EVEN BY the standards of celebrity culture Floyd Mayweather Jr. has had a remarkable year. Not only did the undefeated welter weight champion earn more than $25 million for his 12-round victory over Oscar De La Hoya last May (below), he also became a TV star with prominent roles in a pair of reality shows. He's not done yet. His title defense against unbeaten British pounder Ricky Hatton (43--0, 31 KOs) in Las Vegas this Saturday night should cement the 30-year-old Mayweather as boxing's top draw. According to promoters, the fight will likely end up with 1.4 million pay-per-view buys, making the man known as Pretty Boy the second or third highest-paid athlete of 2007, with estimated earnings of $45 million—the first fighter to surpass themillion-buy mark twice in a year.
This hardly seemed likely a year ago, when Mayweather looked like yet another promising athlete bent on self-destruction. Regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Mayweather lived a life of conflict and chaos outside the ring. In 2000 he fired hisfather, Floyd Sr., as his manager and evicted him from his Las Vegas house, then canned him as his trainer before hiring Floyd Sr.'s brother Roger to fill the job. The next five years saw five misdemeanor assault-related convictions stemming from bar fights and domestic battery charges and resulting in suspended sentences and fines. "You live and you learn, and only the strong survive," Floyd Jr. says. "I'm one of the strong ones. All I do is just keep fighting, and no matter what anybody says, Floyd Mayweather's going to be himself."
As people found out this year, Floyd being Floyd can be very entertaining. In the four-part HBO documentary 24/7, aired last spring before the De La Hoya bout, Mayweather gleefully adopted the role of the villain. Displaying a puckish (albeit vulgar) wit, he trash-talked his opponent at every opportunity, flashed the $10,000 in cash that he claims never leaves his pockets and zoomed around his Vegas manse on a Segway. It was a riveting display of self-promotion, and he followed it up with a four-week stint on Dancing with the Stars in the fall. HBO was enthusiastic enough about his star quality to commission a second 24/7 for the fight against Hatton. When you're getting paid to sell yourself, life is sweet.