Eye of the beholder: Jorge Linares readies himself for Vasiliy Lomachenko on May 12
Last Thursday morning, in the conference room of the Golden Boy Promotions office, in downtown Los Angeles, Jorge Linares held a media round table before heading into the next phase of his May 12 date with Vasiliy Lomachenko, and the WBA lightweight titleholder is confident he will bring the Ukrainian phenom back down to reality.
The fight is the main event of an ESPN broadcast and will be held in the big room at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“I’m going to shut him up. Plain and simple,” said Linares at the tail end of a 40-minute sit down. “I have my advantages: I’m the natural lightweight here. He’s coming up; he needs to get there. I know what I have to do and I’m gonna train hard, get ready and prepare but I’m going to shut him up. Plain and simple.”
Those choice words were in light of the “No-Mas-Chenko” nickname Lomachenko dubbed himself, after forcing Guillermo Rigondeaux to quit on his stool last December. “I’m not worried about it and it hasn’t crossed my mind. He needs to worry about it,” Linares added about the clever alias. Lomachenko has produced different variations of past opponents quitting in his last four fights but Linares hasn’t been impressed.
“The best I can tell you is that I feel asleep,” Linares said about Loma’s embarrassment of Rigondeaux. “I stopped watching. It wasn’t his fault. Reverse it, now he’s going up and he’s the smaller guy. Be careful because maybe the same thing happens to him. This fight is very interesting. He has his advantages, just like I have mine, and he has disadvantages, just like I have mine. The most important thing is that we both put on a great performance for the fans and that, at the end of the night, that my hand is raised because that’s what I want. As far as the No-Mas-Chenko, hey, I’m the king. Now if I want to maintain the king status, I have to work twice as hard than what I’ve done in the past.”
Linares, 44-3 (27), made it a point to reflect on his past, as he approaches what may be regarded as the biggest fight of his career on May 12. First, Linares recalled a moment two years ago when he called out Lomachenko at a Golden Boy club show just down the street from where he was sitting today.
“We were at one of the Belasco (Theater) shows and I was invited into the ring,” Linares remembered about the night of December 2, 2016. “They asked me who I would like to fight and I said I would love to fight Lomachenko and, look, now this dream became a reality. There was a lot of talks about fighting (WBC beltholder) Mikey Garcia and, for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Now this is real and, not only that, a dream come true fighting at Madison Square Garden. I think I might be the first Venezuelan to be headlining there.”
Secondly, if there was any message Linares wanted to convey on this day, it was how he has matured as a fighter over the past few years, and that he feels “El Nino de Oro” is now primed for a big win.
“I went through some tough times; you guys know,” Linares said, nonplussed by his knockout losses to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson six years ago. “Back-to-back losses. A lot of people wrote me off and everything but hard work and my dedication got me back. I’m going through the best moments of my life right now. Thirteen-fight winning streak and it’s all because of hard work. I went through some tough times and I suffered but was able to get myself up and that’s what gets me ready in the morning. When I wake up early, the motivation of fighting the best – not only Lomachenko – that really motivates me fighting the pound-for-pound best fighter in boxing but to go on and beat him and continue fighting the best in boxing.”
Last January, Linares made the third defense of his WBA lightweight title against fringe contender Mercito Gesta and the only real build-up to that fight was the question of whom he’d be fighting next. There would be no such discussion on this occasion, however, because this is THE fight and Linares is the betting underdog with a little more than a month to go.
“He is special but he’s not perfect,” Linares said about Lomachenko. “If he already lost once, he can lose again. He’s a fighter that plays with your mind and he does it very well. I don’t think the fighters are quitting or abandoning the fight because he hits so hard or because he’s so fast. It’s the mind games and he plays it well. But look, that’s what we’re working for and we’re going to be very well-prepared, both mentally and physically. I have two goals. First, that nickname that they have on him, the fans and media are going to eliminate it because I will never quit. My second is to win the fight.”
