The Juggernaut returns: WBO interim champ Joyce faces Zhang on April 15Feb 2 | 3 min read
Exclusive: Ismael Salas on life in camp with ‘machine’ Joe Joyce ahead of Joseph Parker fight
The legendary cornerman speaks exclusively to BTSport.com about his lengthy affiliation with Joyce as ‘The Juggernaut’ prepares for war on BT Sport Box Office this Saturday night.
The 2016 Olympic silver medallist is undefeated through 14 professional contests to date, including 13 wins coming inside the distance – but the teak-tough Parker has never been stopped and comes into the bout on a six-fight win streak that includes a pair of victories over Dereck Chisora in his last two outings.
Joyce’s chances of victory have been greatly enhanced by his reunion with revered cornerman Ismael Salas in recent months, rekindling a partnership that began more than six years ago.
“I’ve been with Joe since his pro debut,” Salas told BTSport.com during an exclusive chat this week.
“He came from winning that silver medal at the Olympics and his management group reached out to me and asked me if I could work with Joe, so we did.
I received many calls from many friends in boxing telling me not to work with Joe!
- Ismael Salas
“One thing I saw very clearly when I met Joe for the first time, we were at David Haye’s gym [in Bermondsey, London] and I saw him dancing Capoeira [a Brazilian martial art] and I was surprised!
“This guy was 270lb, maybe 280lb, 6ft 7ins and he’s flipping over this way and that way! That told me this guy has real sporting ability. His explosiveness comes from his feet.”
Over the years, circumstances conspired to prevent Salas from remaining a constant in Joyce’s corner, from injury to the pandemic to illness and everything in-between.
“Before the Daniel Dubois fight, we had been working together again for four months,” he continued.
“However, the day before the fight I got covid and had to return home! But Joe fought and he won because he had a good plan.”
Salas is one of the most respected names in boxing having worked with some of the finest fighters in history.
He cornered legendary Cuban amateur heavyweight Felix Savon to three Olympic gold medals and six world championships, as well as working with fellow countryman Guillermo Rigondeaux, himself a two-time Olympic gold medallist who later won world titles in two weight divisions.
In more recent times, Danny Green, Yuriorkis Gamboa, David Haye and Nonito Donaire are among those who have sought to learn from one of boxing's great minds.
But what is it exactly that has brought the nomadic trainer so much success?
“I have a master’s degree in sports science and my philosophy is that I love to work with biomechanics. Every human body is different, so I try to apply boxing as a human science,” the 65-year-old explained.
“There are so many boxing trainers out there and everybody has their own way, but my way is to try and understand how to make the body into a boxing ‘machine’. I love it.
“If you go back to Vegas and walk in my gym, you will see there are lines all over the floor, I am always thinking about angles and body position. The worst punch in boxing is the one you can’t see.”
A trainer with a passion for programming athletic ‘machines’ may seem the ideal stylistic fit for a fighter like Joyce – but there were some who believed Salas should stay away from the 37-year-old.
“I received many calls from many friends in boxing telling me not to work with Joe!” Salas revealed.
“They said ‘This guy is a robot, nobody can change him’ But I love being challenged! I even created my own way of teaching to deal with such a big body like Joe.
“One thing I have to make clear is that every human has talent for different fields in life. Joe’s talent, I have found, is he’s very durable. He is very hard-working, and he has a big heart and a big chin. All of these are desirable attributes.
Parker did not have the engine to stop Chisora when he was ready to be stopped
- Ismael Salas
“Of course, Joe is not the greatest exhibitionist of pure boxing, he doesn’t rely on movement, counterpunching or things like that. But I thought to myself ‘If I can find a way to work this huge machine, I think we can do something’.”
Salas’ eye for talent has been wholly vindicated up to this point too with Joyce laying waste to every man who has come before him on his steep learning curve since turning pro.
But the step up to Parker is clearly a significant one with Joyce stepping up to face a younger man with more experience against better opposition in the pro ranks.
However, Salas is quick to point out the holes in Parker’s resume as evidence his man can get the job done.
“He [Parker] fought with Anthony Joshua and lost, he fought with Dillian Whyte and lost. He fought with Dereck Chisora two times, both were horrible fights. He fought with Junior Fa, that was a horrible fight! Parker has had more downs than ups," Salas said.
“He is a warrior, we cannot take that away. He has never been stopped in any fight but I think he has been flat many times during fights. For example, the last fight with Chisora. He hurt Chisora but he was a flat tyre! He did not have the engine to stop Chisora when he was ready to be stopped.”
That is not a criticism that could ever be levelled at Joyce, whose relentless forward pressure and, at times, reckless aggression have earned him his ‘Juggernaut’ nickname.
But under the studious gaze of his esteemed trainer, Joyce remains a work in progress whose application to the sport is stronger than it has ever been, a testament to the teamwork and connection he has forged with Salas.
“We have always had great communication. Sometimes my Spanish-English is not that clear, I know. But we have created a kind of code between us," Salas continued.
“When he comes to the corner I can just press the button and away he goes. I say many crazy things and nobody knows what I mean, only Joe!”
Victory on Saturday night would see Joyce crowned WBO interim heavyweight champion, securing some nice jewellery for the mantelpiece and with it, a strong shout that he is next in line for a crack at the full world title.
With so much on the line, Team Joyce pulled out all the stops to bring in a number of world class sparring partners during a gruelling camp in Las Vegas, helping bring out the best in Joyce over the past few weeks.
“Joe Joyce has to be the best he has ever been to beat Joseph Parker,” said Salas.
“Training camp has been the best we’ve ever shared. We have had great, quality sparring. We maybe 40 rounds with Carlos Takam, a very, very tough customer. We’ve also had Michael Hunter, Johnny Fisher, it’s been a great, great training camp. We’ve made some adjustments for sure.
“Let’s go for it now. Joe might not say much but the real talk will be on Saturday night. He will show how much he’s improved.”
Watch Joyce vs Parker exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office HD this Saturday night from 6pm. Click here to find out how you can order this unmissable event.