LAS VEGAS—The machine looks futuristic, like a time-travel tube or a tanning bed covered in metal and flipped upright and opened at the top to release a fog of nitrogen mist. It’s called a Cryosauna, and it’s among Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s preferred methods of recovery, an extreme, new-age version of an ice bath. One that his personal assistant and resident Cryosauna guru invited SI.com to try out.
“I’m going to freeze you,” David Levi says.
Levi opened SubZero Recovery last week. His Cryosauna, which cost about $60,000, was developed in Poland, shipped here from Dallas and used for the first time by Mayweather, the undefeated welterweight now deep in training for his May 2 bout with Manny Pacquiao.
On Tuesday morning, Levi handed over thick blacks socks, a white robe, sandals and wool gloves. His technician told me to step inside the cylinder, which was already filled with a cloud of nitrogen that swirled out of the door as it closed with me inside. The temperature read minus-115°. As in, Celsius.
It felt like a stand-up CT-scan. Only colder. The temperature continued to drop. I could feel it in my legs, a minor, inconvenient chill at first. Thirty seconds passed. The cold moved into my midsection, up toward my head. One minute, gone. The temp gauge read minus-120°. I shivered. One minute thirty seconds. My body shook. It wasn’t an unbearable cold, but it was an uncomfortable one. Two minutes. Thoughts drifted somewhere between “hang on, it’s almost over” to “maybe I should ask if I can get out.”
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At 2:30, the door opened. The mist snaked out like some sort of WWE entrance as I stepped outside. That’s about the longest they recommend for a first-time user. Even regular freezees are not supposed to go beyond three minutes. My body warmed, immediately, and that, Levi says, is the point.
This is his explanation of how it works: “It tricks your body into thinking you’re going into hypothermia. So it sends blood from your arms and legs into your core. That blood picks up enzymes and oxygen and nutrients, and as you jump out, it circulates back through your body.”
Kobe Bryant swears by this process, Levi says. That’s how Mayweather found out about it. He used to travel to Los Angeles twice per week during training at the cost of roughly $12,000 per trip for a round-trip flight from Las Vegas on his private jet.
The Lakers and Mavericks, Levi says, both have similar machines. Their players use them before and after games, he says.
Levi opened the business without Mayweather’s financial assistance, but with Mayweather’s assurance he would help to promote it. The Pacquiao fight, of course, is accompanied by unprecedented promotion, which made last week the perfect time to open.
This is part of Mayweather’s push in recent years to help his closest friends and associates plan for when his career ends. He wrote a letter to them about a year ago, according to his manager, Leonard Ellerbe, asking them to be creative and come up with business plans he may be able to help with, as his career draws to a close. (He’s expected to fight at least twice more, May 2 included, but perhaps not beyond that.)
Mayweather’s friends have started various businesses with his backing: a boxing promotional company that bears his name, Mayweather Promotions; a women’s clothing line; and a makeup line, among others. In some endeavors, like the boxing promotional company, he is heavily involved and heavily invested. In others, he’s more of a silent backer. Or he uses his mighty social media heft to help promote it.
Levi took a circuitous route to the role of Mayweather’s personal assistant and resident moneybag holder. He went to UNLV to study business and box, but before he left, he knocked on the door of his friend’s neighbor’s house in Los Angeles. Sam Watson, one of Mayweather’s advisors, lived there, and Watson gave Levi his number. Every time Watson came to Vegas, Levi picked him up at the airport and ferried him around. That led to an internship at Mayweather Promotions, which led to a six-month stint as an office assistant, which led Levi to corner Mayweather alone one day and ask him about obtaining a job that, you know, actually paid.
“Just try me out one day,” Levi told Mayweather. “If you don’t like me, you never have to call me again.”
Mayweather gave Levi his number and told him to call back in two weeks. But before he could do that, Mayweather called him the next morning. It was 7 a.m., which is usually close to when Mayweather goes to sleep. He told Levi to come over to his house in three hours, then called back five minutes later and said, “Actually, just come over now.”
He gave Levi a list of 10 simple tasks. Stuff like: Buy medium-sized boxers in black by a certain company, from a certain store. Mayweather gave him cash, too, and Levi returned in three hours with the tasks completed and $1.65 or so in change.
“You can call Leonard and tell him you work for me now,” Mayweather said.
Levi was thrilled. His parents? A tad concerned. ““They were kind of scared,” Levi says. “Honestly. His persona at that time was a little different. Now he’s kind of mellowed. My dad wasn’t so bad. My mom was a little more worried. But I called her.”
One of Levi’s jobs is to carry Mayweather’s moneybag. It’s actually a bunch of different bags, in the range of 40 to 50 total by Levi’s rough count. At first, “it was kind of fun” for Levi to hold onto the bag. But then it seemed like people followed him. Levi makes most of Mayweather’s opulent casino bets—when Mayweather travels, Levi often remains in Vegas to do just that—but he says people get the wrong idea about what’s in the bag. “They think there’s like $1 million in there,” Levi says. “It’s not like that. Some days there might be a couple hundred thousand in the bag, but it’s not very often that it’s like that. On any given day there could be nothing in the bag that I’m carrying. But people think that there’s something in there. Like there could just be a bunch of cell phone chargers, some paperwork and some of those forearm grips that Floyd uses. That’s it.”
Now, Levi has the Cryosauna business in addition to his assistant duties. And now, it’s Mayweather who has placed a bet on him. After Mayweather put a video of his Cryosauna visit on his Instagram page, Levi heard from interested people in Egypt, New Zealand and Australia. Professional athletes—he doesn’t name names—messaged him. “Floyd doesn’t want his name to be involved with something that’s a failure,” Levi says.
He was later spotted that afternoon at the Mayweather Boxing Club, for media day, amid some 200 reporters. It was 80 degrees inside, just how Mayweather likes it. Levi will freeze several Mayweather Promotions boxers over the course of the next week, Mayweather included.
But for that afternoon, he was like everyone else. Sweating.