Derrick James has not had time to dwell on Errol Spence’s super-fight stoppage loss to Terence Crawford last month as he travelled straight to London to continue his work with Anthony Joshua.
It has been a hectic period for the in-demand Texas coach who has also had to deal with the change of Joshua opponent this week from Dillian Whyte to Robert Helenius.
Joshua travelled back to England on the day of the Crawford-Spence contest and when Joshua next saw his coach, Spence had been well beaten.
“When you know someone well, I think he [James]’s in a place where he knows where they went wrong,” Joshua explained. “It’s water off a duck’s back. We know what we’ve got to do to get it back and get it right. All of us at home watching know that wasn’t the best version of Errol Spence. So he [James]’s just like, ‘It comes with the territory, man. We know what we’ve got to do to get it right.’ It’s interesting when you can hear that they rate Crawford but they know Errol wasn’t at his best.”
Joshua had an overlapping camp with Spence, firstly in Dallas and then in Las Vegas, before he returned to the UK two weeks out for the third and final phase of his long preparation. Joshua eagerly watched the welterweight mega-fight between his stablemate and pound-for-pound king Crawford.
“Yeah, of course,” Joshua said, when asked whether he was emotionally invested in the fight. “I love Bud, I love Errol. Big Fish, world-class boxing. In the gym I saw the work he was putting in and definitely I feel sorry for him. I checked with his pals. I don’t really speak with Errol direct funnily enough, I speak more with Errol’s associates and I was just saying, ‘How is he? I hope he’s well.’ and I just check in when I can.”
This has been Joshua’s second camp with James and the two have become close. Joshua said he wants to finish his career with James, who was happy to hear that. Joshua believes their relationship will be vital to his success.
“The importance of bonding between athlete and fighter, being on the same page,” Joshua explained, when asked what he’s been learning from James. “Because remember, I’ve been with many different coaches — Sean Murphy, John Oliver, all of the GB coaches. Then I worked with Joby [Clayton], Angel [Fernandez], Robert Garcia and now Derrick James. A few coaches that I’ve worked with I probably hadn’t bonded with and I’m now settled. We’ve got a great bond and it’s so important for a fighter to have a good relationship with their coach.”
Joshua and James combined first for AJ’s April win over fringe contender Jermaine Franklin. The two-time heavyweight champion received mixed reviews, but ultimately got a full camp – and a full fight – with James in the corner. Initially, Joshua was disappointed not to stop Franklin.
“I was actually because there was that feeling I should have knocked him out,” Joshua continued. “But he [Franklin] was a bit hard to hit, he could take a bit of a punch… One thing Derrick said to me which really helped me plant my feet in Texas was, ‘Everything I tell you, I don’t want you to do it exactly how I tell you, I want you to make it your own.’ When you’ve got a coach, you throw a jab and he’s like, ‘Nah nah nah. Dip your chin and turn it over.’ I’m thinking in the ring, ‘I’m not allowed to jab like that, I’ve got to turn over.’ By the time I’ve done that I’ve got hit by a six-punch combination. But now he’s like, ‘Stop trying to perfect everything I’m trying to teach you.’ When I’m working with new trainers, you have a lot of respect for them. The thing with fighting, certain trainers try to indoctrinate too much and make it like you’ve got to keep your hand here, turn it over, and dip, there, there you go, and next thing you’re fighting out of your instinct where fighting’s a spiritual thing as well, Derrick’s helped me.”
Two long camps with James means Joshua has spent months in the US this year working with his coach as he builds towards a proposed showdown with Deontay Wilder early in 2024. It has not just allowed Joshua and James to bond, but their time has allowed Joshua to improve and he is convinced the path he has chosen is the right one.
“That first camp was more the technical side, the fundamentals of how he trains a fighter and how he does things and now I’m getting back in my fucking spirit, the groove where I’m going [punching to the] body, body and I was sparring the other day and I threw a combo and I was like, ‘That was me, that was the shit, that is it.’” Joshua smiled.
“Without Derrick telling me, make it my own, I would have been trying to do exactly what he expected of me and what I interpreted he expected of me, so I’m able to now be myself as well, where he’s still teaching me how to throw a jab but I’m also doing my own things in there. It’s good.”
Joshua certainly has a warmer affiliation with James than he did his previous coach, Robert Garcia, whom he had just one fight with, the rematch loss to Oleksandr Usyk. Garcia and Joshua have subsequently traded less than flattering reviews about one another in interviews, and Joshua is unsure how things escalated after they went their separate ways.
“This is my question, why did it become so bitter?” Joshua asked. “I honestly don’t know but I just remember hearing interviews where anyone with a brain inside their head can tell that this guy was speaking quite negatively about me. And let me tell you something, you keep on poking me, I don’t give a fuck who you are I’m going to come back and poke you back. I’ll say my part as well when I’m ready. I’ve got a lot of shit I can say about other people. I say a few things here and there but if you talk shit about me, fuck you too.”
Had Garcia taught him anything in their comparatively brief spell together?
“Yeah, of course, he’s a very well-renowned coach, definitely,” said Joshua of Californian Garcia, before confirming that he will see out his career Derrick James in his corner. “But I’m learning more from Derrick. When I was going for trainers after the Usyk fight, I decided to go elsewhere. I didn’t go back to Robert Garcia. I already had the experience with him. I’m very happy with where I’m at. I won’t move from Derrick James.”