Floyd Mayweather Jr. found himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun. There were tears, then an unabashed wail that only added to the sense of foreboding that something bad was about to happen in his Grand Rapids, Mich., home.
Floyd was not quite two years old.
According to Rolling Stone, at the other end of a potential tragedy was a man known to all simply as "Baboon." Tony Sinclair was his given name, and a brother of Floyd's mother, Deborah. More importantly, to this story at least, Baboon was a business associate of the toddler's father "Big" Floyd, a small-time drug dealer and the first of three Mayweather brothers to rise toward the top of the fight game.
That Floyd Sr. never made it quite as far his younger brothers was the least of his problems on Jan. 21, 1979. Baboon had come into the house, not to threaten a child, but to settle things with Floyd Sr.
According to family legend, business had gone badly between the two men. Only one of them, however, was an accomplished enough pugilist to have taken the great Sugar Ray Leonard to a decision just four months earlier.
Floyd Sr. grabbed Sinclair by the throat at a local roller rink and sent him scurrying. When he returned to find "Big" Floyd in the home where they both lived, Sinclair had a 20-gauge friend and death in his eyes. Floyd Sr. had nothing but his young son, who he held by the ankles in front of him as the world's tiniest human shield.
Floyd Sr. related the story to the Los Angeles Times.
"If you're going to kill me, you're going to kill the baby, too," Mayweather Sr. said he told Sinclair. "[Floyd Jr.'s] mother said, 'Give me the baby.' She was pulling the baby out of my arms so her brother could shoot me.
"But I wasn't going to put that baby down. I didn't want to die. It wasn't about putting my son in the line of fire. I knew [Sinclair] wouldn't shoot the baby. So he took the gun off my face, lowered it to my leg and bam!"
The buckshot destroyed Floyd Sr.'s leg, taking off much of his left calf. The injury drastically altered his boxing career, limiting his movement and forcing a complete alteration of his carefully honed tactics. Once promising, he suddenly found himself little more than a journeyman. He continued fighting until 1985, but money, never in abundance, became scarce.
"All the time I was fighting, I still had to hustle to get money because I had kids to feed," Floyd Sr. told FightSaga. "I wanted to make sure that little Floyd didn't have to do that when he was coming up. That's one of the reasons he's as good as he is today."
Floyd Sr.'s boxing energy, focus and passion were still there and would find a home in his young son. His grandmother remembers Floyd wearing boxing gloves almost as soon as he could walk.
"'I taught him the right things, and I've tried to teach him how to avoid the wrong things,'' Mayweather Sr. told The New York Times. ''He was training to be a fighter in the crib. No kidding. He was throwing jabs even then. And then when he got a little older he'd be beating the doorknobs.''
By the time Floyd was two years old, his father was proclaiming him a future world champion. When Floyd reached elementary school, it was clear the family had a prodigy on their hands. While other fathers and sons had ballgames and barbecues, the Mayweathers had boxing.
Floyd told the Daily News:
I don't remember him ever taking me anywhere or doing anything that a father would do with a son, going to the park or to the movies or to get ice cream. I always thought that he liked his daughter (Floyd's older stepsister) better than he liked me because she never got whippings and I got whippings all the time.
Floyd Sr. was a hard taskmaster, often punctuating his lessons with a beating if he thought it would help get his point across.
"My father would beat me for anything I did, even if I hadn't done anything," Floyd told The Guardian. "I used to pray for the day I could become an adult and get away from it. I got tired of getting beat."
But young Floyd was undaunted. From a very young age, he gravitated toward the Tawsi and Pride Gyms in Grand Rapids, searching for a father's approval in the one place that mattered most to him.
The Pride Gym was a hard place, filled with tough fighters—and one boy with pockets full of candy and cookies from the convenience store beneath the facility. That was the only sign, however, that Floyd was just a boy. In the ring, he had the work ethic and skill of a grown man.
Bruce Kielty, who ran the gym, remembers a young Floyd standing on an apple box at age 10, needing the extra boost to reach the speed bag. He balanced precariously as the box shifted, a convenience that helped him develop quick feet to go along with his quick hands.
At age 11, Floyd officially took Mayweather as his surname. Before that, he was Floyd Sinclair, after his mother. Legally, Floyd Jr. was now a Mayweather in name and blood. It was a telling decision—an attempt to bond with his father in a way that didn't involve the older man running after him in combat boots as the developing young fighter built the discipline and technique that would eventually make him the richest athlete in sports.
"My life is kind of like Michael Jackson’s, you know? Or similar in some ways," Floyd told Interview magazine. "I...Every day as a kid, I went to the boxing gym. I knew boxing before I knew anything else."
