Gilbert will fight on Sept. 21 |

Gilbert will fight on Sept. 21

Appeal Sports Writer

Maybe it’s destiny. Maybe the stars are aligning just right. Or maybe the boxing game is one giant chessboard for Reno middleweight Joey Gilbert.

The 31-year-old Gilbert, a three-time national collegiate boxing champion as a member of the University of Nevada club boxing team, is currently ranked No. 4 by the WBO and may rise as high as No. 1 within the next month.

According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Gilbert, 15-1 with 11 knockouts, will defend his North American Boxing Organization middleweight belt against Charles Howe, 17-3-1 (9) with 1 no-contest, of Grelton, Ohio, Sept. 21 in the Grand Theater at Grand Sierra Resort.

The NABO is a regional belt under the auspices of the WBO and if Gilbert can get by journeyman Howe, whose biggest victory was over James Voyles (then 3-1-1), the strap may serve as the key to the division’s magic kingdom.

There are larger forces at work than Gilbert, but the former contestant on the NBC reality show “The Contender” has been benefiting by staying out of big fights and letting other middleweights and the sanctioning bodies take care of business for him.

Armenian Khoren Gevor – ranked ahead of Gilbert at No. 3 – was recently defeated by IBF middleweight beltholder Arthur Abraham, clearing the way for the Nevada resident to move up a notch in the rankings.

Winky Wright – ranked No. 2 by the organization – lost to Bernard Hopkins at 170 pounds and may not return to the division, thus possibly clearing yet another spot for Gilbert.

The fight that will most affect Gilbert’s future will take place on Sept. 29, when WBC and WBO champion Jermain Taylor defends his titles against Kelly Pavlick, 31-0 (28), in an HBO-televised fight from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

Gilbert will benefit either way, as it will be Taylor’s last fight at 160 pounds. If Taylor wins, Gilbert would likely face Gary Lockett, 29-1 (20), of Wales, for the vacant WBO belt.

If Pavlick beats Taylor, he could make his first defense against Gilbert or the WBO could mandate a Gilbert-Lockett elimination bout for the No.1 slot. In any scenario, Gilbert could be fighting for the title in six months to a year.

In Howe, Gilbert is facing a 31-year-old who hasn’t boxed in more than a year. In his last two fights, Howe stopped Tony Black in two rounds on May 19, 2006 (Black had a record of 7-6-1), and outscored Mike McFail (12-27-1) in a six-round decision.

Gilbert and Howe share one common opponent – James North, whom Gilbert defeated via 10-round decision Nov. 5, 2005, at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa. Howe was able to manage a four-round draw with North three weeks before he fought Gilbert.

Gilbert, who will co-promote the card with GG Promotions, is on a six-fight winning streak since losing a five-round technical decision to Peter Manfredo Jr. in 2004.

Although Gilbert advertised his fight with Juan Astorga as being for the NABO and vacant WBC USNBC belts, NABO executive director and former boxer Mark Reels said he told Gilbert and his matchmaker Chris Middendorf “two or three weeks before the bout” that he would not approve Astorga to challenge for the NABO belt.

Astorga, said Reels, was too inexperienced (he was then 10-0-1) and had never before been in a fight scheduled for six rounds. Reels said a boxer needs at least 12 fights and to have been in a bout scheduled for at least 10 rounds to be considered as a challenger for the title.

Gilbert stopped Astorga in 10 rounds May 5 at Reno Events Center and defended his NABO belt against Michi Munoz at MontBleu on March 2 for his only fights of the year.

Reels characterized this fight against Howe as an opportunity for Gilbert to stay busy.

Although Gilbert’s Web site claims this card will be a pay-per-view event, the NSAC and Grand Sierra Resort said it wouldn’t be.

The eight-bout card was incomplete as of Tuesday, but some of the participants were available at press time:

•Reno’s Jaime Rodriguez, 3-2-1 (1), will meet David Hernandez, 5-6-2 (2), of Denver, Colo., in a welterweight bout. The 21-year-old Rodriguez is coming off an impressive victory over two-time New York Golden Gloves champion Shavaris Buie on July 6 at the Eldorado Hotel and Casino.

•Two boxers from St. Petersburg, Fla., who both had victories at MontBleu on March 2, will also see action. Heavyweight Lenroy Thomas, 7-1 (5), and 130-pound Kermit Gonzalez, 5-0-1 (3), will each face an opponent to be named.

•Junior middleweight Lester Gonzalez, 6-0 (5), of San Diego, Calif., via Cuba, will face an opponent to be named, as will 130-pound Stan Martyniouck, who will be making his pro debut.

•Two boxers from Bruno’s Boxing Gym, in Carson City, will also be on the card. Inka Laleye will meet Flavio Cordova in a 162-pound bout and Josh Kennedy will meet former light heavyweight amateur star Brandon Gonzalez, 2-0 (2), of Sacramento. Laleye, Cordova and Gonzalez will all be making their pro debuts.

Tickets are $250, $200, $75, $35 and $20 and are available by calling (800) 646-5080 or 789-2000.

Doors open at 6 p.m. with the first fight scheduled for 7.