be determined.
Ever since the pair was on the NBC reality show "The Contender," the 30-year-old Brinkley has been calling out Gilbert...unsuccessfully. Which leaves Brinkley and nearly every boxing fan in Northern Nevada asking the same question: When is Gilbert going to fight his antagonist?
If Gilbert's quote in the Feb. 28, 2007 edition of the Nevada Appeal is any indication, the pair won't be meeting for quite a while - if ever.
"I haven't thought about him in a year," Gilbert said. "He's the least of my concerns right now."
In Gilbert's recent statement through his spokesman, Chul Yim, Gilbert said he is more focused on fighting for a world title than meeting Brinkley.
"If Brinkley wins four or five more fights and becomes a contender and gets in (Gilbert's) way of becoming a world champion, the pair would fight," Yim said in Thursday's edition of the Appeal.
A statement like this holds as much water as a bathtub shot full of holes. First, does Gilbert really believe anyone is buying that Brinkley needs to improve to fight him?
And if Gilbert is concerned with fighting contenders getting in his way of a world title, then why is he next fighting Juan Astorga?
Astorga, 10-0-1 (6) with 1 no-contest, of Lee's Summit, Mo., will meet Gilbert on May 12 at Reno Events Center.
Perhaps Gilbert is misconstruing the advice of his friend Sugar Ray Leonard.
"Sugar Ray Leonard taught me that records don't mean s---," Gilbert said in that same Feb. 28 article in the Appeal. "Records don't mean anything except that they've never fought Joey Gilbert before."
The remark was directed at recent victim Michi Munoz, then 17-0, who had never fought anyone of Gilbert's caliber. Or Jesse Brinkley's.
Juxtapose if you will Brinkley, 26-5 (17), whose last fight was against former WBC super middleweight world champion Robin Reid (an eight-round loss) and Astorga.
Brinkley has fought 16 fighters with winning records, including Reid and former world title challengers Jonathan Reid (no relation) and Danny Perez (both wins). He also twice knocked out tough Cleveland Corder and stopped rugged journeyman Joe Garcia in two rounds.
By contrast the 28-year-old Astorga has faced two fighters with winning records Ray Cunningham (5-3) and Robert Smallwood, 1-0-2. Boxrrec.com ranks Astorga 197th out of 998 junior middleweights (one weight division lower than Gilbert's). Astorga's draw and no-contest both were against Smallwood.
Astorga has also never been in a fight scheduled for more than six rounds. This begs another question, what qualifies him to fight for not one, but two middleweight titles (the NABO and vacant USNBC belts) against Gilbert, who is ranked No. 6 by the WBO?
It's a query that doesn't seem to concern Gilbert, who will apparently take the path of least resistance along the road to a title shot.
If he continues to knock over a few more opponents of Astorga's caliber, Gilbert could conceivably face England's Gary Lockett or Germany's Khoren Gevor for the WBO belt, as champion Jermain Taylor and contender Winky Wright are moving up in weight.
Two other contenders ranked ahead of Gilbert - Edison Miranda and Kelly Pavlick - will fight each other, with the winner likely facing Sergio Mora for the soon-to-be vacant WBC belt.
And what of Gilbert's ranking?
It's like something out of "The Wizard of Oz" - a lot of behind-the-scenes machinations and little substance. Gilbert didn't earn his ranking against fighters the caliber of Brinkley.
His record has been built by fighting opponents like 39-year-old Keith Sims (25-14-1), James Aacker (8-4) and James North (7-7-1).
Sims, it should be noted, hadn't fought in nearly 13 months before facing Gilbert for his NABO belt, apparently earning his title shot on the "strength" of a six-round win over Steve Mayo, who held a 4-14 record going into the fight.
Before beating Mayo, Sims was stopped in two rounds by Walid Smichet (10-1-2).
Gilbert stopped Aacker in one round on August 5, 2006, but not until after Aacker had rocked the granite-chinned Gilbert to the core with a wild left hook.
Then there was Jimmy Lange, whom Gilbert had already beaten on "The Contender" and whom he destroyed in three rounds for the vacant NABO middleweight belt.
Gilbert won every round against North, who is now 8-16-2, but has fought 12 fights to Gilbert's four since their meeting on Nov. 5, 2005.
Are these the kind of dragons who are standing in Gilbert's way of a title shot?
In the April 17, 2007 edition of the Reno Gazette-Journal, Gilbert sounded like the detail-minded John Ascuaga ("Perfect"), as he supposedly sat in every seat at Reno Events Center, trying to figure out how to stage a sell-out.
The answer has nothing to do with seating configurations; it's a matter of fighting the right opponent: Jesse Brinkley.
If Gilbert, as a promoter, is at all concerned - and he should be - about bringing local fans fights worth paying good money to see, then he needs to quit fighting guys like North, Aacker, Sims and Astorga.
Brinkley-Gilbert would be a huge event, worth televising on Showtime. The winner would then have local bragging rights and be ready to step in line for a major fight that leads to a shot at a world title.
So why is Gilbert reluctant?
He can't - as he has - use lack of experience as an excuse. Whereas Gilbert was a combined 29-1 as an amateur, winning three national collegiate championships and a Nevada Golden Gloves light middleweight title, Brinkley went 3-3 before going pro. That amounts to 45 fights for Gilbert to 37 for Brinkley.
Gilbert, an an attorney, needs a better argument to win over the court of public opinion.
People want to see Gilbert fight Brinkley. They want to see him live up to his "Yes, I can" slogan. They want to see the blood-and-guts warrior that made Nevada collegiate boxing an event not to be missed. And they aren't gullible enough to buy into Gilbert's notion that Brinkley first needs four or five more wins.
Gilbert's slogan may be "Yes, I can," but by refusing to fight Brinkley, what he's really saying to local boxing fans is, "No, I won't."
Whether Gilbert admits it or not, Brinkley is standing in his way of winning a world championship.
Before Gilbert can be the best in the world - after all, that's what being a world champion means - he's got to first prove he's the best fighter in Northern Nevada. And to do that, he's got to slay a dragon named Jesse Brinkley.