Sometimes random encounters in two stranger’s lives can alter their trajectories forever. One such example is how current IBF welterweight champion, Errol Spence Jr., and his long-time trainer Derrick James became one of boxing’s best known duos.

Over a decade ago Spence Jr. was boxing on an amateur show in Dallas, which was attended by recently retired fighter Derrick James, who happened to sit next the father of the fighter. James made such an impression during their encounter that he was asked to train the amateur star. At this point, Spence Jr. was the maiden fighter that entrusted his career development in the hands of the novice trainer.

Errol Spence Jr. went onto compete in the London 2012 Olympics and soon after turned over to the paid ranks. When Boxing Social spoke with Derrick James late last year, quizzing whether Spence Jr. had a seamless transition to the pro ranks, the trainer sharply replied, “I never made the distinction between a pro and amateur style [of training]. I taught him [Spence Jr.] the principles [of boxing] from the beginning.”

James, a former fighter himself, added how his man has improved since his amateur days, “He [Spence Jr.] had a lot of things that he could kind of improve on. He was good, but not what he is right now. It was a process breaking him down and building him right back up to be the guy that I feel that he could be. That style [of training] was perfect for his style.”

Spence Jr. will be making his US pay-per-view debut and fighting at the 80,000 capacity, Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas on March 16th. This is the moment that Spence Jr. and James have worked towards for over a decade.

In the opposite corner there will be the former four-weight world champion, Mikey Garcia. By all accounts, Garcia enters the fight as an underdog, despite his 39-0 (30 KOs) record. The smaller man is moving up from lightweight to face a career welterweight in Spence Jr., whose record stands at a formidable 24-0 (21 KOs). The conventional theory is that Garcia is perhaps the more skilful fighter, but the sheer size advantage will tip the balance of the fight in favour of the hometown hero, Spence Jr.

However, Derrick James, said that their training methods focus on boxing IQ, rather than utilising his natural size, “I work with them [boxers] intellectually, so it’s not so much about knocking guys out as it is about boxing skills. Errol [Spence Jr.] can really box, but you just don’t really see it as he doesn’t have to [box].”

Spence Jr. possesses solid fundamentals, but his aptitude to operating in the trenches, is something that James is convinced will make a difference in these types of big fights, “What makes a better fighter is someone showing fortitude as a fighter, when evenly matched with another guy and pushing the button, he goes even further.”

This was most evident in his last high-profile fight against British fighter Kell Brook, a fight in which the bookies struggled to pick a favourite. The fight ended in a brutal 11th round knockout victory for the American fighter. But it required Spence Jr. to dig deep in front of a partisan crowd in Sheffield to secure the victory and his coveted IBF belt.

Mikey Garcia has fought and dominated good fighters in Zlaticanin, Salido and Broner. His most recent opponent was Robert Easter Jr – a lightweight that is bigger than his Texas-based opponent. However, trainer Derrick James, has never seen size advantage as the X-factor for Spence Jr., stating that, “He isn’t really big for the weight, he is the right size.”

The trainer, also responsible for one of the talented Charlo brothers, lists out former welterweight fighters, such as Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Vernon Forrest, as champions that were bigger than Spence Jr. at 147. Stating that smaller men, such as Terence Crawford, Mikey Garcia and Danny Garcia have moved up divisions in search of the riches on offer in boxing’s marquee division.

Looking ahead at the fight at the match-up between Spence Jr. and Garcia on March 16th – it’s far from being your typical “daring to be great” fight, despite Garcia stepping up two divisions. The challenger from Oxnard has been very confident throughout the build-up and doesn’t need to auction off his ‘0’. By all accounts, this wasn’t a fight that Garcia had to take as a promotional free agent. There were other avenues that his team could of have explored at 135 and 140.

One thing is for sure, Team Spence Jr. believe that they will have the ring IQ and fundamentals to match the canny Mikey Garcia. Garcia will want to turn this contest into a chess match. Winning exchanges due to his superior hand speed and staying off the ropes as much as possible.

Team Spence Jr. are looking to utilise his excellent ability to cut off the ring and launch body punching assaults to slow down the smaller man, but they will need to showcase those boxing skills mentioned by Derrick at our encounter to win this fight. I would edge towards a closely fought points decision for Spence Jr., which will see the natural welterweight take over from the midway point of the fight and potentially drop the smaller man in the later rounds.

Fate has a funny way of intervening in boxing and if Derrick James wouldn’t have attended that amateur show that day in Dallas, Spence Jr. would be a very different fighter and perhaps wouldn’t have the boxing IQ to beat a supreme technician like Mikey Garcia.

Article by: Riku Heikkilä

Follow Riku on Twitter at: @Lead_Right