Lightweight world champion Jorge Linares will head into the biggest fight of his career without trainer Ismael Salas.
Linares is scheduled to defend his 135-pound title against pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, a junior lightweight world titleholder who is moving up in weight, on May 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN card.
Salas, however, is in London training one of his other top fighters, former heavyweight titleholder David Haye, for his rematch with Tony Bellew on May 5 at the O2 Arena in London.
Linares is set to open his training camp in Las Vegas, and while he has trained with Salas in London in the past, he preferred his camp set up in Las Vegas instead.
Taking the reins as head trainer is Carlos Linares, Jorge’s younger brother, who has been part of his team for years. Jorge Linares also will have other regulars from his team with him, including cutman and assistant trainer Rudy Hernandez and strength and conditioning coach Jorge Capetillo.
Linares (44-3, 27 KOs), who has won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight, told ESPN that he was not upset about the situation and that he was still in contact with Salas by phone.
Linares said Salas opted to remain with Haye because the rematch with Bellew was signed and scheduled before Linares-Lomachenko came together.
“We did not leave Salas and Salas did not leave me,” Linares said through interpreter Robert Diaz, the matchmaker for his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions. “It was just a scheduling conflict. It was a conflict that made it difficult for us to be together for this fight. I understand. I’m not upset about it at all. I have all his advice and teachings that I need to do. It’s always there in spirit, and we can talk over the phone [during training camp]. We still communicate. This is not a breakup.”
Salas has played a pivotal role in the resurrection of Linares’ career. In 2012, Linares suffered a second consecutive knockout loss, and his career was left for dead by many. On the recommendation of Teiken Promotions chief Akihiko Honda, Linares’ co-promoter, Linares hired Salas to train him, and he has since won 13 fights in a row and claimed two versions of the lightweight world title.
However, Salas was unavailable for one of those bouts, a fourth-round knockout of Javier Prieto to win a vacant lightweight title in Japan in 2014, so this won’t be the first time they will be apart.
“Linares is a very experienced fighter,” Diaz said. “Salas has been good for him, but Jorge knows what to do for this fight, and he is very motivated. He knows how important this fight with Lomachenko is. But this is also a fight Jorge and I have been talking about for two years. Jorge picked Lomachenko to fight. He told [Golden Boy CEO] Oscar [De La Hoya] that he wanted the biggest fight, and this is it.”
Linares, 32, of Venezuela, has spent the past four weeks doing strength and conditioning work in Japan, where he spends a lot of time, and is now set to open the heavy part of his training camp in Las Vegas. The 30-year-old Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs), the two-time Olympic gold medalist, is seeking to win a world title in his third weight class in what is also his biggest fight.
“Lomachenko could have picked an easier fight,” Linares said. “But he wants to fight the best. He wants the crown. I respect Lomachenko, and I am very motivated for this fight. Like people say, I also consider him the pound-for-pound best in boxing. That’s what motivates me. I am so thankful to my team for getting me this fight. This is what I have been working for.
“I know I have to work hard, but at the same time, Lomachenko is coming up in weight. He’s the challenger and I am the champion. My thing is I am going to remain the champion after this fight and show people how good I am. This is what I have always wanted, and I am grateful to ESPN, [Lomachenko promoter] Top Rank and Lomachenko for this opportunity to show how good I am.”