Derrick James Hints at Rift With Errol Spence Jr., Focuses on Other Charges

Boxing Scene

Derrick James has a lot on his plate at the moment, opening with how best to rein in an apparently distracted Ryan Garcia and closing with what appears to be a looming split with his best-known fighter, former three-belt welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.

In a “Cigar Talk” interview posted on YouTube with host Naji, James revealed the extent of the strain between he and Spence, who was knocked down three times and stopped in the ninth round by then-undisputed welterweight champion Terence Crawford in July.

“I’m focused on my other guys,” James said when asked about Spence. “We talked three weeks ago. You can’t look back. You can’t look forward and look back at the same time.”

Spence (28-1, 22 KOs) has fueled speculation that he’s leaving James by posting on the social media platform X that he needs to “find a new home,” while Calvin FordGervonta Davis’ trainer – has expressed interest in bringing Spence to his team.

In his conversation with Naji, James spoke of Spence in terms that revealed a distance.

Asked if he expects Spence to fight again following that brutal first loss at the hands of Crawford, James said, “Mentally, I guess he’s OK. I believe when you [participate in your biggest fight and lose], when the song stops playing, you’ve gotta dance or start putting that chair up.”

Appearing to reference the faded versions of two great fighters, James said, “Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali still wanted it,” even as retirement beckoned.

“If he’s healthy and everything’s good with him,” James said of Spence, “he can keep doing what he’s doing.”

Admitting that he’s not involved in discussions for Spence’s next fight, James advised his longtime student to go back to Crawford for a rematch.

“If you’re gonna fight, [the rematch]is the fight to fight,” he said. “Finish that deal out.”

James, named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2022, saw his lofty reputation begin to spiral last year, when Spence was dominated and then-undisputed 154-pound champion Jermell Charlo – another James fighter – was subjected to a one-sided defeat at the hands of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Additionally, heavyweight Anthony Joshua opted to make the switch to British-based cornerman Ben Davison after a brief stint with James.

James now has Garcia and unbeaten lightweight Frank Martin, who are both underdogs in their respective fights against Devin Haney (April 20) and Davis (June 15).

“Everybody’s an underdog at some point,” James told Naji. “Everyone’s a nobody.”

Garcia has seemed out of control and unfocused for an odd appearance at his Hollywood news conference and in a slew of rambling social media posts that have led some to speculate that he is struggling with mental health issues.

“The antics have nothing to do with me,” James said. “I don’t see one thing he did [on Instagram or YouTube]. Plausible deniability. I don’t know what he did. [I tell Garcia], ‘Keep that shit outside the gate. Not just out of the gym – outside the gate. Cut that off, man.’”

James says he maintains a philosophy inside his Texas gym: If you don’t want to get down, you can go. You’re going to do what I want you to do.”

Asked who among his fighters have truly followed that code, James named just two: Joshua and Martin.

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