How 'Little Floyd' Became 'Money Mayweather'

Brandon Sneed@@brandonsneedWriter-at-Large, B/R MagApril 28, 2015

B/R via Getty Images, AP Images

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." — Kurt Vonnegut

Floyd Mayweather is wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of himself on it, and he's telling us that a storm that's coming isn't really coming.

We're in a tent overflowing with 100 or more journalists and photographers. We're in the parking lot in front of Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas, here for the Mayweather camp's media day. It's hot and windy, the tent's white plastic walls flapping like they're trying to tear away.

Kelly Swanson—president of Swanson Communications, Mayweather's public relations firm—just said we should all go inside because she just heard a bad storm was on the way. But now Mayweather is waving his arms and saying, "Mannn, there ain't no storm!"

So ignore the storm, for the moment anyway, because Money Mayweather said so. After all, he is why we're here.

His fight with Manny Pacquiao is the biggest yet—the first true superfight since Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson—and likely the last we'll ever see. Mayweather will be paid accordingly, maybe as much as $180 million.

This insanity exists because Mayweather willed it, taking control of the boxing business—even the sports business, if not entertainment on the whole—in a way we may never see again. Eight years ago, at age 30, Mayweather bought out his contract with his promoter and became his own boss, something that he'd wanted since turning pro at 19 and which no other boxer has ever done. Leonard Ellerbe—who's known Mayweather since before his first world title at 21 and is now the Mayweather Promotions CEO—will tell me later, "We built the business model that would never, ever be duplicated."

They built it on Mayweather's "Money Mayweather" persona, part invincible boxer (not only never knocked out—never knocked down), part showman (wearing crowns to press conferences, dancing up on opponents, choking people, etc.), part peacock (owner of more than 100 luxury cars and millions in jewelry, forever boasting about how much money he has all the time). His motto: "Love me or hate me, you're gonna watch me."

For seven fights from 2010 to 2014, Mayweather made $217 million in guaranteed money, pulling down anywhere from $11 million to $41.5 million guaranteed per fight. He also gets a percentage of everything sold in arenas on fight night, from tickets to hot dogs. When he fought Canelo Alvarez in 2013 for a guaranteed $41.5 million, he reportedly took home more than $80 million. He made $102 million in 2014 alone, more than the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo ($21 million), LeBron James ($42 million) and Roger Federer ($65 million).

It works because Mayweather is one of the finest, smartest boxers we've ever seen, and because he works, with a drive that Kobe Bryant has called "maniacal." He'll wake up crying from a dream about losing and go run 10 miles to get it out of his head. His 3 a.m. runs through the streets of Las Vegas are legendary. He doesn't drink or smoke.

"That is why he's lasted so long," says Bruce Kielty, an independent matchmaker and former Grand Rapids gym proprietor who's known Mayweather since he was 10. "I can hardly remember any fighter I've been following since the mid '60s who has retained his conditioning for so many years. And not only that, but there are no lapses in it.

"He's been doing this since he was 10 years old. He's over 38 years old. So you're talking a tremendous span of conditioning—I mean, that's remarkable. [Muhammad] Ali couldn't do it. [Mike] Tyson. Nobody, really. The conditioning for boxing is so severe that most boxers can't handle the grind of it for however many years."

The result is this, is today, is this sensation of a man, a god among us, really, almost a cartoon character. A boy who grew up filthy poor and made himself into an ultimate personification of the American dream, the most powerful athlete alive—so powerful it seems he really thinks that he can stop storms, that he can change the truth.

John Locher/Associated Press

Four hours west, in Valencia, California, Josie Harris, the single mother to three of Mayweather's children, is just trying to get through another workday. It's a harder day than most. She woke up to 17 text messages from friends and family sending links to a new interview Mayweather gave to Katie Couric.

Three years ago, Mayweather spent 60 days in prison for viciously assaulting Harris in front of their three kids in 2010. It was the sixth time he beat her and the most famous of more than a dozen documented times Mayweather has assaulted people since 2002, most of them women, and several other unconfirmed reports. Seven alleged assaults against five different women ended with Mayweather either cited or arrested.

When Couric interviewed him, however, Mayweather said that he was merely "restraining a woman on drugs." Couric, one of the most famous, likable and respected journalists alive, listened without challenge, with a smile on her face.

Harris didn't want to talk about this with me or any journalist. She knows perception is reality, especially in the warped world of celebrity, and she doesn't want people thinking she just wants attention. When she called, she was somewhere between angry and exasperated but still thoughtful and articulate.

