It's 2004 and Joey Gilbert is with friends inside Lupo by Wolfgang Puck in the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas. Gilbert, a budding middleweight boxer four years into his professional career, spots a man across the restaurant with a familiar face — not just to Gilbert, but to everyone in the room. A man who played arguably the most iconic boxer character in movie history: Sylvester Stallone.
At the time, the Hollywood icon was on the verge of hosting a new reality TV show, “The Contender,” which followed a group of professional boxers. Knowing this, Gilbert felt an opportunity was staring him in the face.
“One of my friends dared me to go talk to him … and I took his dare,” Gilbert recalls. “I walked up, got down and tapped him on the knee and introduced myself, and said I thought I'd be a good candidate for his show.”
Stallone believed him.
“Next thing I know, I get a phone call that Monday morning to go try out in LA,” Gilbert says. “I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card and got cast in the national promo commercials and got on the show.”
This series of events is a microcosm of Gilbert's fearless ambition — an ambition he carried through his decorated boxing career (21-3 record, 16 knockouts, two national middleweight titles) and into his now thriving and diverse business endeavors.
GETTING IN THE BUSINESS RING
Some entrepreneurs come up with a single idea, start a company, and settle into their role of running that small business until they decide to sell or close shop.
Gilbert is cut from a different cloth. The Sparks native doesn't have just one company to his name, but a laundry list of business ventures in his portfolio. Truth is, since exiting the boxing ring for the final time in September 2010, Gilbert hasn't sat still.
Law. Mining. Cannabis. Hemp. Real estate. Boxing promotion. A nonprofit for children. A nonprofit for veterans. Gilbert is involved in many corners of the entrepreneurial ring.
“More than anything, I think it's just throwing your hat in the ring,” smiled Gilbert, sitting in his downtown Reno office, where Joey Gilbert Law and Joey Gilbert Promotions are located. “It's not being afraid.”
STARTING IN LAW
The fearlessness was widely noticed when he walked on to the University of Nevada, Reno boxing team and proceeded to become a three-time national champion.
Gilbert then went to law school because his mentor, Mills Lane, told him to. Along with being a two-term Washoe County judge, Lane, a UNR graduate (‘63), is a former professional boxer and referee who was inducted into both the International and Nevada boxing halls of fame in 2013. Notably, the Mills B. Lane Justice Center houses the Reno Municipal Court and Washoe County District Attorney's Office
“I had no desire to go to law school,” Gilbert remembered. “But he'd show up in the gym with a local attorney and they were like, ‘You've got to go to law school.'”
Gilbert listened. Though he passed the bar in 2004, it wasn't until after he hung up his gloves when Gilbert immersed himself in a career in law. In January 2011, he formed Joey Gilbert & Associates, a criminal defense practice that specializes in DUI defense. (“Fighting for you,” his tagline reads.)
A law firm was just the beginning of his post-boxing career. In 2016, he became a founding partner of Mynt Cannabis dispensary, which was later sold to a Canadian company. He took his stock shares and partnered with fellow former Mynt founders on a hemp processing company called Parliament Group.
Construction on their hemp processing facility, which he said will be located near the Sparks Nugget, began this month, with Frank Lepori Construction serving as the lead contractor.
There's more. Gilbert is also working to become a licensed real estate broker in Nevada; in August, Gilbert founded Champion Real Estate Advisors.
REVIVING BOXING IN RENO
Amid myriad businesses and projects he oversees in Northern Nevada, Gilbert recently narrowed his focus on his longtime goal of bringing competitive boxing back to the Biggest Little City.
“We've had some incredible fighters here (in Reno),” said Gilbert, who went on to reference Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Jim Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Evander Holyfield and more. “There was a time where Reno — up until things went south when the recession hit — was a pretty big fight town.”
Gilbert has been a licensed boxing promoter since 2007, but it was only until recently when it made sense for him to focus on that slice of his business. After all, with Reno-Sparks' economy stronger than ever and casinos increasingly looking for non-gaming forms of revenue, Gilbert saw an opportunity to help boxing make a comeback in his home region.
With that, in August, Joey Gilbert Promotions partnered with Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions to strike a deal with Reno-based Eldorado Group to co-promote multiple boxing and MMA cards on UFC Fight Pass. Eldorado Group owns and operates The Row, which includes downtown Reno casinos Silver Legacy, Circus Circus and Eldorado.
The new partnership kicked off on Oct. 25 at Silver Legacy's Grande Exposition Hall, with a fight card headlined by Kendro Castaneda vs. Stan Martyniouk. Castaneda would go on to knock out Martyniouk in the sixth round in front of 1,600 fight fans packed in the building.
“The place was sold out,” Gilbert said. “They had to turn 300 people away, which is just not normal. Reno is a fight town and people are going to show up. So — boxing is back.”
‘I THINK WE'RE HEADING UP'
What's more, Gilbert said, analytics showed many attendees Oct. 25 traveled from rural areas of Nevada as well as the Sacramento area.
“We drew people up over the hill and the rural counties, which for our casinos is a big deal,” he continued. “If they're coming in, they're going to stay, they're going to drink, they're going to eat, they're going to game a little bit.”
And then there was the online reach. Gilbert said about 1.3 million viewers — from all over the globe — live-streamed the card on UFC Fight Pass.
For Gilbert, the amount of in-person and online eyeballs watching professional boxing in Reno for their first event only validated his intuition that Reno could put itself on the map as a boxing town yet again.
“When they're thinking about Reno, they're thinking about where to come and The Row is going to be the spot now because that's where all the fighting is,” Gilbert said. “I think it does a lot for branding this city and our casinos for where you're going to find quality entertainment.”
Gilbert said the next fight is tentatively planned for February.
“To see this take shape has been really cool,” he said. “And I don't think it's going anywhere. I think we're heading up.”