Sunday, October 01, 2023  |


Is Derrick James, coach of Jermell Charlo, Errol Spence, in running for Trainer of the Year?

Former boxer-turned-trainer Derrick James (left) stands with one of his prize pupils, Jermell Charlo, after the junior middleweight won the WBC title by knocking out John Jackson. Photo / Naoki Fukuda
Fighters Network

Sometimes people, sometimes I do, forget that this sport has a way of perking up when some or most are not expecting it. New blood boils and phenoms emerge, not from nowhere, but seemingly so, because they’ve been toiling maybe a decade, banking on the opportunity arising when they can announce, in splashy and violent fashion, their skills.

That happened Saturday night, didn’t it?

OK, I dare say most of you all reading this knew who Jermell Charlo was before he decimated Erickson Lubin, rendering the prospect to mummy status for a brief and scary spell at Barclays Center, and on Showtime.

But let us traffic in honesty… more than a couple of you still weren’t sure which one was Jermell and which one is Jermall.

Right, y’all?

But that identity crisis got cleared up, somewhat, when a short right uppercut, switched from an overhand he was going to throw, landed on the Floridian’s chin, and scrambled neurons. Pinballing neurons ricocheted about, and Lubin was on what they used to call queer street.

Jaws in the arena dropped, and stayed down for a moment. Day-um. That sort of certainty, finality, violence, that makes people take notice. Just as Erislandy Lara’s severe competence, with absence of passion and urgency, conjured hoots and dismay, that Charlo KO is the sort of thing that sticks in your brain, and has you filing it away. “THAT GUY is now on my watch list,” that was a decision made by maybe 25,000 hardcore fight fans in the U.S. That’s how stars are born…it is never overnight, it is a process, and yes, Jermell Charlo took a step in that direction Saturday.

And with such processes, the story is always deeper than the surface shows. For example, Charlo didn’t get here by himself. Boxing can be a lonely sport, especially when a fighter loses. When one wins, the team wins. When one loses, ONE loses. Support staff often melts away, finds a shadow to lurk in. But let’s shine a light on what seems a key element to the Houstonian’s success, trainer Derrick James.

After all, since Jermell has hooked on with the former pro 168er—James fought from 2002-2008, compiling a 21-7-1 mark—he’s looked different. Better. More assertive. Frankly, he looks like a killer, someone to be feared, maybe avoided by many, but to be watched. For that reason, I think we should consider James as 2017 Trainer of the Year. Think about it…

Two wins for Charlo, both stoppages, against Charles Hatley and now young gun Lubin, who Vegas saw as an even money bet. And if you need more, know that James also trains Errol Spence, another Texan who unlike Charlo, doesn’t smolder with barely contained fury, but instead oozes easy amiable confidence, giving him the ability to come off as confident, not cocky, when he challenges Keith Thurman to a two-step, any time, any place.

Wait…you need more? OK, another James client, Robert Brant, will be scrapping in Germany on Oct. 28, in a World Boxing Super Series quarterfinal tango against fellow super middleweight Jurgen Braehmer. Trainer James will be trekking with Brant overseas, and on the way, they will be chatting about the way James believes Brant must work in order to get the W. “He’s gotta knock him out,” James told me at the famed and fabled Gleason’s Gym. “I think he knows that, he knows that. Fighting in Germany, you gotta knock him out. You will not win in Germany. Schwerin, Germany is the most racist city in Germany.”

For those not knowing, the 27 Brant, from Minnesota, is dark-skinned. He holds a 22-0 mark and Braehmer (age 40; lefty; 48-3 record; held 175-pound crown twice) on paper is his stiffest test to date.

My three cents: I like James’ very candid assessment of how Brant needs to box to win. You want to win? Yes, right? You want to give yourself the best chance to win? Yes, again. Then comprehend that you are not going to be handed any favors or necessarily even a fair shake in some places, when some judges might be pre-disposed to give the local more love. Smart, Derrick James, smart. And readers, talk to me. If not James, who then is in the lead to win 2017 Trainer of the Year? Talk to me!