Anthony Crolla's conqueror Jorge Linares left Venezuela for Japan to become a three-weight world champion
By James Dielhenn
Last Updated: 22/03/17 2:36pm
The public transport ran like clockwork, and that's what first grabbed Jorge Linares about Tokyo. He was a million miles from home and couldn't speak the language, but the bus was never late.
That was all he required. In Venezuela he craved routine but, in a strange land on the other side of the world, he had found it. It was the missing link that Linares knew, even at an early age, could turn him into a future world champion.
He was a skilled amateur who went 89-5, winning national prizes in his homeland, but that may have counted for little unless he was willing to leave behind his entire life in Venezuela. Even as an adolescent, Linares was already too savvy to ignore an enticing offer from a well-connected compatriot - namely, the president of the World Boxing Association, which was located in his home country.
"Gilberto Mendoza Jr asked if he would go to Japan, so he went," recalls Rudy Hernandez, a coach who still oversees Linares to this day.
"He was a very talented amateur, he stood out. He was too young to turn pro in Venezuela but, in Japan, you can be a pro at 17. He liked it so much that he stayed.
"It was his goal to become a world champion and being in Japan, with Teiken Promotions, he stood a better chance."
He was too young to turn pro in Venezuela but, in Japan, you can be a pro at 17. He liked it so much that he stayed.
Mendoza Jr, of Venezuelan lineage, put the country's newest teenage sensation in touch with Tokyo-based Teiken promising a faster route to the top. It was a 9,000-mile flight into the unknown for Linares but he believed every word he was told.
Everything was taken care of, meaning Linares just had to focus on fighting. He boxed under the tutelage of Sendai Tanaka, the Japanese trainer responsible for Marco Antonio Barrera's undoing of Prince Naseem Hamed. Tanaka, as a result, spoke Spanish.
"He was really comfortable right from the get-go," said Hernandez, who also met the 17-year-old Linares. "He adjusted well because he knew there was a reason why he was there. His purpose was to be a boxer - a world champion - and his mind was set on that.
"He adjusted to the Japanese customs. The structure in Japan is completely different to Venezuela, and he liked it.
He adjusted to the Japanese customs. The structure in Japan is completely different to Venezuela, and he liked it.
"He enjoyed it because there was a lot of discipline, and he was a disciplined kid. He saw how things were completely different from Venezuela."
The buses were never late. The teenage Linares could keep to a strict schedule imposed by his new trainer Tanaka, spending time solely between the gym and his apartment. He had never suited the laid-back, sunny lifestyle of Venezuela where the bus arrived whenever it was ready.
The language remained a problem, and for months he could only converse with Tanaka. Immersed in his new surroundings, he was an eager learner but Japanese isn't something that can be picked up overnight.
Aged 17, was he lonely? "At first, yes. But it got to the point where it wasn't a problem," Hernandez reflected. "He was always well taken care of. There were a few people who spoke Spanish - sparring partners would often be there.
"The language barrier wasn't too hard - being so young, he was able to catch on."
The language barrier wasn't too hard - being so young, he was able to catch on.
Nicknamed ゴールデンボーイ(the Golden Boy), he was 7-0 by his 18th birthday, boxing solely in Japan. By 23, his Japanese was virtually flawless and he became a world champion by halting Oscar Larios for the WBC featherweight title.
The bright lights of Tokyo's night-life became more welcoming when he could speak the language. "Yes, he likes that a lot, he got so used to it," chuckled Hernandez. Linares gained comfort, got married, and never once considered going home.
But where is Linares' home? It's a strange concept, as he proved by his comfort in Manchester when he out-pointed Anthony Crolla last September. Linares has boxed on four continents, yet had just four fights back in Venezuela.
Should Crolla rely on hometown advantage for the rematch? Infamously, Linares found himself a stranger in the faraway land of London in 2015 but wrecked Kevin Mitchell's world title dream, and his eye socket. Crolla already knows that the WBA lightweight champion has a loose perception of fighting away from home.
Watch the Jorge Linares v Anthony Crolla rematch, at the Manchester Arena, March 25, live on Sky Sports.