Theirs wasn't a father-son relationship that extended far beyond the gym. It wasn't a passion shared at the dinner table while the two worked together on homework assignments. In fact, while Floyd's sister did homework, he practiced his autograph or went out in the dead of night. Floyd Sr. was running the same streets, hustling and getting sucked deeper into the dope game.
His son was a transient. While his mother suffered through drug addiction, the family seemed always on the move. Grand Rapids was no picnic for Floyd as an adolescent. Violence was routine and drugs were everywhere. One of his aunts died of AIDS. But it was nothing compared to New Brunswick, N.J., where he remembers three years of squalor.
"There were seven of us sleeping in a one bedroom apartment," Floyd told Rolling Stone. "No heat, no hot water, nothing."
Through it all, Floyd Jr. excelled in his true home—the boxing ring. Sixteen was a transformative age for Mayweather. He won the national Golden Gloves championship in 1993 at 106 pounds, but that paled in comparison to his father's arrest and conviction for cocaine trafficking. For the next five-and-a-half years, Mayweather would be without a father and a coach.
"I wanted to cry, seeing him like that," Mayweather told The New York Times. "But I was supposed to be a man. So I didn't.''
It was only then that his uncle, former WBC junior welterweight champion Roger "The Black Mamba" Mayweather came into Floyd's life as more than a bit player. He took over Mayweather's training and, with the exception of a two-year period after Floyd Sr.'s release from prison in 1998, has been the driving force behind his nephew's career.
The rift between the two brothers hasn't healed to this day, even at their mother's insistence. Floyd Sr., who later guided Oscar De La Hoya to great success, believes he deserves more credit for his son's career. Roger, who was in the corner while his brother was in jail and was later ostracized by his own son, bristles at that idea.
"Floyd got to where he is because of me, not because of what Floyd Sr. did," Roger said in media conference call in 2007. "He set the groundwork, but I'm the one who got him on pay-per-view."
Floyd Sr., of course, did not go gently into that good night. This wasn't a clean cut—instead, the relationship between father and son was severed slowly. First he was replaced as manager, then trainer, before finally, after an argument escalated at a posh Las Vegas restaurant, "Little" Floyd evicted his own father from the condo he had given him and took back his car. Father and son didn't speak for seven years except to trade insults in the press.
"My father is jealous of me,'' Mayweather told The New York Times in 2003. ''His career never took off. He knows as a fighter he was never as good as me. In fact, he was never better than me at nothing.''
Father and son reconciled, briefly, when Floyd Jr. fought De La Hoya in 2008. Floyd Sr. was willing to train De La Hoya for the fight against his own son for a fee of $2 million. Perhaps sensing trouble on the horizon, De La Hoya went with Freddie Roach instead.
Suddenly father and son were back together, a two-man emotional feedback loop, as their on-again, off-again relationship was documented for the world on a series of reality television shows. What was real and what was a show for the cameras was, and is, open to interpretation.
These days, they are definitely on again. As Mayweather prepares for what will likely be one of the final fights of his career, the paradigm has shifted once again. Roger Mayweather, ill with diabetes, will take a back seat for the fight on May 4 against Robert Guerrero. After 13 years on the outside looking in, Floyd Sr. will again take the reins of his son's career.
"Well, my dad, of course—he's a boxing wizard and Roger's a boxing wizard, so you can't go wrong with either guy," Floyd Jr. told the media. "My dad is the main trainer and of course, like I said before, it's not like I fired anyone. It's just that my dad's a little sick, but he's a lot healthier than Roger is.
"Roger's health is not at its best right now and my main focus is I want a guy that's in my corner that's sharp and healthy. But he still works day in and day out with me every day as far as and keeping me sharp. But my dad is the main trainer...fight night, my dad will be working my corner."
Despite the chaos and constantly swirling relationships, Mayweather values family. He's moved many of his relatives close to his Las Vegas home and his training sessions often resemble a family reunion. Roger believes this side of "Little" Floyd prompted the change in his corner—one last-ditch effort to bring the two brothers together while there is still time.
"He figures he can do that basically by having us in the corner together," Roger Mayweather told MLive.com. "That's the only thing I can think of. All this time, Floyd's been with me, the whole time he's boxed. So for it to be something else, it's something that he's trying to mend."
Floyd Jr. confirmed that dime-store analysis, agreeing that boxing could bring his splintered family back together.
"The arguments we had in the past or the differences my dad and my uncle had in the past—that's the past," Mayweather said in a recent media conference call. "That's why we call it the past because we try to leave that in the past and focus on the future and the future should be bright. And at this point in time, everything is going the way it should go."