The stable is small, and not growing. For some trainers, that would be a bad sign. To them, a large gym with many fighters eager to work with them is the ultimate sign of success.
That’s not Derrick James’ way.
His stable of boxers is intentionally small. He trains WBC super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo, who defends his title on Showtime against Austin Trout on June 9 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. Spence, who may be the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, faces Carlos Ocampo on June 16 at The Ford Center in Frisco, Texas.
He doesn’t have any more and he doesn’t want any more.
“This isn’t an easy job,” James said of training high-level boxers. “The thing is, I don’t want 29 other fighters. I’m good with my guys. You can’t be what you say you need to be for the guys if you have too many fighters, so it’s not my deal. I hope I keep getting better, we keep winning and keep looking great.”
James lucked into becoming Spence’s trainer. A former boxer himself who lost out on a shot at making the 1992 U.S. Olympic boxing team when he lost to Chris Byrd in the Olympic Trials, James made it a point to go to amateur shows around Dallas, where he lives.
He happened to see Spence and met Spence’s father. A conversation ensued and Spence’s father asked him to train his son.
They’ve gone on to become one of the best duos in boxing. Spence is a powerfully hard puncher, but he’s technically sound with brilliant footwork and few flaws. Even a harsh critic like Floyd Mayweather raves about him.
Much of that is due to James’ work. Since for a long time Spence was his only pro, they put in long hours refining technique.
Spence laughingly refers to those refinements as James “nagging” him.
“My nagging, working on the fundamentals and the techniques, ‘Move your head like this, move your foot like this, dip like this,’ that I constantly do over and over until now [has made a big difference],” James said. “We were getting interviewed together and [Spence] said I nagged him to death. I’m so much about fundamentals and form.
“If you look at boxing today, well, when we were amateurs, everyone fought similar styles. But the guys who were winning were the guys who mimicked that style the best. … I’m all about slowing things down and having great reaction time and great timing and great defense, all of that.”
It’s worked and he’s made Spence almost into a model of what a young fighter should aspire to become. When Spence turned pro after the 2012 Olympics, he was compared to Sugar Ray Leonard, and while he’s not as flashy or as charismatic as Leonard, there are indeed numerous similarities.
James has also worked his magic with Charlo, who had success under his old trainers but wasn’t the force he’s become. James said the change was simple.
“The biggest difference in Jermell is I’ve been able to work with him on his technique and his confidence is there now,” James said. “If you remember before, he was moving a lot, a lot of movement and a lot of dancing.”
Now, Charlo isn’t moving a lot and is creating angles to throw his punches. Training with Spence – those sparring sessions would make money on pay-per-view – has forced him to be more active.
“He has to because he’s got to get Errol off of him,” James said.
The 2017 Yahoo Sports Trainer of the Year, James is making a big name for himself. But he’s never going to be one of those trainers like Freddie Roach or the late Emanuel Steward who always had a bunch of fighters looking for his attention.
Jose Ramirez, the WBC super lightweight champion, recently left Roach because they didn’t spend enough time together because of all the other fighters Roach has to train.
The James Approach will be front-and-center the next two weeks, and he’ll finally get the opportunity to be acknowledged far and wide for what he has become: The best trainer in boxing today.
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