Floyd Mayweather is throwing bombs at a punch bag with a potent mix of speed and brutality. The perspiration pours off his shiny, bald head and down his work-out vest until the slogan on the back dampens. “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do,” it reads and, by some quirk of fate, the words “tough” appear highlighted by the man’s sweat.
Watching him intently is his team, dashing forward to mop his brow, feeding him with water, first muttering and then shouting words of encouragement as their man – their leader – reaches a crescendo of violence.
“Hard work,” yells his diminutive Mexican cuts man. “Dedication,” replies the rest of the team, a mixture of Hispanics and predominantly black Americans that include his father, Floyd Snr, and his uncle, Roger. Three times this verbal show of unity is repeated, like a hypnotic mantra.
A week Saturday the 37-year-old WBC champion fights Argentina’s WBA champion Marcos Maidana in a unification bout for the world welterweight title at the MGM Grand here in his adopted town of Las Vegas.
Britain’s Amir Khan is the main fight on the undercard. He meets the American, Luis Collazo, from Brooklyn, New York, and if the Bolton fighter wins, then his own quest to regain a world title, possibly against Mayweather down the line, is back on track.
If, as expected, Mayweather beats his notoriously big-punching challenger, it will be his 46th straight win in his 46th professional fight in a career that has seen the 5ft 8in, 147 pound superstar claim 10 world titles in five different weight divisions spanning 17 years.
Moreover, having seen off the likes of Oscar de la Hoya, Jose Castillo, Britain’s very own Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and many other highly rated opponents, it is unsurprising that some already proclaim him to be the greatest of all time.
Does he want to be the greatest? “I do,” he tells me, as he stares directly into my face as if it is a direct challenge. “And I believe I will be. Maidana says he will beat me. He may actually believe that. But so did 45 other fighters. I think I am already one of the greatest of all time but it’s not what drives me on the most.”
The clues to what does are all around. The Mayweather Boxing Gym can be found on the edge of Chinatown to the east of the Strip. Like in most champion boxing gyms the walls are adorned with photos of the subject matter after his many wins, arms aloft, belts wrapped around waist, fallen foes in the background.
Career in pictures: Floyd Mayweather
Career in pictures: Floyd Mayweather
1/6 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather triumphs in his rematch against Maidana last month by a unanimous decision, making easier work of his opponent than in their first bout
2/6 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana square off during their press conference to promote their rematch for September 2014
3/6 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather hands previously unbeaten Saul Alvarez a boxing lesson and leaves him slumped and desolate in his corner in September 2013
Getty Images; AP
4/6 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather throws a jab to the face of Robert Guerrero during his comfortable win in May 2013
5/6 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather is forced against the ropes in his last fight, against Miguel Cotto but prevailed by a unanimous decision in 2012
6/6 Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather knocks out Victor Ortiz in the fourth round of their 2011 bout at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas
What makes this venue different is the smell of money so strong that it overpowers the stench of sweat. In pride of place on the wall overlooking the more elevated of two boxing rings are two, framed and enlarged $100 bills. Meanwhile, printed on virtually every single element of the gym – ropes, posts, gloves, T-shirts – are the letters TMT.
“The Money Team.”
This is how Mayweather refers to the people who work with him. He has turned his back on the nickname he began his professional life with. “Pretty Boy” is long gone. Instead he uses the one word that means more to him than even boxing.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather does not see boxing as a sport. “It’s business,” he says. “It always has been. I need to put food on the table. It’s self-preservation.”
This man has a licence to print greenbacks. The Maidana fight is in association with a good number of supporting companies but the bottom line – and it is always the bottom line – is that it is promoted by Mayweather Promotions in the third of six, pay-per-view fights on Showtime that guarantees him $32m (£19m) each time. Minimum.
The Mosley fight four years ago generated $78.3m in revenue and earned Mayweather, in a 36-minute fight, $40m or, to put it another way, $1.1m per minute. All played out at the MGM Grand in front of Muhammad Ali, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx.
“I had a promoter once but I had a game plan so I left him, took up my own business and, $400m later, here we are,” he announces, without a bat of an eyelid. That is no typo. He did say $400m. No wonder he has been named as the highest-earning athlete in the world for the past two years by Forbes. And with four fights remaining, including Maidana, of his six-fight deal, there is no sign of it drying up any time soon, which means more cars can be added to the 90 he has purchased in his time (possibly another Bugatti to increase his favourite collection from two to three), more real estate in New York and maybe another hip-hop record label to supplement the one he already owns.
So what makes Mayweather different to the rest? What is it about the man that makes his hunger for more success and even greater riches, deeper than any of those around him these past 17 years?
The answer is deeply embedded in his upbringing. Father Floyd, now his trainer, was a boxer good enough to face Sugar Ray Leonard in his early days as a pro. Uncle Roger fought 108 times as a professional boxer and won two world titles as a super featherweight. Another uncle, Jeff, was also an accomplished fighter.
“I’ve never had a job,” explains the man who has taken the Mayweather name in boxing to a wholly different level. “I’ve never needed to. I turned pro as a 20-year-old, won a world title a year later and remained a world champion ever since.
