By Jeff Zimmerman
Although the name Derrick James may not be a household name like other trainers such as Freddie Roach, Nacho Beristain or Robert Garcia, that could change pretty quickly for the 45-year-old former fighter from Dallas, Texas. It has been less than 10 years since his last pro fight, where he went a respectable 21-7-1 12 KOs, and is now on the verge of having 3 world champions under his tutelage.
His #1 horse is Errol Spence Jr. who fights Kell Brook May 27th for the IBF welterweight title and is considered by many as the next superstar of the sport. He also has Jermell Charlo, the reigning WBC super welterweight champion, who defends his belt this weekend against Charles Hatley, someone James knows extremely well from their years in the Dallas boxing scene. And then there is Rob Brandt the #3 ranked middleweight by the WBA who is working towards a title shot later this year.
James though doesn’t seek the spotlight and is not keen on building a big stable of fighters, in fact, he has a full-time gig of personal training in boxing, of all things, that he loves doing. But over the next six weeks he could have two world champions and a third on its way.
Although most of the attention in the media has been on Spence Jr and his fight against Brook and understandably so, James has been preparing Charlo against Hatley at the same time. This fight had been postponed previously from March 11th but is finally here as the co-main event to Andre Berto vs Shawn Porter this Saturday at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY and shown live on Showtime.
It also carries a little extra juice as Charlo is from Houston so there’s the battle of Texas and Hatley was ridiculed by some for jumping in the ring after Jermell’s brother, Jermall, won his world title last year even though Jermell would be his future opponent. The Charlo Bros took that as a sign of disrespect, though James doesn’t see that as having any impact on the fight.
“It’s old news. It’s in the past, it happened. That was a mishap and everybody wants to forget about it, even Charles I would think. It won’t have any effect.”
James also did something very different for Charlo’s camp this time. He brought in his ace to test his current champion as this is only his and Charlo’s 3rd fight together.
“The key element I think in this whole situation is Errol Spence. I think that before I kept them out of the gym so that each could have their own time and never let them mix time because I wanted Errol to have his time, Jermell to have his time, Rob to have his time and I believe that I needed to see something out of Jermell that I didn’t know if he had or not, that I wanted to bring that toughness or whatever out, he has it. He’s a great boxer and what I saw when he was sparring Errol is exactly what I needed to see to be able to contend with Charles Hatley.”
James added, “As the sparring went on, he looked good, he looked really great, he looked really strong and I saw what I need to see as a trainer and to feel confident in Jermell and us fighting Charles Hatley.”
The Hatley clan is a well-known name in Dallas boxing circles and James knows them well. Spence Jr. and Hatley have even sparred in the past. James knows what Hatley brings to the table.
“Well I think that is mental toughness, his physicality, I think that sometimes he gets physical, he’s real tough and he is physically strong at times, that’s the key to everything winning the fight, we just have to stick to our fundamentals, stick to our basics and we should be able to win.”
James is not one for making predictions but does believe in what he teaches.
“I never look for knockouts but I believe if the punches land that we work on then it will probably be a knockout.”
James knows Charlo has a life outside boxing and is dabbling in Hollywood and other things, but is confident that he knows how to balance it all.
“He’s very disciplined, he’s very hardworking. You see him and see what he’s doing. Everything with that Hollywood stuff is Hollywood, when in Houston it’s Houston, when he’s here he’s here. He has no choice to be submerged on what we are doing here because we train on a high level. We train really hard on a high level. If you’re not ready, you’re going to be left behind, so that’s what it is.”
James continued, “I have seen so much. You see his grittiness, his toughness, his roughness, the honesty, brutally honest about certain things and sparring with Errol and what he’s doing in the ring. He’s ready.”
Charlo indicated in the past he has no desire to move to 160 like his brother and that making 154 is fairly easy, even for someone of his stature. James agrees.
“No problem making weight at all and he’s a really big guy. A big guy for the 154lb class, 6’0” tall. You will see a great fight, it’s not going to be given to us, Jermell will have to work to retain his title and I think he will do that.”
It was also reported recently that Hatley is suing his promoter Don Kings which can only be a distraction so close to the fight. James, though, can’t worry about that as he has to keep his fighter focused.
“I have no thoughts, I wish them the best. I hope they get whatever they are looking for and you know that’s about it. I have to focus on my guys, it’s unfortunate that they are suing their promoter and must feel like they have just due or some reason why they should be doing it and I wish them the best. I am focused on my guys Jermell Charlo, Errol Spence and Rob Brandt, that’s it.”
It’s not every day that you see fighters of this caliber share camp together but for Charlo and Spence Jr. they have made it work seamlessly according to James.
“They have known each other for years, they knew each other in the amateurs and as pros we kind of interact at times with the same people. We fought on a Golden Boy card before and we’re both with Al Haymon and the PBC so we have been around each other. We spent a little time together at the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight that’s where we got closer at Mayweather-Pacquiao, Errol, Jermell and myself. But they have known each other for years but their bond has grown you see them interact and have a lot of fun together, crack jokes, that’s a good thing, you can’t beat that.”
James firmly believes that bringing Charlo and Spence Jr together will pay huge dividends for both in their upcoming fights.
“I brought Errol in for sparring because Charles is tough. He’s strong, he’s very physical at times and Errol brings out the best in everybody. And I believe that before the Kell Brook fight, Jermell is coming back to spar with Errol also. We don’t use sparring partners, we use real fighters.”