Windsor — After 12 years of relentless training and fighting, Chris Gilbert finally discovered something more important to him than boxing — family.
Gilbert, 31, has retired from the ring, citing a desire to be home more often with his fiancee, Melissa Chapman, their 11-month-old son, Gavin, and Owen, Melissa’s 7-year-old son.
A Windsor native and super welterweight, Gilbert is hanging them up with a 13-3 professional record following an amateur career yielding a New England Golden Gloves title, three Northern New England GG crowns and one trip to the national quarterfinals.
Gilbert, a licensed coach, has also ceased teaching the sport with the nonprofit Windsor Boxing Club. Located at the Windsor Recreation Center, it was with WBC where he was first began boxing as a 19-year-old and later became its primary instructor.
“I closed the gym back in February; it wasn’t until after that that I realized that I wasn’t going to be fighting anymore,” said Gilbert, who now lives in Claremont and is the grounds crew manager at Hartland’s Sunnymede Farm. “I just realized that my focus right now is my family and being at home. I wasn’t going to be able to put the time and energy into it that (WBC pupils) deserved, whether they were wanting to be fighters or even just working out with us part-time.”
After reaching the National Golden Gloves quarterfinals in Indianapolis in 2011, Gilbert won his first 11 pro fights — seven by technical knockout and another pair by knockout. He lost three of his last five matches, including a unanimous-decision, six-round loss to Shakha Moore in Melrose, Mass., last October. The result left him re-evaluating his figurative position in the ring.
“There was something I just wasn’t doing right, and it was hard to keep my focus on trying to fix it,” Gilbert said.
“I learned that I was maybe taking too big a jump (fighting Moore) and that I was really going to have to go back to the drawing board, back to basics and trying to clean things up and make some big adjustments. I realized I was probably going to have to put about three times as much time and effort into fighting, and I was already training six days a week and sparring twice a week. With my son being born last year and getting engaged, that kind of time and effort is just not where I’m at in my life right now.”
An aggressive power puncher, Gilbert overwhelmed many of his opponents. Highlights included a third-round knockout over Keuntray Henson at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino, two wins at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester and a first-round TKO against Luis Viramontes at Salem, N.H.’s Rockingham Park, where ESPN was on hand to record Friday Night Fights.
That bout wasn’t telecast, but Gilbert’s fight against light welterweight Danny O’Connor at Boston University’s Agganis Arena last spring made an NBC Sportsnet Premiere Boxing Champions broadcast. Gilbert lost in a fifth-round TKO, but relished the experience.
“All of a sudden I’m backstage and I’m in the same room as Sugar Ray Leonard, (WBA middleweight champion) Daniel Jacobs and referees that I recognized from TV,” Gilbert recalled. “It was kind of surreal, thinking, ‘Wow, I see these guys on TV all the time.’ ”
Gilbert also savored his hometown fights, going 3-0 in main-event bouts staged at the Windsor Recreation Center. Proceeds from the fights benefited the Windsor Boxing Club, as well as the Windsor Recreation Department when possible.
Windsor recreation director Harry Ladue enjoyed having them on site.
“They brought a lot of great energy to the building,” he said. “A lot of people came out to watch. It was pretty exciting.”
Gilbert — who recently had shoulder surgery to treat an ailment that began developing two years ago — continually persevered through injuries, especially as an amateur when he suffered fractured wrists, a broken left hand and a staph infection in his right arm.
Former trainer John George, a WBC co-founder, recalled Gilbert’s accomplishments simply getting through his first several amateur bouts.
“We went out to New York state for his first fight, and it was a hometown fight for his opponent,” George said in a telephone interview from Columbia, S.C., where he now resides. “I told him, ‘Get through the first round, then we’ll talk strategy.’ Well, he got through the first round, but it wasn’t good; he went down for two eight-counts. He came back to win that bout, and he won two more that year. Now, mind you, this whole time he was complaining about his hands, even before the first fight. It turned out he had two broken wrists — he won three fights with two broken wrists, and he knocked out two of the three.”
Jim Fox, WBC’s other co-founder and longtime Gilbert trainer, also admired the fighter’s perseverance.
“He did great for a kid from Vermont. He had a great run and accomplished a lot,” Fox said.
(Fox is editor-at-large of the Valley News.)
“It’s been a lot of years since a fighter out of Vermont did what he’s done. He certainly had a great work ethic; he never spared the effort. He was very resourceful and persistent. I’ve spent a lot of time with Chris, a lot of late-night car rides, and even more significant than his development as a fighter is who he’s become as a human being. He’s really become a good man throughout the process.”
Gilbert said he’ll miss “the build-up to a fight,” the training and preparation, the most. He wouldn’t completely shut the door on a return to the ring, as a fighter, trainer or both.
“Right now, I’m done. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m done,” he said with a grin. “I don’t have a lot left to prove to myself anymore. I’ve knocked enough people to the floor.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love the sport. That hasn’t gone away. That’s forever.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.