As I staggered sheepishly through the tiny door at the Hayemaker gym, I was asked to take a seat on the edge of the ring apron. It was my first visit to the facility, almost camouflaged along the Thames. We squeezed past David’s cars, exchanging grunts with a newly-signed Joe Joyce.
The gentleman looking after me as I waited for the fighter I had arranged to see, asked, ‘Would you like to meet Salas?’ Naturally, my answer was yes. Lying face down at the back of the room, mid-massage, he was significantly smaller than the table, but far larger than life.
It had been an eventful year-or-so since Ismael Salas uprooted his family and his stable, moving to London. A painful defeat for David Haye and some mixed performances from the Hayemaker stable he had inherited: the Cuban legend was philosophical when discussing his time in the Capital, exclusively with Boxing Social.
“My memories [made] in London are great, as always. I have great memories all around the world. I have experienced every corner of it, so I get the best out of it, anywhere I touch with my feet! England right now has a very healthy season in boxing. So many great fighters and most importantly, Matchroom Sports bringing opportunities for many fighters and fight fans.”
Salas, now residing in Doha, Qatar, had seen it all. We spoke in-depth during a previous interview about the ‘system’ and how a fighter can truly excel when following the fundamentals. He had told me stories of Thailand, Australia, Japan and of course, his native Cuba. With an astonishing twenty-one World champions, Ismael could only semi-commit to retirement.
“It’s not a new decision, it was long [planned] before I joined with Hayemaker. The plan was to move to Doha. But I got an offer from David Haye to help him for his rematch against Tony Bellew.” Salas continued.
“I have a great future due my vision in life! I feel like more than a trainer. I [was] born to be a teacher, so we will hear a lot more good things about my fighters!”
Since the prohibition of professional boxing in Cuba, Salas has been one of the sport’s constants. Immovable and immeasurably successful, he had coached Thailand’s first ever Olympic medalists, brought unthinkable success to Australian Danny Green and dabbled with Yuriorkis Gamboa, Guillermo Rigondeaux and the Barthelemy brothers, amongst many others. His résumé takes pride of place when reflecting on his achievements.
When speaking last, it was a rejuvenated Venezuelan that had catapulted the man in the platform shoes back into boxing’s forefront.
Salas had taken Jorge Linares from the brink of retirement to recognised World champion, when even his Japanese promoter had doubted him. The twice-WBA trainer of the year told me they approached him in order to help Linares transition from fighter to coach, something the Cuban believes will happen, eventually. However, when completing his initiation with ‘The Golden Boy’, he was in no doubt that further honours as a fighter were attainable.
His work with Jorge was exceptional, yet before their massive bout with Vasyl Lomachenko, the pair split. Salas explained, “About Jorge Linares, I don’t think we will work [together] anymore. Linares was one stop in my long journey. I just brought him back from scratch to the top, and again after a fighter gets to a certain level, it is hard to take them away from their comfort zone.”
With the progression of boxing in the UK, many would argue it was the wrong time to depart London. The heavyweight scene is buzzing, and one man tearing his way to the top is the ‘Juggernaut’ Joe Joyce. Since winning the silver medal in Rio, all of his professional contests had been overseen by Ismael.
At time of writing, Joyce is in Big Bear, under new tutelage in the form of renowned trainer Abel Sanchez. Joyce had paid Salas immense tribute, a main who had added fluidity to his boxing, varied his attacks and, of course, taught him some slick, Latin dancing!
“As a human, it’s not sad at all! It’s a journey and Joe for me, was another stop on my long journey [in boxing]. I am so proud to have worked with him. He is a great person and working so hard that I believe, one day soon, he will get to the top of the world stage. He has very hidden, great talents. It was a great opportunity for him to learn the fundamentals he was missing.”
On the subject of Joyce’s new training link, Salas added, “Actually, I understand Joe needs to get a new trainer to be close to him and my condition of always moving from one place to another, it’s hard [for him] to be in his comfort zone.”
The future for Ismael is, amongst other things, very warm. Qatar, the oil-rich nation hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, are continually looking to improve their performance within popular sports. After an influx of top, professional footballers they have now shown an interest in pugilism. The Cuban legend has moved himself and his beautiful family, once again, for the sport which he calls his ‘life’.
Leaving David Haye and the Hayemaker stable was, to the untrained eye, an action taken following the defeat to Tony Bellew. However Salas opened up on his purpose in the Middle East and his acrimonious departure from Vauxhall, London.
“By my request, Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani kept on hold the move to Doha until the [Bellew] fight was done. We have a big project in Doha, with Aspire Academy for underprivileged kids.
“My relationship with David [Haye] is good and healthy, like with all my fighters under the fundamentals of mutual respect.”
The word fundamental stuck with me. Basics. The foundation for success. There was no overly-flashy padwork when I had visited the gym, no ultra-technological devices. Ismael would set up stations in the ring, cordon off areas with elastic or tape and drill the ‘system’.
It was a recipe that had stood the test of time, cementing his legacy.
His journey had taken him to all five continents, stepping through the ropes in venues worldwide. Jorge Linares and Joe Joyce were ‘stops’ on his journey, but so were fighters with lesser profiles. His passion was always evident to me. He spoke with flair, rhythm and intent. Ismael Salas didn’t lack confidence, but oozed class and respect.
As much as he calls Doha and his project his ‘semi-retirement’, I have a feeling it will be a long goodbye.
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209