Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mayweather ties start to bind

Floyd Mayweather Sr. watches his son work out for Saturday's bout vs. Juan Manuel Marquez. The two had been apart for almost 16 years.

Floyd Mayweather, 32, says his dad left when he was 16. "Being back together, well, this is a happy time in my life," his father says.

By David Leon Moore, USA TODAY
LAS VEGAS — Floyd "Money" Mayweather is the biggest name in boxing and a fitting figurehead to a declining sport with a history of controversy and contradiction.

He's a little guy (5-8, 144 pounds), a welterweight in a sport once defined by heavyweights. He says he's not the kind of guy to be involved in gunplay (he was investigated but not charged regarding an August non-injury shooting incident in Las Vegas), yet a poster-sized color picture of him at his Las Vegas gym has him dressed in old school mobster garb brandishing a machine gun. He says he no longer throws money into crowds — or "makes it rain," as it has come to be known — at nightclubs or wherever, yet another poster-sized picture has him, in the same suit, displaying two fistfuls of large bills.

His publicist tries to sell sports reporters on the "big happy family" angle in Camp Mayweather, and it's true he and his father have reconciled. Yet, in private, his father, Floyd Sr., and his uncle and official trainer, Roger, trade barbs about who taught Floyd Jr. what.

He cultivates an image of fabulous wealth, driving a Rolls-Royce, calling his Las Vegas house a "big-boy mansion," bragging about his record-setting pay-per-view purses. Yet he has left a string of unpaid debts in his wake, regularly getting hit with Internal Revenue Service liens for unpaid taxes and getting sued for failing to make payments.

Whether it's just a guise to drum up headlines before his not-exactly-a-megafight return to the ring Saturday night in Las Vegas against scrappy Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez is not clear. But Mayweather does have a talent for generating headlines before his bouts.

The Las Vegas bureau of the Associated Press stays busy producing Mayweather copy, such as its stories on the shooting incident — Mayweather denies involvement, but a warrant that described the police seizing two handguns, ammunition and two bulletproof vests from his home and cars raised a few eyebrows — and his chaotic financial affairs, resulting, according to the AP, in a debt to the IRS of more than $6 million.

And less than a week before the fight: Mayweather was sued by a Vegas bank for failing to make $9,000 monthly payments on a $528,000 Mercedes Maybach 57S he bought in 2007 and was repossessed in January. Mayweather allegedly owes $167,000.

Does Mayweather have money problems? Puh-leeze, Mayweather responds.

"Floyd," says his manager, Leonard Ellerbe, "don't chase the money. He creates the money."

The levels of credibility and dysfunction in all this are open to discussion, but there are two universal truths about boxing that make Mayweather relevant.

•The sport goes in whatever direction the money can be found, and right now no one generates it like Mayweather.

There will be blood, and Mayweather can still draw it.

The undefeated (39-0) six-time champion, who earned about $50 million in his last year in the ring — 2007 — takes on Marquez in a non-title bout at 144 pounds (HBO pay-per-view, 9 ET). It's his first fight since whippingRicky Hatton 21 months ago and then, in June 2008, announcing his retirement.

On a recent hot afternoon in Mayweather's gym amid a nondescript strip mall, several blocks from The Strip, the blood belongs to his sparring partner, a willing punching bag by the name of Ramon Montano. Accustomed to Mayweather's speed and defensive skill, Montano still is unequipped to fend off the lightning-quick blows snaking between his gloves and onto his bleeding nose.

"He's ready," says Montano, who sparred with Mayweather before his last fight. "He hasn't lost nothin.' "

He might have gained something, actually. A father.

'I don't hate no one'

When Mayweather, 32, was last active as a fighter, when he emerged victorious and very wealthy from pay-per-view victories against Oscar De La Hoya and Hatton in 2007, much of the story line was about the estrangement between him and his father, a former boxer and longtime trainer who had a falling out with his son about nine years ago, just as Mayweather, a bronze medalist in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was becoming a young star in the pro ranks.