"At this time in my life, I don't want to continue to bash him," she says. "This is somebody that I have to co-parent with. But I woke up really, really, really upset, to the point of tears. … You just want bad things that happened to you sometimes to just go away. … I feel like I'm continuously under attack. … Him still doing all of this, saying these things about me in the press, it's still a form of abuse."

A lot of people hate Mayweather for what he's done to Harris and the others. You'd think Harris would too. She doesn't. She can't. She knows him too well. She might even still love him. "People are a product of their environment," she says. "I feel bad for him. I feel sorry for him."

Floyd Mayweather has had a tumultuous relationship with his father.
Floyd Mayweather has had a tumultuous relationship with his father.Laura Rauch/Associated Press/Associated Press

In the beginning, he was just a kid called Little Floyd, and like all of us, he was fated to become a refraction of his father.

Big Floyd was a good boxer, ranked in Ring magazine's Top 10 at one point, and he likes to say that everything his son is today is because of him. He's not totally right, but he's not wrong either.

Little Floyd's mom, Deborah Sinclair, was a crack addict, and Big Floyd sold her the crack. Big Floyd likes to say he dealt just to take care of his family, but he spent his money on much more than that, usually nice clothes, nice cars and women. "And," says Kielty, laughing, "most of his cars ended up getting keyed by some woman he'd ticked off."

Big Floyd had the personality that Money Mayweather is famous for now.

"He had that '70s-style swagger," says Kielty, who ran Pride Gym. He and West Grand Gym proprietor Dave Packer both remember Big Floyd sauntering around spitting out rhymes, wearing leather pants and flashy shirts from an expensive store called The New Yorker, driving tricked-out cars. When he trained, he'd pull out a wad of hundreds four inches thick and ask Kielty to hold it.

To make weight before his 1985 fight against Marlon Starling in Atlantic City, Big Floyd had to strip naked. Behind the towel on the scale, he spotted Starling in the audience. "Hey Marlon!" he yelled. "Come on over! You might want to see what a real man looks like!"

When Little Floyd was a year old, Big Floyd took Sugar Ray Leonard 10 rounds before getting knocked out, but that's where his career pretty much ended. Four months later, Big Floyd got into an argument with Deborah's brother, Tony, and ended up choking him. Tony came for Big Floyd later and pointed a shotgun at his chest.

Big Floyd held Little Floyd between himself and the gun, saying if Tony wanted to kill him, he'd have to kill the baby too.

Tony shot Big Floyd in the leg, destroying his calf.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Big Floyd had Little Floyd throwing punches as an infant, the way most parents have their kids waving or high-fiving. When Little Floyd was two, Big Floyd took him to the gym and held him up to hit the speed bag.

Little Floyd was a sweet, charming, rambunctious kid, running around bragging about how great he was, just like Dad. "They'd go to the gym in the morning and stay until night," his grandmother, Bernice Mayweather, has said.

Little Floyd grew up training in Pride and West Grand. Pride was on a seedy Grand Rapids street, across from an adult bookstore and right down the sidewalk from another store that just says XXX above it. West Grand Gym was on the second floor of a green building, above The Shade Shop. Pride has long been vacant, its blue wooden sign painted over, the inside nothing more than dusty hardwood floor. West Grand moved elsewhere, its former home now an art studio.

As Little Floyd grew older, "It was hard on him," Bernice has said. "He didn't ever get to play that much, like the other kids."

He's said many times that his father beat him with belts and extension cords for just about anything. "I couldn't make mistakes," he's said. "If I make a mistake, my dad would cuss me out, slap me…put me in my place."

"It was to the point," his sister, Latisha Mayweather-Starling, has said, "where Floyd just ate, slept and drank boxing. That's what his life was consumed of."

Mayweather wanted to quit sometimes, but he couldn't, because, he's said, Big Floyd would beat him until he went to the gym.

"Me and my dad's relationship has always just been boxing," Little Floyd has said. "Nothing else. Just boxing. If it wasn't about boxing, then it wasn't about nothing."

The one way Little Floyd connected with his father was when Big Floyd was training him, their only bond through the sport. And the better and better Little Floyd got at boxing, the more and more excited his father became, and Little Floyd liked that. In some ways, boxing was Mayweather's only real connection with anyone.

When Mayweather was around 10 years old, he rode to one of his first tournaments with Kielty and his wife, Janet—Big Floyd couldn't make it—and he spent the whole drive talking about how great it was going to be, how great he was going to be, just wait, just watch.

