‘Role Model’ Joey on way back
Nevada Appeal Sports Writer
(This is the first 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 January 30 at a venue to be determined in Reno.)
Celebrity and Joey Gilbert seemed to go together as well as Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson. It was 2007 and if Gilbert wasn’t yet Vincent Chase, he was well on his way.
A former three-time national champion at the University of Nevada, Gilbert had gained international recognition on the NBC reality boxing show “The Contender,” which was taped in 2004 and televised in 2005.
In addition to holding down the USNBC and North American Boxing Organization (NABO) middleweight belts, Gilbert ” the WBO’s No. 4 contender ” was a boxing promoter, licensed attorney, male model and product spokesman.
While training for a 2005 bout against James North at the MontBleu Resort and Casino in Stateline, Gilbert had flown to Hollywood so he could try out for a part as Rocky Balboa Jr.
He even had his own video, a roughly 10-minute epic that could prompt a bigger-than-life World Wrestling Entertainment star running for some Extenze. Mixed in with his blood-and-guts battles with Jimmy Lange and Peter Manfredo Jr. on “The Contender,” there were highlights of Gilbert palling around with Sylvester Stallone on Sly’s Lear Jet as well as the boxer’s visits to America’s troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gilbert was becoming a regular on the local fundraising scene, giving motivational speeches in front of Western Nevada College student-athletes and the Fallon High School wrestling team.
And after he had hammered Charles Howe for a first-round technical knockout Sept. 21 at the Grand Sierra Resort, in Reno, Gilbert had methodically positioned himself for what seemed to be an eventual world title shot.
But on Oct. 2, the walls of the image Gilbert had spent years constructing came crashing down.
“Back in October, I called it ‘Ground Zero,'” Gilbert said of being informed by a reporter that he’d failed pre-and post-fight urinalyses for six banned substances. (He later reached a stipulated agreement with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and Nevada Attorney General’s Office for testing positive for one metabolite of the steroid Stanazolol.) “What more horrible, terrible news could you get. In spite of what people say about me, I worked hard to maintain my image.”
Gilbert was fined $10,000 and suspended for one year by the commission, who did not choose to pursue charges on Gilbert’s prescription medication, which caused a positive test for four of the substances. (The commission, which changed the result of the fight to a no-contest, also absolved Gilbert for testing positive for methamphetamine when his B sample came back negative.)
He said nothing cut to the quick quite like the headline that ran in the Lahontan Valley News when news of his positive test broke.
“Nothing hurt more than reading, ‘Joey Gilbert Role Model No More,'” Gilbert said. “I had spoken in front of the Fallon wrestling team. One minute they love you, the next minute you screw up. That’s how it is. I’ll never forget the headline. I’m not perfect. I’m not going to say I’ve never drank, but I can count on one hand the times I have in the last five years.”
Gilbert sucked up the pain and decided it was time to show the same mettle out of the ring that he’d always displayed in it.
“I sat down with my team and people who cared about me. It was gut-check time,” he said. “Nobody comes back from this. I was going to spend every dime I had (trying).”
As Gilbert began with what he called “little goals” ” mainly conditioning to stay in fight mode ” he unwillingly became part of a relatively new and unpleasant phenomenon.
Thanks in part to the same technology that helped him build his popularity, Gilbert’s Q-rating plummeted when news of his positive test spread internationally. He also felt the springs on his bandwagon bounce upward as he became fodder for cyberspace snipers.
“All I can say is, Wow. My comp tickets went down a lot ” about 90 percent,” Gilbert said. “It was amazing. In all honesty, people that I didn’t think would be there for me were, and those I thought would, weren’t.”
GETTING THROUGH IT
Gilbert credited his family, his lawyer and friend Mark Schopper and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity for standing behind him. He also received support from others he’d met while attending the University of Nevada and Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in San Diego.
“People I hadn’t talked to in four or five years would text me,” he said. “They’d say stuff like, ‘Hey, Champ, no way. I didn’t believe it for a second. Don’t lose faith.’ They’d call me just to check in and ask me, ‘How are you doing today?'”
Though he had his periods of doubt (“I told my girlfriend Molly [Mentaberry], ‘Let’s move to Italy and get out of here,’ then I’d laugh”), Gilbert said he took the situation as a challenge.
“It must be the Sicilian blood in me,” he said. “I got kicked in the teeth bad. After the depression wore off, I got mad. I got a new strategy and it’s time to climb that hill again. A champion gets back up. I got knocked down big time. I dropped my hands big time. It’s my own fault. I walked right into it.”
Gilbert said he recently traveled to Las Vegas, where he visited with NSAC executive director Keith Kizer, whom he had criticized in the media during his suspension.
Kizer said Tuesday that the meeting went well, there were no hard feelings and that he wished Gilbert luck in the future.
“The bottom line is I’ve been given a second chance,” Gilbert said. “Mistakes were made. I accept responsibility. I met with Keith and let him understand that I know where he was coming from. I showed poor judgment, even though that judgment was made by doctors. Like Keith said, ‘Move forward.'”
(In Thursday’s edition of the Nevada Appeal, Gilbert talks about what he did during his suspension. He also talks about his future and responds to some insulting remarks from his future opponent and former friend Jesse Brinkley).