The Fundamentals With ... Derrick James

The trainer of two unified world champions breaks down the sweet science ahead of the return of his fighter, Errol Spence Jr., who takes on two-division champion Danny Garcia on Saturday, December 5, in a welterweight world title showdown live on FOX Sports PPV.

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Derrick James Confirms Errol Spence Jr. is Ready for Danny Garcia

It has been 11 momentous years since coach Derrick James first began working with "The Truth," Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs). Spence went on to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and is now the unified WBC and IBF World Welterweight Champion. 

On Saturday, December 5, Spence will take on two-division world champion Danny Garcia in front of fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, live on FOX Sports pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT)

In his own words, here’s a look at how James breaks down the fundamentals.

Preparation

“People like to say, 'easy work,' right? I'm like, are you for real? Do you know how hard you have to work to make a good fighter look like that? It's not easy at all. Do you know how hard you have to work to beat a Mikey Garcia? A Shawn Porter at what he does?”

“Boxing is a sport of probabilities. To give Errol confidence, I'm looking at it from the perspective of a fighter. How would I feel as a fighter if I didn't know what to do if I'm in the corner or on the ropes? 

“People think because you're back up against the ropes that you're defensive, but that may be where you want him to be because you’re setting him up. Or a situation that appears to be uncomfortable for someone else, but Errol’s comfortable because we worked on it over and over when I put him in this position. 

“You don't want anything to be unfamiliar.” 

The Jab

"The jab has several jobs. It has the job of setting up shots, creating distance, keeping the guy occupied…it does more than any other punch you can throw."

"If you throw the jab to the body correctly, you use your arm and your shoulder as defense to the counter left hook. You’re not shooting down, because then you’d expose yourself to the left hook. You shoot it straight out but bend your knees and keep your head level to the jab, so your shoulder blocks the left hook. To hit you, he has to come over that punch.”

Combination Punching

Recently, Spence’s open workout streamed live on YouTube. 

“People were saying he looks slow, his timing is this and that. People are so enamored of the fast [flashy style] mitts, they look for that. It's not so much about how fast you throw, it's all about your timing. 

“If you can imagine, I throw a hook to the head, the guy puts his hands up. Then it's a split second for me to get to the body. Errol is reading and computing and seeing your reactions when he's throwing one punch and the next. I don't [teach] combinations. He puts his punches together so fast that it looks like combinations, but in actuality they’re not. That’s why he's so accurate.

“People want the show. Well, the show is the fight.”

Volume Punching

In Spence’s most recent match, a September 2019 split decision win over Shawn Porter, one of the most standout elements was the sheer number of punches thrown by each boxer.

“One of the things you do in fighting a volume puncher is you take away his ability to land shots. That slows him down. If you look at all of boxing, you really don't see guys throw that many punches, right? Especially not the welterweight division. Shawn Porter fights the whole fight. And I always taught Errol to fight the whole round of the whole fight. 

“There are no fighters really in boxing, especially not in the welterweight division, who fight at the pace [Spence and Porter] fight at.” 

Inside Fighting

“We worked on two strategies [for the fight against Shawn Porter],” James explained. “One strategy was to box. The other was to fight [in close range]. It's unrealistic to go into a fight against Shawn Porter without preparing for a fight to break out. Errol chose to fight. He wanted to fight and beat Porter at his own game. So I had to coach from that perspective.

“People say, 'You're smothering your punches,' which is something they've heard people say over and over. You can't smother your shots if you adjust your punches to the distance that you're at. 

“I would do things like make Errol throw a long shot like a jab and then I'd step closer and tell him to throw another jab. So you learn to adjust your punches. If you get a fighter who's throwing long shots when you're right up in his face, that's the perfect guy to fight against on the inside because he doesn't know how to adjust his punches to the distance he's at.”

All the struggles, all the battles of life, are faced in boxing. Trainer - Derrick James

Defense

“The first thing I did was teach Errol defense. I wanted him to embrace that if there’s a storm, you can be calm within it. You know that your defense is gonna prevail. Defense is confidence.

If you do get hit, it’s like you’re daring them to get in another shot. You got one shot in, but will you get another one?' I teach him to self-correct. I teach him if you got hit with something, it wasn’t something your opponent did—it was something you did or didn’t do.

“Think about it this way: When Mike Tyson came back [after a long layoff], he had a different trainer and they didn’t focus on what he’d learned before; the defense, the head movement. So he was not as confident because he couldn’t get away from the punches.”

The Mind

“I’ve been working with Errol for 11 years. Each year you see [his mental toughness] more and more. Boxing is like humanity. If a person is shy in life, it takes a little bit to get them to show you who they really are and bring the dog out.

“You throw punches to make him react so he opens up. It's not just throwing punches. It's ‘How can I shoot my shot, get it in, and not get hit with his?’ It's not as brutal a sport as people think. It's using intelligence, intellect, to get you what you want. 

“It’s like you quiz ‘em without saying this is a test. You’re quizzing ‘em all the time.”

Strategy

“I watch bits and pieces of opponents. I’m looking for tendencies. You may change something, but some things may be consistent. And I'm looking for what he does best, not the worst. You expect the best of him times ten.”

“You watch Mikey Garcia, he looks amazing. I think Errol is one of the most technically sound fighters in boxing. But also Mikey Garcia is. I'm watching him in videos and I'm like, ‘I can't see anything he's doing wrong!’ Honest to God truth, I did not see one hole. If he threw a jab and dropped it, he'd put it back up in a split second...how do you get in off of that? 

“Then I saw a video with Mikey’s brother/trainer, Robert Garcia, talking about how Mikey has great defense, he's a great counter puncher, and this and that. So I took what they said he did great and I formed a strategy off of what they said, not what I saw. 

“He said Mikey’s a great counter puncher, so I made sure we’re in a position where he can't counter punch. I made sure we keep the jab in his face so he can’t be thinking about anything else, and that's how we'll get our other punches in.

 “There was another thing I saw that I'm not gonna say, because somebody else needs to figure out what that is themselves (laughs).”

The Sacrifice

“I say a trainer gets you in shape, a coach yells at you, and a teacher teaches. Three different individuals. But you have to be a teacher at all times. If you're teaching properly, you never have to yell at 'em. I've been very fortunate to have great students. Errol is a phenomenal student. Meaning that he wants to be who you want him to be. Jermell [Charlo, the unified World Super Welterweight Champion] is the exact same way, so I think that's the way they've made it to the level they are. Man, I'm telling you, they’re amazing. 

“For this fight [if we win], I could possibly cry tears of joy because I know the struggles. Not only from the accident. That’s one thing in itself. But the pain and the things Errol had to go through to get back to this point, to step back into the arena. Everything he went through that I was right there with him.

“That is when you really see it’s more than just a boxing match. It’s a metaphor for life. All the struggles, all the battles of life, are faced in boxing. The pain and sorrow and the way you push yourself, it’s sacrifice. It's life.”

For a closer look at Spence vs Garcia, check out our fight night page. 

In “The Fundamentals,” we sit down with the top coaches in boxing to get their unique insights into how their fighters utilize the core techniques of the sport. 

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