When they arrived, there were no kids in Mayweather's low weight class with the same experience. He didn’t have a fight. Mayweather ran around the gym trying to convince tournament officials to set one up for him. When that didn't work, he went to Janet and leaned his head on her shoulder and cried. I just wanted to fight. "He was very intense," Janet says. "And the disappointment was more than what he was able to take on. He wanted to show everybody else how good he was. … He sat there and sobbed for a while."

When he was done, he wiped his eyes and said, "Don't tell the other boys I was crying."

Floyd with his father and Uncle Roger.
Floyd with his father and Uncle Roger.Isaac Brekken/Associated Press/Associated Press

Big Floyd went to prison in 1993 for cocaine trafficking. Little Floyd was 16. His father was gone until after Little Floyd turned pro.

Mayweather went to Las Vegas to stay with Big Floyd's brother Roger, a world champion boxer. But Roger didn't want to take care of a teenager. He sent Mayweather back to Grand Rapids to live with his grandmother. Soon after that, Roger got to talking to Don Hale, a businessman from Grand Rapids who was in Vegas with a fighter he managed, and asked Hale to look in on Little Floyd.

When Mayweather and Hale first met, Mayweather had quit working out, and, he told Hale later, he was thinking about selling drugs. He'd learned how from his father, and now that Big Floyd was gone, he didn't have any money—and that scared him more than anything. When he was younger, he'd briefly lived with his mother, where he would often open the fridge, hungry, to find it cold and empty.

Mayweather calls Hale "my white dad." Hale got him back in the gym, convinced him of his gifts. Before long, Mayweather moved in with Hale and his wife and their kids. He stayed with them for nearly three years. Hale bought him a car and whatever clothes he wanted, which always meant the nicest Ralph Lauren polo shirts and the newest Air Jordans. "The best-dressed amateur boxer in America," Hale says with a chuckle.

Hale always thought Mayweather seemed, in some ways, much younger than he really was. He was an otherworldly young boxer, but the way he spoke and acted, his mind still seemed like a kid's.

When Mayweather was finally back in the gym, Dave Packer says he had changed, his demeanor heavier, darker. "He just wasn't the same," Packer says. "You'd have to push him a little bit more. He seemed depressed and down, not as outgoing. Just didn't seem like his old self."

Big Floyd has said that he worked with Mayweather even while in prison, constantly telling him what to do on the phone, telling him to keep up his training, saying that even in prison, Little Floyd needed him—but that's not really how it went.

As far as Hale saw, Mayweather wanted nothing to do with his father. When Big Floyd called, Hale had to talk Mayweather into coming to the phone. Even after Big Floyd transferred to a Michigan prison a mere three hours away, "I would have to make him go," Hale says. "He didn't want to go."

All his life, Big Floyd taught his son not to take punishment in the boxing ring. "That's just stupid," he would say. He taught Little Floyd his unusual boxing style: Keep the left hand lower, use the shoulder to deflect attacks, defense first, always attack by countering, always keep things under your control.

For better or worse, that pretty much stuck even after he went to prison.

"I was his trainer when his dad went to prison," says Packer. "But I didn't train him. He was already trained. There wasn't much you were going to show him. He did almost everything right."

But the way he was taught to box is also how Little Floyd began to live. Attacking by countering, keeping things under his control.

"Mayweather did not want his dad in control when he was gone," Hale says. "That was obvious. And it was obvious his dad still wanted to feel like he was in control from prison. And I let him feel that way. He would call and tell me what to do. 'Here, write down these combinations.' Well, I never wrote down a combination."

From that point, on, it seems Mayweather wanted to control everything that ever happened to him. Deflect the pain. Attack by counter. Take no punishment.

He threw himself into boxing, to the point of dropping out of school his senior year to focus on it, living for the one thing he felt he could count on.

Young Floyd at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Young Floyd at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.HANS DERYK/Associated Press/Associated Press

From the time his father went to prison to the time he got out three years later, Mayweather won three national Golden Gloves titles and went to the Olympics. And in the Olympics, as is well known by now, he lost a wildly controversial decision in the semifinals, after which he declared he was going pro, further taking control.

Along the way, Mayweather and Hale's relationship imploded over a misunderstanding. Hale says he just wanted to help Little Floyd and assumed he'd be Mayweather’s manager when he turned pro, so he had him sign a letter of intent, just so something was on paper in case others started sniffing around.

