Gilbert muses on MMA friends and old (ex) friend Brinkley | NevadaAppeal.com
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Gilbert muses on MMA friends and old (ex) friend Brinkley

Mike Houser
Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

(This is the second of a two-part story about Reno’s Joey Gilbert, who will challenge Yerington’s Jesse Brinkley for the latter’s WBC-affiliated United States National Boxing Championship (USNBC) super middleweight belt at a venue to be determined in Reno on Jan. 30).

So where does Joey Gilbert go from here?

Perhaps Gilbert is a half Icarus, half Phoenix and in his ascent to celebrity he flew too close to the sun. Perhaps the greatness he was looking to achieve can only be reached after a spectacular, fiery crash; perhaps the rebirth of a stronger, wiser Gilbert is possible only after rising from the ashes.

And maybe the answer is more mundane. Maybe the answer can be found in Big Bear, Calif., in the home of mixed martial arts (MMA) star Tito Ortiz, where Gilbert is staying while preparing for his first fight back after serving the year-long suspension imposed on him by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

The 32-year-old Gilbert, 15-1 with 11 knockouts and 1 no-contest, tested positive for one metabolite of the steroid Stanazolol after fighting Charles Howe on Sept. 21, in Reno, and will meet an opponent to be named in a six-round bout October 30 in Maryland.

Finding sparring has been no problem for Gilbert, who said he’s enjoying the bucolic training retreat Ortiz bought from Oscar De La Hoya a couple of years ago and it is here the Reno boxer is currently refining his skills as an all-around fighter.

SOCAL

Aikido, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu ” it’s amazing the skills an enterprising boxer can learn in trade for sharing his knowledge of the Sweet Science, as Gilbert has done with his new band of MMA brothers in Southern California.

“I committed myself to staying in shape,” Gilbert said of his time away from boxing, which he’s spent training at Northern California Fight Club, in San Diego. “Learning mixed martial arts was a chance to keep my mind occupied. I wanted to do anything I could to keep myself in fight mode.”

Along with making friends with Ortiz and his girlfriend ” adult movie star Jenna Jameson ” Gilbert has become close with Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight Diego Sanchez.

Gilbert was to accompany Sanchez to Chicago for UFC 90, where the latter was to face Thiago Alves. Sanchez was forced to withdraw with torn rib cartilage on Tuesday.

“Diego has become one of my best friends, if not my best friend,” Gilbert said. “I’ve been really fortunate to represent Punishment Athletics (his new sponsor) and my friends and brothers in MMA. Tito is the nicest guy with the biggest heart I’ve met. He’s an incredible person. Jenna is a total sweetheart. She asks you about your family and where you come from.”

As was the case when he attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Gilbert has found a second home in San Diego, where he feels he hasn’t been judged harshly by his peers after making what he calls a “mistake” and “error in judgment.”

AN OLD FRIEND

But don’t count Jesse Brinkley as a member of Club Joey. Gilbert is only too aware of the antipathy his former friend and January 30 dance partner has been slinging his way in the media.

“I laugh when I see where Jesse wants to shut my mouth,” Gilbert said. ‘I’ve never said anything about Jesse. All I can say is the one thing that hasn’t changed about Jesse is that he loves to talk. That’s it.

“The other thing I can say is that he can say whatever he wants. I called him out. When it’s time to meet in the ring, we’ll see who wins. My performance in the ring is all that counts. I don’t need to attack him with words. I’ll let my conditioning and heart speak for me.”

Gilbert said that after his complete immersion in training, he’s become a better-rounded fighter than he used to be.

“There are aspects of my style in the ring that Jesse hasn’t seen and won’t know what to do against,” Gilbert said. “Any weaknesses people thought I had, I circled them and went to work on them for the last 13 months. Practice makes perfect.”

Gilbert said he knows he’s defying conventional wisdom by not taking a few comeback bouts before stepping in against Brinkley, 31-5 (21), but he calls the situation a “dare to be great opportunity.”

“Jesse’s tough, no doubt about it,” Gilbert said. “I have to take him seriously. But I’ve watched a lot of film and I see he has a lot of exploitable weaknesses as a fighter. Since he’s been working with (Peter Manfredo Sr.), he has developed a lot of bad habits.”

Gilbert said that the current economic crisis as it relates to Reno factored into his decision to take on Brinkley.

“I’m not just doing it for me; I’m doing it for my family and the community,” Gilbert said. “The community can’t afford to see me fight four or five fights (first). It’s time to step up. It will be a bloody war. I want to feel like I’ve been in a fight.”

Gilbert said he is prepared for the best ” and worst ” reaction from local fans upon his return to the ring.

“I’m absolutely blessed to have the Reno community behind me,” he said. “They’re giving me a second chance. When I fought Jimmy Lange (in their rematch) in his hometown, people spit on me, they booed. It’s going to happen.

“I am an underdog. By all means. (Brinkley) has three times as many fights as me. He has more knockouts. He has more experience. I had 13 months off, now I’m going to go fight him. Let’s Get It On (Promotions) has done a terrific job with him.”

Gilbert said name-calling isn’t what wins fights.

“I’m into consistency and performance,” he said. “All I can say is I always come in shape and never let anyone down — either my family or my friends. He’s obviously a very angry person. His anger is getting the better of him. He’s lying awake at night, thinking of me. Jesse’s remaining in a state of anxiety or agitation over me. That’s fine with me. My mind is focused on the fight and how to beat him. You kind of have to feel sorry for a guy like that. To spit that kind of venom every time ” it’s crazy, man.”

Gilbert also addressed why he didn’t fight Brinkley rather than Howe.

“People forget he was on a five-fight losing streak (actually four-of-five during and immediately following ‘The Contender’),” Gilbert said. “I was on a six-fight winning streak.”

Gilbert said he’d continue to harbor no animosity toward Brinkley after they finally meet.

“If he wants to hug it out, fine,” Gilbert said. “I’m always smiling. I’m always in a good mood. We’ve all made our mistakes.”

As Gilbert, who passed a random drug test three days after he agreed to the suspension and a $10,000 fine, is proving, it’s all about learning from your mistakes and not being afraid to fly to close to the sun.