The 2017 Trainer of the Year breaks down his philosophy, the gameplan for Mikey Garcia and looks ahead to the Jermell Charlo-Tony Harrison rematch.
Derrick James may not admit it, but he’s probably tired of answering questions about Errol Spence Jr. defeating Mikey Garcia.
It’s been almost a month since that memorable night in Arlington. And James, who trains Spence, isn’t the type to dwell on past accomplishments—especially since his life away from the ring is as busy as Spence is in it.
James’ oldest son will graduate from college this summer. At home, he and his wife are kept busy by their two nine-year-old daughters; Irish twins who are the same age three months out of each year.
Family aside, James, 47, spends the rest of his time at his newly-built World Class Boxing Gym in Dallas and working full-time as a personal trainer, holding boxing classes for white collar professionals.
The even-keel trainer maintains the same grind that got him here. But as much as he tries to downplay it, Spence-Garcia wasn’t your typical fight. Not only was it Spence’s first PPV headliner, there was the added pressure of fighting in front of hometown fans in Texas and being the favorite to beat an undefeated four-division champion who claimed to “see something,” like Max Schmeling once said of Joe Louis before dispatching him.
James knew not to take Garcia lightly. He learned that on July 29, 2017, watching from ringside as Garcia fought Adrien Broner in a super lightweight bout at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The pride of Oxnard, California, used his boxing skills, and underrated power, to cruise to a unanimous decision win.
The performance compelled James to search Garcia out afterward.
“I really don’t watch a lot of boxing,” James admitted. “When I do, I look for technique; great skill. I saw that in Mikey. I approached him and told him, ‘Man, I love the way you fight. I like the way you’re consistent with your jab.’
“I didn’t know we’d be facing him a year-and-a-half later.”
595 days, in fact.
On March 16, Spence and Garcia squared off for Spence’s IBF welterweight title in front of a crowd of 47,525 at AT&T Stadium. Nearly 400,000 more watched from home in the first ever PBC on FOX PPV.
What they witnessed was a breakout performance from a budding superstar. The undefeated Spence pitched a 12-round shutout. But it was how he won that impressed. Spence masterfully outboxed the boxer, using his southpaw jab, footwork, counterpunching and defense to keep Garcia off-balance.
Spence’s performance looked effortless—something the greats can do on the biggest of stages. Following his 2003 whitewashing of heavyweight title holder John Ruiz, Roy Jones Jr. was asked if he knew it would be so easy. The bemused Jones shook his head and replied, “It wasn’t easy at all. This took a lot of preparation.”
So too did Spence’s domination of Garcia.
“We used the same guys for sparring we normally use,” said James. “We have a heavyweight, a super middleweight, a 140-pounder—who was new to the group—and [super welterweight] Thomas Hill. Errol spars anywhere from 14 to 18 rounds a session, sometimes even 20. Conditioning is never an issue.
“It’s hard to find a fighter with Mikey’s technique and skillset, so I mimicked Mikey on the mitts. I threw the different types of punches he throws from the angles he uses. Mikey can throw his right hand in different ways. Errol was prepared to look for those shots.”
James says he begins studying videotapes of an opponent once the inaugural press conference is scheduled. However, finding flaw in the accomplished Mexican-American wasn’t easy.