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BOXING

Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s return is dotted with controversy

The fighter's legal and financial problems make his challenge against Juan Manuel Marquez even tougher.

September 18, 2009|Lance Pugmire

Minutes before Manny Pacquiao decked Ricky Hatton in May, Pacquiao's business manager grabbed a ringside chair.

The small talk was that morning's surprise comeback announcement by Floyd Mayweather Jr., who had "retired" a year earlier while atop the pound-for-pound rankings with a 39-0 record -- perfection enhanced in 2007 by a victory over Oscar De La Hoya in boxing's most lucrative event ever.

"Mayweather just shot himself in the head," Pacquiao's business manager, Michael Koncz, assessed. "Now, he has to sell a fight on his own."

If it was an imposing task then for the skilled fighter stuck in a bad-guy's role, doing so in the face of an active criminal investigation and personal financial problems has made the challenge stiffer.

Instead of waiting for the Pacquiao outcome or making a date with world welterweight champion Shane Mosley, Mayweather chose his comeback foe to be Mexico's world lightweight champion, Juan Manuel Marquez, best known for his 2003 draw and 2008 split-decision loss to Pacquiao.

"Me fighting Shane Mosley?" Mayweather asked as he stopped in Hollywood on Monday to hype Saturday's welterweight bout in Las Vegas. "Who wants to see that fight?"

Some are asking the same question about Mayweather-Marquez. Larry Merchant, HBO's boxing analyst, recently e-mailed The Times regarding Mayweather: "Historically, greatness has been determined not by not losing, but by fighting -- and often re-fighting -- the best opponents out there." Marquez, smaller than Mayweather, is a 4-1 underdog.

The cheapest $150 seats that usually sell out within hours in major bouts remained on sale Monday for Mayweather-Marquez. Fight promoter Richard Schaefer said he expects a live gate in excess of $6 million, and predicts the bout will be the most lucrative pay-per-view fight of the year, exceeding the 850,000 buys of Pacquiao-Hatton. Pacquiao's Nov. 14 fight against welterweight champion Miguel Cotto is already sold out, promoter Bob Arum noted this week, with nearly $9 million in tickets sold.

Beyond the suspect matchmaking, Mayweather's ability to bridge his brilliant boxing skills to the maximum millions he could collect as one of the world's top fighters is being tested by his associations: to people involved in a shooting last month outside a roller-skating rink where he often takes his children, and to his uncle-trainer Roger Mayweather, who was arrested in August on suspicion of attempting to strangle a female boxer.

"A lot of people have personal problems; why bring ours up?" Mayweather Jr. asked. "Why can't they just say we're a good fighter and trainer? It's crazy."

The praise Mayweather deserves as a fast-moving, defensive tactician is accompanied by a personality that can be abrasive. In past episodes of HBO's reality series "24/7," hyping his fights, Mayweather embraced the "Money" Mayweather persona, flashing a roll of $100 bills and jewelry, and riding in expensive vehicles, and his uncle was portrayed as wacky and comically opinionated. De La Hoya, a promoter of the fight, contends the drama surrounding Mayweather and his demeanor is a draw.

"Millions watch because they can't wait to see him lose." De La Hoya said. "That's a great thing."

De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions has worked feverishly to sell the bout, scheduling 11 consecutive days of media events to spread word about the fight in addition to the promoter-paid "24/7" series.

But the law enforcement probes into the alleged violence surrounding the Mayweathers have a graver feel than the family's past animated internal friction, and HBO had to address it in this version of "24/7."

"It seems like the chaos around Floyd Mayweather doesn't affect his training regimen or his camp," HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg said. "It's almost like he thrives on it, like trouble is a fly on the wall that can be swatted away."

In a search warrant affidavit, Las Vegas police reported a witness named Damein Bland said that on Aug. 23, Mayweather approached a man named Quincey Williams at a skating rink and "confronted him about a text message Williams had previously sent Mayweather . . . that he hoped he lost his next fight. Mayweather threatened Williams"

Minutes later, according to the affidavit, Bland said he and Williams saw Mayweather and two others standing in the parking lot next to Mayweather's Rolls-Royce. Bland said he saw one of the men, whom he identified as "O.C.," "with a firearm in his hand and a flash coming from the firearm." Police found six gunshot holes in the BMW being used by Bland and Williams, according to court records.

"Floyd had nothing to do with this . . . he's the most misrepresented athlete in the world," Mayweather's manager, Leonard Ellerbe, said. "We don't condone violence by any means."

Schaefer asked, "How can you blame Floyd? I don't know what he did wrong . . . there's crazy people out there."

Bill Cassell, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told The Times on Wednesday that the investigation into the shooting and Mayweather's alleged threat is "ongoing."

There's also financial trouble. News reports have revealed a $6.1-million IRS tax lien against Mayweather Jr., and last week JP Morgan Chase Bank sued the boxer for $167,000 unpaid on a loan after repossessing a $528,000 Mercedes Maybach 57S from him in January.

Mayweather denies being strictly financially motivated to end his 21-month layoff.

"Why can't I come back just because I love boxing?" he asked Monday.

--

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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