“It is all I have ever known. Boxing’s in my genes. I come from a fighting background. My dad and both my uncles were good boxers. I’m blessed with the art of war.”
At the age of two he was wearing gloves. “He used to try and punch the knobs off doors,” Floyd Senior recalls as he watches his boy strut his stuff. “It was obvious from a very early age he was going to do what he does. He could box almost at the same time as he could walk.”
By the time he was eight years old Floyd Junior was standing on old apple boxes in order to punch the speedball in the gym. He sees this as one of the reasons why his balance remains so good to this day.
“It’s where he is at his most comfortable,” Roger Mayweather says, as he points to the boxing ring inside the Mayweather Gym. “Right there. Inside those ropes. That’s his home. It always has been.”
Ironically, for a sport so violent, the ring has indeed been his haven. At the age of two he was used as a human shield by his father after an uncle on his mother’s side pointed a gun at Floyd Senior in Grand Rapids, Michigan, over a business quarrel.
“I knew he wasn’t going to shoot a baby,” Floyd Senior explains, matter-of-factly. Instead he lowered his gun and shot his sister’s husband in the calf, an injury that destroyed a boxer’s mobility and ended any hopes of becoming a world champion.
Floyd Senior would then be jailed for selling cocaine, leaving Junior to move to New Jersey with his mother, a drug addict at the time, to share a bedroom with six others and, often, to live without electricity. Mayweather has admitted in the past to returning home from school to find the yard littered with needles. It was little wonder that he flitted from mother to grandmother in New Jersey. And he had an aunt who died from needle-induced Aids.
“I don’t forget those days,” he says. “People look at me now and have no idea. It’s why I’ve worked so hard to leave them.”
Between then and now there have been many rifts between himself and, primarily, his father. Floyd Junior will tell you how he received beatings by his hard taskmaster father turned trainer, and that the only relationship he had with his father was within the confines of their sport.
Floyd Senior always insists that he put his son first, even when it came to drug trafficking designed to put clothes on his family’s backs, and three meals a day on the table. Now, with Uncle Roger still working alongside them, the two Floyds are back in harness and all seems well in their world.
Indeed, in his 38th year, the wealthiest sportsman on the planet is finally willing to reflect. For example, he brings up his 90-day jail sentence in 2012 when he pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges in an incident with the mother of three of his four children.
“Things happen for a reason and the only thing you can do is at night time get on your knees and ask God for forgiveness for anything that you did that you didn’t feel was right,” he states.
“It’s like my jail situation. Even though I know I didn’t stomp, kick or beat a woman, it could have been something else that God was punishing me for. So I got on my knees, apologised and said: ‘Make me a better person’. If I have ever upset anyone in this life I do apologise.
“You see, I’m a little older now,” Mayweather adds. “I’m done with the partying. I’ve had my fun. I’ve been doing it for 18 years. I want to settle down. I want a wife, I want to get married.”
Maybe he will find what he is looking for in London, which he will visit in June “to have some dinners, have some meetings for the future and meet my British fans”.
One suspects, though, the business of being Floyd Mayweather will continue for a while yet. A win over Maidana in eight days’ time will make it 46 and 0, equalling Joe Calzaghe’s record. Three more wins after that will equal Rocky Marciano’s world record.
And then? The man behind The Money Team snorts at the prospect of fighting Manny Pacquiao. “He had his chance and he didn’t take it. Now he needs me but he’s not in the position he was any more.” Yet Mayweather knows it may yet make sense in a couple of years’ time to bow out with an unbeaten half-century and the biggest pay packet of them all.
“No one can crack the MayVinci Code,” he announces, playing up to a gathering of onlookers and hangers-on.
As he departs into the Sin City night, however, his final, private admission is more telling.
“You asked me if I wanted to be remembered as the greatest boxer of all time and I said ‘yes’,” he confides, almost in a hushed tone. “A few years ago that would have been it.
“But now? Well, now it’s more about the legacy. Yes, I want to be the greatest. But I want to be the smartest even more.”
Mayweather mayhem: The wins, the arguments – and the jail sentence
1996 Mayweather forced to settle for Olympic bronze in Atlanta after controversial defeat in semi-finals, but wins on professional debut.
1998 Gains first world title (WBC super featherweight), beating Genaro Hernandez.
1999 Named ‘Fighter of the Year’, but falls out with his father and kicks him out of his Las Vegas home.
2002 Booed by crowd on the way to two victories over Jose Luis Castillo at lightweight.
2004 Moves up to light welterweight: ‘I beat the best at 130, 135; I’m moving to 140.’
2006 After spotting a Zab Judah low blow, his uncle comes to blows with Jubah’s trainer.
2007 Beats Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. Performs on ‘Dancing with the Stars’.
2008 Brief retirement. Pockets $20m from WWE shows.
2009 Gave Juan Manuel Marquez $600,000 to fight him.
2010 Long-awaited Manny Pacquiao fight is called off.
2011 Victor Ortiz headbutts him in fight. Unbeaten in 42.
2012 Two months in jail for domestic abuse.
2013 Stakes $10m on Denver to win Super Bowl. They didn’t.
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