LAS VEGAS -- The fighter sat atop another stage, surrounded by so many people it seemed possible it might collapse. The usual ring of chaos closed in tight: reporters, cameras, boom mics, handlers, assistants, minions, publicists and, of course, so many bodyguards – six! – that they alone required two cars for transport.
The fighter’s father watched all this from a table high above. He remembered when everything was different. That seemed like a million years ago. Another life.
Before The Money Team and the millions and the mansions, before the nationally televised argument, before Floyd Mayweather tried to drop the Jr. in his name, there were simply two. A father and his son.
“No team,” Floyd Mayweather Sr. said on Wednesday. “No money. Just me and him.”
On Saturday, Junior will climb into the ring as a professional boxer for the 47th time and defend his undefeated record. His opponent, Marcos Maidana, surprised Junior in their first meeting back in April, kept the bout close, and bolstered the notion that Mayweather will retire soon. Junior said as much this week. Three more fights. The end.
Mayweather has had a rough month. His friend turned nemesis, the rapper 50 Cent, said Junior could not read. He offered to donate $750,000 to charity if Junior read a page from a Harry Potter book. Then Mayweather stepped into the Ray Rice saga, said the NFL should have stuck with its initial two-game suspension after the second video of Rice knocking his wife unconscious surfaced. That went over as well as could be expected, which is to say not well at all.
Still, controversy is the dominant family trait, as much a part of Mayweather history as boxing. As Senior watched his son down on that stage, he lifted up his left pant leg and pulled down his right sock. He pointed at the scar, which ran about six inches near his calf, and the divot in the middle of the scar, a chunk of the leg missing, about the size of a baseball. “You can put your fist in there,” he said.
“Do it,” he continued. (Awkward.)
The scar came from an incident in Grand Rapids, Mich. This is a story that Senior likes to tell. Most families would bury it, banish it, never speak of it again. Not the Mayweathers. It came up again here Wednesday because Junior is far closer to the end than the beginning, and it seemed natural to ask Senior when he knew it was time to retire.
“I knew I wasn’t going to fight anymore man, see, when I got shot in the leg,” Senior said.
“Floyd’s uncle shot me.”
“I was holding Floyd when he shot me.”
Then Senior gets started on his comeback, his rise back to middleweight contention, how the leg never really healed and how that forced him to look away from his own career and toward his son’s. That was among the first turning points in Junior’s path to boxing world domination. A shooting. Somehow, now, that makes perfect sense. “Sometimes my leg still hurts,” Senior said. “ Hurts right now, in fact. Maybe that’s why I have gout.”
What a ride. Junior won a national Golden Gloves title at 16. Senior says he beat two 24-year-olds in that tournament. Senior taught Junior to rely on defense, his famous shoulder roll, guard up, always. Junior turned pro soon after, moved to Las Vegas, began to train under Roger Mayweather, Senior’s brother, Junior’s uncle.
There was tension. Roger became head trainer. Senior backed Oscar De La Hoya when Junior faced -- and beat -- him back in 2007. Then there was what Senior calls “the incident.” It happened in 2011, with HBO’s 24-7 cameras in the gym, the two Mayweathers, both stubborn, both proud, screaming at each other, swearing, threatening violence. The scene went on and on -- and that was just the televised version. Junior attacked Senior’s boxing credentials. Senior pushed right back at him.
Then, silence. Senior said he hung around the gym for months, arriving daily, staying late, without so much as a word to or from his son, who owns and runs the gym. Senior said Junior approached him one day after he served a jail sentence for domestic violence, before he fought Robert Guerrero, and asked, “Daddy, you want to be head coach?” Junior felt he had taken too much punishment against Cotto. He wanted to re-emphasize the defense. He also, after much time alone with his thoughts, wanted to reconnect with Senior. He knew he was getting older. He didn’t want too much time to pass.
“That happened,” Senior said. “He called me back in, like a son should do. Like, that’s what the Bible tells you to do. The son must come back to the father.”
Senior is a character. He speaks his own version of English, sentences delivered in rapid bursts without regard for punctuation. He makes up rhymes. He talks trash. He once tried to fight Guerrero’s father in the MGM Grand parking lot. To that end, it can be difficult to ascertain how accurate his statements are. But he did say Wednesday that after he and Junior reconciled, Junior gave him $1 million cash. Senior said he saved it.
After the press conference ended, Junior exited the stage. He talked about his father as the sea parted and he descended the stairs and went out the back door and headed to another round of interviews. Junior said he can still remember the first move his father taught him, the way to pivot his right foot, a subtle twist that gives him leverage. “That plays a major role today in all my fights,” he said.
Junior stopped outside the door. “All we’ve been through,” he said, and he shook his head.
Senior wants Junior to retire, hang up the gloves with brain, reputation and unblemished record intact. He wants Junior to retire Saturday, but he knows that will not happen.
As the end nears, both said they have begun to consider Junior’s place in boxing history. Senior speaks like any father. He loves Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard. But … “Man, people already know,” Senior said. “My son is the greatest fighter on this planet today. Someone just told me the other day, you’re the baddest father in the world. That’s your, what’s it called, your DNA.”
He paused again.
“I can’t speak about tomorrow, what’s going to come, but if tomorrow, if it comes, that will probably be me training him.”