When other promoters started recruiting Mayweather, Hale pressed, Mayweather balked and, in short, "We both made mistakes," Hale says. "He was already looking at it like business, and I was still looking at him like a kid."

Mayweather signed with Top Rank, Hale sued him and they barely spoke for years.

"There was something different there," Hale says. "We treated him just like our kids, and he was able to just turn his back on that like it never happened. I don't think most people could do that."

Mayweather had an eerie ability to ignore people. He could go for months without talking to his best friends if he felt they'd wronged him. "He never made that first move," Hale says. Hale remembers them having an argument and then Mayweather leaving to stay with his grandmother. He ignored Hale for a month until Hale apologized. Then Mayweather moved right back in.

"I don't know that he ever felt a lot of love," Hale says. "His dad would take him to the boxing gym, but the rest of the time, he was chasing women and selling drugs. I think his grandmother loved him, but then she was older, and she didn't want to have to take care of a teenager. And his mother had a drug problem. And then his uncle didn't want him to stay with him. So who knows what all that does to a kid's mind. I just don't know that Mayweather ever learned to feel love the way that most people do."

At media day, when I ask Big Floyd about the times in the past that "weren't the best," he protests, indignant, "They weren't the best? They was the best!"

I tried talking with the rest of the Mayweathers. Flew to Grand Rapids, trekked all over town. Set a meeting with Little Floyd's grandmother, Bernice, but she canceled when I knocked on her door. Said she was tired, and I should just talk to Mayweather. She seemed exhausted by my presence—by the media.

The other Mayweathers who didn't outright ignore me all responded the same sort of way. They all seem just tired of talking about Mayweather. His uncle Jeff said, "I keep my stories within my own circle so they don't get twisted and the wrong message gets out there, unless you're willing to pay me.” He asked for $2,500. He and the Mayweather clan have given hours upon hours' worth of interviews over the years, sucked into the Money May vortex. "Too many people have made too much money off us, and we didn't see a cent of it," Jeff said.

Hale and Mayweather would reconcile years later. Mayweather actually made a first move, calling Hale at 2 a.m. the morning after a fight with Jesus Chavez. "I think about what you and Dixie did for me every day," he said. "And I just want to say thank you."

Now Hale gets the occasional phone call from Mayweather, usually anywhere between midnight and 4 a.m. Even now, Hale sometimes feels like he's still talking to the same uncertain kid.

Floyd amid a media horde at his gym in Vegas.
Floyd amid a media horde at his gym in Vegas.John Locher/Associated Press/Associated Press

Before he'd fought his first professional fight, Mayweather told his friend Macc that he was going to make $100 million in boxing. Macc laughed and said, "How about let's just make $1 million first?"

From the start, winning was never enough. Two years into his career, he was already developing his brash reputation. After one of his first fights, a TV reporter said to him, "You showboated a little bit, that's part of your thing. Obviously, it rankled the crowd a little bit. They weren't thrilled with that."

Mayweather said, "That's what sells tickets. And I'm here to sell tickets. I'm a performer. That's what I do. I sell myself."

And of course, that's exactly what he ended up doing, in legendary fashion.

He'd always had a knack for getting what he wanted. When he was 11, he would convince his 16-year-old cousin Janelle to shoot dice with him, betting for her tips from work at Chuck E. Cheese, and he'd always win all her money. She'd threaten to tell on him, and he'd say, "[Then they'll] know you were shooting dice, too."

"He always had an angle," Janelle told CBS in 2013, with a grin. "Always up to no good."

Mayweather, of course, sold himself as Money Mayweather, known today as something of an antihero—if not an outright villain—but when he first started promoting himself, he actually wanted to be known as a good guy. When he was 19, he became Macc's legal guardian. (The kid was 16.) Not that he was the most responsible guardian ever—they partied together all night every night.

"Mayweather's vice is a good party," Macc says. But Mayweather always made Macc go to school the next morning, often taking him straight from the club to the school.

Mayweather's former assistant, Tasha Robinson-White, who worked with him for 12 years, says they tried marketing him as something of a benevolent moneymaker. When Mayweather goes on his famous midnight runs through the Vegas streets, he sometimes stops and gives thousands of dollars to homeless people. He gave one of them a job. He sometimes tips not only his waitress at restaurants but also the cooks and even the busboys.

