Inside the mind of one of boxing’s greatest brains ahead of his fighter Errol Spence Jr.’s world title defense against Danny Garcia

Derrick James and Errol Spence Jr.

  • Derrick James has one of boxing's best brains in his head and trains two of the world's top fighters in Jermell Charlo and Errol Spence Jr.
  • Spence returns to the ring Saturday to defend his two welterweight world titles against Danny Garcia at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
  • There is added nuance to this bout as it is Spence's first since he crashed his $300,000 Ferrari at high-speed last year.
  • So James' training camp for Spence didn't just involve preparation for Garcia, but tests to ensure he had mentally and physically recovered from the accident which left him in hospital.
  • Ahead of the return, James shared with Insider the process he has when it comes to training boxing's best fighters for battle, and said he's confident Spence will "show his greatness" this weekend.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Derrick James remembers getting a phone call at 3 a.m. to tell him that his fighter Errol Spence Jr. was in a bad way in the hospital.

It was October 2019 and Spence, regarded by Insider as America's best boxer, had crashed his $300,000 Ferrari at high-speed and was ejected from the vehicle.

CCTV footage and photographs from the wreckage looked shocking.

James did not know what to expect when he rushed to the hospital. He recently told Insider that he was not even thinking about Spence as a boxer, and was just concerned for the wellbeing of his friend.

"I got the call early in the morning at around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m," James said. "I got the call, and I was shocked, like, 'What?'

"I run down to the hospital. I talked to the doctors, the police officer who explained to me what happened, and then I spoke with the physician who told me that he'd be okay — no broken bones. So my worry was over at that point.

"I wasn't caring about boxing or whether he can do this again or that again. It was about helping my guy. Finding out if my friend was okay. And so when I got that from the doctor, I was okay.

"When I heard him say he hadn't broken anything – nothing was fractured and no ligaments were torn — that was good," James told us.

"I would then call to check on him and see how he was doing."

Spence posted photos to his Instagram of the wreckage and its effect on his face:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CGLaI9kAlxn

James has another pound-for-pound caliber boxer in his stable — the unified super welterweight world champion Jermell Charlo, twin brother of Jermall, a middleweight champion.

The Charlo brothers are among the sport's biggest characters and their chaotic energy around the fight game acts as a contrast to the cool, calm, and collected nature of Spence.

James told Insider that Jermell was desperate to visit Spence in hospital when he found out that his friend was in a car accident.

"He wanted to come but because the hospital was so bombarded, they told everybody to stay away, stay home. He and his brother wanted to come up so bad.

"When he got to see him, it was great because they've got great love for each other, great appreciation for each other and their skillset."

Spence was then seen in public supporting Charlo

Six days after the incident, Dallas Police charged Spence with a DWI [driving while intoxicated], misdemeanor B, according to Dallas-Ft.Worth CBS.

He was next seen in public in December when he traveled to California to support Charlo.

"He came to Jermell's fight to ease his way back out," James said. "To make an appearance with the public, but it was a pick-me-up for Jermell to have Errol at the fight in Anaheim."

Charlo's performance that night was exemplary, beating Tony Harrison by knockout in the 11th round in a bitter rematch, reclaiming his WBC title at 154-pounds.

The 30-year-old has kept James busy even in the coronavirus era as they prepared for a title unification match with Jeison Rosario in an event Insider called the biggest card of the pandemic at that point.

Again, Charlo excelled, flooring Rosario four times and finishing him with a double jab to the body which punctuated all the grueling work he had done before.

Rosario was left gasping for air on the floor, seemingly finding it difficult to breathe, and simply unable to get up.

"It caught me by surprise, just like it caught Rosario by surprise," James said of the brutal result.

"The way he was hitting, Rosario never stopped coming. He's a good puncher, kept coming, man, and when you believe in yourself, keep coming and coming, it's hard to stop that.

"But Jermell stopped that. He's is the guy now, and he'll fight who he has to fight."

After four sparring sessions, Spence knew he'd recover just fine

Errol Spence Jr.
Photo by Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions

After his appearance at Charlo's fight in December 2019, Spence called James in January, wanting to get back in the ring himself.

By March, the winning partnership of Spence and James was back in action, with the trainer working behind-the-scenes to monitor the fighter's recovery, and get him back to his best.

"In March, he said, 'Let's go!" And we've been working since then," James told us.

At a virtual press conference last month, Spence said it took up to four sparring sessions with James to feel like he was on the road to recovery.

"The first time I sparred it kinda felt weird … like, I feel real, real weird," said Spence. "At probably like the third or fourth sparring session [back], everything started clicking and I feel sharp as a tack now."

