Reporting from Las Vegas —
Making sense of Floyd Mayweather Jr. is not an easy task, but meeting him in the gym is a good place to start.
"The reason you see him in here all the time, that comes from growing up having a rough life," Mayweather's close friend and assistant trainer Nate Jones said recently, standing atop the canvas in the boxer's private gym northwest of the Las Vegas Strip. "Life was unstable at his home. So coming in the gym, boxing, made him feel at home. At peace."
There's little peace around Mayweather, 33, who'll put his 40-0 record on the line Saturday night in a welterweight bout against Pomona's Shane Mosley at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Sitting on metal chairs outside the gym's front door, some of Mayweather's seven bodybuilder bodyguards engage in a sexually graphic conversation with another member of Mayweather's inner circle.
"They're here to prevent situations, and there's always situations, because Floyd is a walking target," Mayweather advisor Leonard Ellerbe says of the musclemen. Are they packing something beyond human strength? Ellerbe lets go a slight grin and a raised eyebrow.
Better to keep it on silent. Last week, Ocie Harris, a former associate of Mayweather, was indicted on felony charges including attempted murder for allegedly firing a gun last year at a man who reportedly had a verbal run-in with the boxer at a skating rink in Las Vegas. A police report indicated Mayweather might have influenced the gunfire. "All hearsay," Ellerbe said.
But having a big posse around is part of Mayweather's comfort zone. "We all get a paycheck on time, the 25 or more guys around here and his family," Jones said. "Floyd has a good heart. He doesn't need all these guys, but he's told me, ‘How can I tell them no, and make them go back to their families without any money?' He cares."
Contradictions abound around the boxer.
Asked to identify the roots of his success, Mayweather says, "Something I was born with. My mother and father are winners."
Minutes later, Floyd Mayweather Sr. explains, "His mother was on drugs every day, so I took my son into the gym and did the best I could with him," letting a wide smile emerge, "as you can see."
Those trips weren't always pleasant for the young Mayweather, who once told Floyd Sr. he was tiring of wearing big boots and lifting barbells. "You don't need the boots or barbells?" his father barked. "You don't got to fight anymore, either!"
"I let him know what it takes. I didn't overdo nothing," Floyd Sr. says. "And guess what? He came out smelling like a rose."
By the time Floyd Jr. was 16, however, his father was jailed for selling drugs. "I did what I did to make things better for my family," Mayweather Sr. explains in unflinching reflection. "I got him to the boxing gym every day until I got locked up. I did my best. There ain't no perfect person in this world."
Mayweather Jr. hates losing, which he last experienced in a decision to a Bulgarian fighter in Atlanta's 1996 Olympics. "Wounds heal," he said when asked what has kept him so dedicated to boxing and his unbeaten pro record, "but it could've been that bronze medal in the Olympics."
And look where Mayweather is now, with a legacy that includes 25 knockouts and victories over Oscar De La Hoya (in the most lucrative boxing match in history) and several other former world champions.
He briefly "retired" from the sport in 2008, but said he couldn't resist "coming to the gym, seeing the guys, doing some floor work, sparring a few rounds, getting in shape. I figured, ‘I might as well get back to what I'm best at.' "
Now comes Mosley, 38, the most skilled and powerful fighter Mayweather has ever faced. He'll earn another eight-figure payday for the bout, but his uncle/trainer Roger Mayweather says, "It's not about the money. This is the fight he needs. This one will say to the world: ‘This proves how good I am.' "
Mayweather has been noticeably edgy in preparing for Mosley. He has denied most visitors access inside his gym and has extended training days.
"I visualize what my opponent is doing," Mayweather Jr. said. "If I think he's sparring six rounds, I'm going to do 10 or 12. If he's running 3 ½ miles, I'm running 5 ½, 6. I want to out-do him in every category, so when it's crunch time, I'm outperforming him again. I must be doing something right."
Floyd Sr. envisions victory on Saturday, reminding, "You cannot get through that defense. I taught [Floyd Jr.] that defense." For good measure, he stokes the drama hovering over camp about Roger, who faces a criminal trial for allegedly beating and choking a woman boxer last year. If Roger gets convicted and jailed, would Floyd Sr. take over as trainer?
"I can't feel bad for him," Floyd Sr. says about his brother, Roger, a few feet away. "Floyd's better with his dad. The dad and kid should come together. Father knows best."
This is the Mayweathers in their element, and Floyd Jr. only has one more thing to add about the Mosley fight before he steps into the ring for another sparring session.
"Cakewalk, man" he says. "Remember I told you that."