RENO - Reno middleweight Joey Gilbert proved Thursday night that while he couldn't win every battle, he still found a way to win the war.
The 30-year-old Gilbert, the reigning NABO middleweight champion, was the keynote speaker for the Western Nevada Community College Athletic Foundation fund-raiser at the Peppermill Hotel and Casino.
And while a jersey signed by University of Nevada power forward Nick Fazekas sold for $2,000 (outstripping a pair of Gilbert-autographed boxing trunks, which fetched $700), it was Gilbert who ultimately attracted the greater amount of funds.
KRNV News 4 sports director and anchor Bryan Samudio - the event's emcee - said the event raised in excess of $250,000 for WNCC's baseball and soccer programs.
Samudio said the three previous fundraisers had garnered a combined total of $50,000.
Following some video highlights of his professional boxing career, a dapper Gilbert addressed an estimated crowd of 250 people, taking them from his days as a student at Bishop Manogue High School, through his days as a student-athlete at Nevada - where he won three national championships at welterweight and junior middleweight - and on to his time as a student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in San Diego.
Gilbert, a former contestant on the popular NBC reality show "The Contender," said he was simply a product of Northern Nevada.
"One thing about this community," said Gilbert, "is that when you reach out to it, it reaches back out and picks you up. I'm impressed what (WNCC) has done and where it's headed. The school is dominating athletically and academically. There are great numbers of Nevadans and local athletes in its programs."
As with Gilbert, who is 14-1 with 10 knockouts, WNCC has come a long way in a short amount of time. The Wildcats baseball team won the Scenic West Athletic Conference regular-season championship in its first season and the women's soccer team won the SWAC title in its second season.
Gilbert said that being involved in athletics helps student-athletes to succeed later in life.
"It gives you the opportunity to compete and go to school," Gilbert said. "To be able to do that here at home is a reward for the athletes and the community. It gives you the opportunity to stay home in front of the ones you love. You can't put words to that."
Gilbert said he began attending Manogue as a sarcastic kid and graduated to what he called "character-building confrontations" - a clever way of saying fights, which drew laughter from the crowd.
"In order to succeed as a student-athlete, you have to sacrifice each and every day," said Gilbert, who added that he has a forthcoming book - "Willpower" - in the works. "Your (grade-point average) and success on the field of play takes an incredible amount of willpower, dedication and sacrifice.
"It's time for us to step up and help them (the student-athletes). I wouldn't be where I am today without athletics. The boxing program didn't have funding. What can be done when you're put in that situation and you put your heart and soul into that team, that university - where you can go - I'm proof of that."
Success leaves footprints, Gilbert said.
"I've always studied successful people," Gilbert said. "You have to learn how to balance several things and work in a team environment. I learned how to do these things as a student-athlete. That's why I am where I am today."
Gilbert said he took to heart some advice offered to him by his college boxing coach, Greg Rice.
"We all like to win," Gilbert said. "But it's about how you handle your losses that define you. We lose fights; we lose people. You have to learn to handle your victories as well as your defeats. Life isn't a bowl of cherries. It's no joke."
When he began his professional boxing career as a student in law school, Gilbert said he was ranked in the upper 700s. After taking a 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Michi Munoz at the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa on March 2, Gilbert has risen to No. 6 in the WBO rankings.
Gilbert said the key to success boils down to putting one foot in front of the other and to keep moving forward, something he said he learned from legendary Reno referee and former Washoe County judge and district attorney Mills Lane.
"We were standing in front of the Fourth Street Gym," Gilbert said. "He said when the (deleted) gets tough, keep your chin down, keep punching and keep moving forward. The only limits in life are those you set in your own mind."
Gilbert also shared a story about his friend, actor Sylvester Stallone.
"We were on one of his jets," Gilbert said. "I asked him, 'How do you do what you do? How do you keep in shape?' He said, 'I'm going to give you the most honest answer I can give you: Whatever the bleep it takes.'
"As student-athletes, you have to do whatever it takes. There are no limits. You have to push yourself as hard in the classroom as hard as you do outside it. It's about sacrifice, unbreakable will and determination. You move forward regardless of setbacks and distractions."
After a standing ovation, Gilbert announced he would be defending his NABO title for the third time on May 12 at Reno Events Center against an opponent to be named. It will be his first fight in Reno since he was on "The Contender."
The event will be Gilbert's second as a promoter and with Nick Fazekas not on the card, it will be one more battle that Gilbert hopes to win.