Now, the father, 56, who struggles a little with sarcoidosis, a disease that can result in chronic coughing and fatigue, is back in the gym. He's helping his son train but, mostly, the father says, he's just being a father.

They were apart for most of the last 16 years, five of them while the father was in prison for drug trafficking. Mayweather's father trained him briefly after prison, but they didn't get along so Mayweather fired his dad and hired his dad's brother, Roger.

Now they are back together, trying to make up for lost time.

"It's sad," Floyd Sr. says. "Who wants to be apart from their kid? Being back together, well, this is a happy time in my life."

Mayweather — unmarried, the father of four kids by two women — describes the changed relationship with his father as more of a thaw than a reconciliation.

"My dad left when I was 16," he says. "When he came back, I was on my own. I had my own responsibilities. So it's hard (for him) to come back and say, 'Do this, do that.' Everything me and my dad have been through is in the past.

"I don't hate no one. ... You take the bad with the good, and if you're strong, you keep striving."

The present dynamics on Team Mayweather are a little confusing, though it is clearly a family affair. Most of the Mayweathers have left their Michigan roots and settled in Las Vegas. His workouts for this fight have been attended at times by his mother, Jeannie Sinclair, his two sisters and his kids. Three of the kids live in Los Angeles, a fourth in Las Vegas.

"It's a good thing," Sinclair says of the renewed warmness between Floyd Jr. and Floyd Sr., to whom she was never married.

"They have a relationship now," she says. "Praise the Lord."

During the sessions, the family and professional roles blur.

Roger, 47, a former champion, remains Mayweather's trainer, as he's been for the last nine years.

But Mayweather's father is in the gym constantly, standing at the ropes during sparring sessions, calling out instructions that Mayweather acknowledges.

He also holds the heavy bag during post-sparring workouts and offers more advice. "No problem, babe," Mayweather says to his father. "I gotcha."

Is the elder Floyd a sort of co-trainer? This is where the "big happy family" talk takes a detour.

"The kid grew up with me," he says. "I taught him everything he knows. I made him who he is as a fighter and a son. Whatever it is, it's all me at the end of the day."

Later, in a back room of the gym, Roger rolls his eyes when asked about his brother's role.

"It ain't like he's helping me do something," he says. "He's holding the bag. Other than that, he don't do much of anything."

Roger doesn't really mind his brother's presence. "Fathers and sons should be together," he says. "I don't trip about it."

But when it comes to who gets the credit for Floyd Jr.'s likely Hall of Fame career, Roger says, "My nephew knows how he got the money. You don't get it without being exciting. Who made him exciting? He ain't never been on pay-per-view with his dad.

"Floyd's exactly the fighter he is because that's how I work. Let the hands go, and that will win you fights."

Changed man

Mayweather seems above and oblivious to the family squabbling. He is in control at the gym. He makes a little motion with his finger, and several guys with undefined roles scurry to the CD player for another selection. He signals that he needs gloves for his weight workout, and some other guys tear through duffle bags like hyenas looking for leftovers. He hops into his Rolls-Royce after the workout to drive someplace to do his running, and people in the gym head for their cars, hoping not to be left behind.

The Mayweather motorcade used to be known for showing up at various Las Vegas nightspots where "Money" Mayweather would shower the place with $100s or whatever he had in his pocket. Now, he is said to mostly go home after workouts.

No more making it rain?

"I don't do that no more," he says. "The main thing now is I just want to be a great father and continue to help families that are less fortunate. I want to continue to be a giver, to give back to the homeless like I've been doing over the years."

Boxing has lost some of its audience in recent years, owing to the lack of name heavyweights and the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts.

But Mayweather sees himself as the sport's present and future.

"I just want to fight until it's all out of my system," he says. "I'm just trying to be an entertainer. I think I was born to entertain."



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