Lomachenko, 10-1 (8), hasn’t had a competitive fight in nearly four years and his move up to 135 pounds is a search for one. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has had an impressive start to an accelerated career 11 fights in, winning world titles at 126 and 130 pounds, but Linares didn’t seem all that impressed.
“I am of the belief that his biggest accomplishment has been in the amateurs,” responded Linares, when asked for Lomachenko’s best win before asking, “In the professional level, who has he really fought in that short period of time?” Even when asked for Lomachenko’s strengths in the ring – which isn’t even a debate by fighters, fans or the media – Linares was complementary but not without ending on a critical note. “He’s very fast with his hands; he has great footwork, angles, but a lot of it is repetitive. I know what I’m in for. I know that I’m not an ordinary fighter. I’m bigger; I’m faster and I think he knows and will prepare for that. Just like he is going to prepare for that, I know what I have to do. We both have to come in at our best but not like the ordinary fighters that he’s fought, in some cases, where they don’t know how to get out of trouble. They don’t know how to use their hand speed or combinations but I do.”
Linares, 32, won’t have lead trainer Ismael Salas for any of his training camp, which had already started a month ago in Japan, for strength and conditioning But seeing as how Linares seemed to know that was going to be a hot topic, he unveiled the elephant in the room.
“Ismael Salas didn’t leave me; I didn’t leave him. It’s a question of scheduling,” Linares explained. “But remember, out of these last 13 fights, there was two or three fights he was not involved in, as well. My (vacant WBC) world title win in Japan, he was not there. There’s always going to be communication with him but because of scheduling conflict, he can’t be there. We’re still going to work hard; we’re still going to train hard and the most important thing is to show up on fight night with great condition and strategy, win the fight and come out with the hand raised.”
Salas, a sought-after trainer from Cuba, is currently in England training former two-division titlist David Haye for his May 5 date with Tony Bellew. Linares has trained in London with Salas before, when preparing for a fight with Anthony Crolla in the UK, but Linares felt Las Vegas was a better fit for this camp, especially considering the fight is in the U.S.
“Jorge Capetillo, who has always been my conditioning coach, will be there,” Linares said when asked about his corner on fight night. “Rudy Hernandez will be there as well and has known me for most of my professional career. He’ll take care of the cuts and my wrapping. And my younger brother (Carlos Linares), who is a professional trainer in Japan, not because he’s my brother but he’s turned out to be a very, very good trainer. He’s big; he’s strong. I can let go with my power and he can resist it. At the end of the day, what’s important is that there is chemistry and that we connect.
“I have the strategy and I know what I have to do,” Linares continued to speak about his preparation. “I’m working on that right now. I did 145 kilometers (90 miles) in Japan for conditioning and – just to let you know – this training in Japan isn’t the first time either. Every fight, before I go to do my actual camp of sparring, I go to Japan for a month to do conditioning and it’s been going like that for the last five or six fights. I’m going to Vegas today and will start my camp Monday morning. I have everything set up for sparring and I’ll keep working hard to get ready for a very memorable night.”
When it comes to his style, everything is there for Linares: the technique, the hand speed, the ring IQ, the combinations, the experience and the defense. The Venezuelan has such a stylistic approach to how he fights, it makes him unique in his own right, just like his counterpart. Linares-Lomachenko is a tremendous match-up for the sport, as a whole – especially considering it involves promoters actually coming together to risk their fighters – and, with it being televised on such a broad platform, the world will get to see a couple of boxing’s elite talents go at it at the right time – and at the right weight. As for Linares, it’s a culmination of everything he’s endured in his career.
“I analyze myself very much. I have a mirror at home and it’s not just to see what I’m wearing. I want to see beyond the mirror, to see who I am and what I’ve become. My name, my person and who I’m going against, I analyze the situation. I say to myself, ‘Do I have a chance or do I not have a chance?’ You always have to be clear. I feel right now that I am in the best shape of my career. I know who I have to fight and I’m very clear that I can win.”