James said it was all a test for him. "I'm always testing his reactions time. Is he reacting the way I need him to react?

"I'm always testing him because being comfortable is a horrible thing in boxing. You cannot get comfortable. You can't get into a groove so good you don't want to get out of it.

"That's when Danny Garcia is always catching people, knocking people out. You can't get comfortable, can't relax, you always stay focused."

Spence faces off against Garcia on Saturday in his return fight, one of the biggest bouts of 2020.

James shared his coaching process for battle-ready fighters

Derrick James.
Photo by Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions

James, 48, was a pro boxer himself, finishing his career in 2008 with a record of 21 wins (12 knockouts) against seven losses and one draw.

The Texan competed many times in his home state, and his hometown, Dallas.

James knew the local boxing scene well and regularly attended amateur shows. One day, he sat next to Spence's father, Errol Spence Sr.

Boxing Social reported that James left such a great impression on Spence Sr. that he was asked to coach Spence Jr., and he has never left his side since.

James has nurtured Spence into an unbeaten beast, and was named Trainer of the Year by The Ring magazine and Yahoo! Sports in 2017, after the fighter knocked out Kell Brook in England.

It was the same year he guided Jermell Charlo to knockout wins over Charles Hatley and Erickson Lubin.

Insider asked James if it's tough to coach Charlo for one huge fight against Rosario, to then train Spence who has his own tough assignment against Garcia.

"It's trying and tough to go from one big camp like that to another big, pay-per-view camp — very intense. They have different personalities, but the work ethic and the work is all the same, going from Jermell to Errol, never slowing down, get right into it."

James said he's had slight wear-and-tear from having to endure back-to-back world championship camps.

"But that's what you got to do to be great, to push Errol to be great, and that's cool — that's okay."

He then shared his process when it comes to training elite talents for battle.

"I'll watch what Garcia does and then try to mimic what he does myself. And do my best to throw the punches that he throws, so that we will be expecting everything. Then I have something, an answer, for what he throws.

"So, 'If he does this, you do that. If he does that, you do this.' That's really what it is. It's not a round-per-round thing, but situational — you can do several things within that moment that we've worked on to prepare him for anything that we think can possibly happen.

"Any punch that Danny Garcia can throw, we've worked on and prepared for that, to basically slip it, roll it, block it, or at the same time counter it.

"To prepare for every different scenario and every punch he throws, just to make him more familiar with it. To let him know: 'This punch may come, that punch may come.'

"And I do that by talking to him, and I throw the punches [at him], too. So he will not be in unfamiliar territory when he gets into the ring."

'Success is like a lady,' James says

Derrick James and Errol Spence Jr. on stage with Danny Garcia and Angel Garcia.
Photo by Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions

What's extraordinary about James is though he trains two of the world's best boxers, he is yet to quit his day job.

He still works at Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas as a boxing instructor, and is the personal trainer for the American billionaire businessman Ross Perot Jr., who he teaches boxing.

This means he still has to wake up most mornings at 4 a.m., which begs the question why bother to juggle both jobs when presumably he could focus full-time on coaching champions.

For James, it's a matter of professional pride. "I still work my job because I think you have to be consistent. I haven't got to a point to where I'm comfortable. So I keep working, and keep pushing yourself.

"Success is like a lady," he told us. "Dating, to getting married, the thing that it took to get to that point, is the same thing that takes for you to keep that, to keep that woman.

"So you've got to stay on it, stay working, and don't relax. Ease is one of the most adverse things to progress," he said. "I don't want it to be easy. I want to keep pushing myself to be better, to be great."

There have been increasing murmurs of late that 2021 could yield a fight between Spence and Terence Crawford, or Spence and Saul Alvarez.

Either would be amongst the very best fights boxing can produce. But neither, right now, are on James' mind.

"Man, my focus is on Danny Garcia and I can't see past him," he said. "I can't even talk about that. Danny Garcia has one of the best resumes in boxing, compared to Terence Crawford — his don't even stand-up. Let's not talk about that.

"Think about this, you got a guy who's coming off a car accident and a pandemic, and he chooses to fight Danny Garcia.

"And then you have a guy in a pandemic who chooses to fight Kell Brook [Crawford]. Let's not even mention that, but talk about the big fight — Garcia. A tough guy who had questionable losses to top guys.

"Garcia is very dangerous," James stressed, adding that the Philadelphian looked "phenomenal" against Adrian Bernados and Ivan Redkach.

"This fight with Garcia is a giant task especially coming off an accident, but Spence will show his greatness."

The Premier Boxing Champions event will be broadcast on December 5 on Fox Sports pay-per-view in the US.

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