He's given away countless thousands of dollars—likely even millions, Robinson-White says—helping people and just giving out bonuses, including a $100,000 bonus for Robinson-White one year and $140,000 for the Michigan Golden Gloves Association. He started the Floyd Mayweather Classic charity basketball tournament at his former high school, Ottawa Hills, and he bought its basketball teams new uniforms. He launched the Floyd Mayweather Foundation in Grand Rapids, not Vegas, to give back to his hometown first. He was late to a speech at a Grand Rapids school, so he gave hundred-dollar bills out to every kid there.

But none of that gave him the attention he needed, and sometimes it even backfired. People, especially in Grand Rapids, started complaining that he didn't do enough. Robinson-White will never forget the day Mayweather gave the money to the kids at school—parents whose kids missed school that day called local radio stations to complain that their kids didn't get money.

"There were lots of things like that," she says. "But that's just the perfect example. They were always putting him in a negative light. So it was almost like, 'Well, if they already think this of me, then whatever.'"

John Locher/Associated Press

Even if people were talking bad about him, Mayweather realized, they were still talking about him. "If you're paying to watch me lose, keep paying," he said. As for the media? "Bad press, good press, bad stories, good stories, it doesn't really matter what you write about me. Just write about me."

He bought a fleet of luxury cars. He branded his entourage The Money Team and himself The Best Ever, both of which became lifestyle brands that made him more money. He partied constantly, dropping 10 grand on bottle service in a heartbeat, never drinking himself but making sure everyone around him had a good time. He blew tens of thousands in strip clubs. If the party wasn't at a strip club, he paid for strippers to come to the party. Robinson-White writes in her book Right Hand to the Champ about Mayweather tossing $50,000 into a pool one night just to watch the strippers fish it out.

Some of this he'd been doing all along, but the difference became that he started telling everyone who could hear him.

He gave reporters detailed breakdowns of his extravagant, wasteful spending, such as how he never wears a pair of boxers more than once and rarely a pair of shoes more than once; how he almost never packs clothes for travel because he just goes shopping whenever he arrives at his destination, and how he leaves most of those clothes in the room when he leaves. He once showed a reporter the ATM receipt for his bank account, more than $123 million. He regularly posted winning gambling slips of more than a million.

"The flashy, the flamboyant Floyd Mayweather, that's what the people want," he told CBS in 2013. "The people want entertainment. And I like to give the people what they want to see."

Even today, the good things he does don't get the same attention as the bad. Mayweather has written letters to friends and associates, telling them to get creative and come up with business ideas, and he would help and invest in them however he could. He's helped Ricki Brazil launch a clothing line and management group, and David Levi, once a mere intern, launch a cutting-edge cryosauna.

Those things have been written about, but not as much as, say, Mayweather signing his Pacquiao contract with a $4,000 pen that required him to wear gloves or creating a $25,000 mouthpiece for the fight, complete with embedded $100 bills. Something as simple as arriving late to media day made headlines—and inaccurate ones at that.

"It's a game," Robinson-White says. "He tests people, playing chess against himself. And now everybody's just like pawns. And he's just kinda playing them. He wants to control everything."

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

That's one thing everyone in Mayweather's life agrees on: "He's a control freak." Mayweather himself has said before, "Everything that goes my way isn't always the right way. I know that. But I like things the way I like them."

Various people—Kielty, Robinson-White, Harris—confirm strange quirks chronicled by media over the years. He shaves all the hair from his body every single day. He constantly sanitizes himself with Purell and wipes, often leaving him "smelling like a hospital," Robinson-White says. He has janitors clean bathroom stalls before he uses them. He'll shower up to four times a day. An employee's sole task is keeping his cars clean. When he flies, he puts his bodyguards in a separate private jet to follow his, afraid that too much weight will make the plane fall out of the sky, needing to control even flight.

When he goes to train, he needs 16 pairs of gloves, laid out in orderly fashion, to choose from. He needs multiple options for shirts, shorts, socks, shoes. "He's very particular," his 86-year-old corner man Rafael Garcia has said. "If he tries something that doesn't feel right, he tosses it aside and tries something else until it does."

Harris thinks he may have a god complex. Bob Arum, Mayweather's former promoter and Pacquiao's current one, recently compared Mayweather to the megalomaniac emperor in the play Emperor Jones, about a man who escapes prison and then hides out on a Caribbean island, where he becomes emperor of its simplistic inhabitants by portraying himself as a god. (It ends with the islanders rebelling and shooting Jones dead.)

The only thing crazier than Mayweather wanting to control everything? He kind of does. He's paid his way out of failing at his craft: When he didn't make weight for his Juan Manuel Marquez fight, he gave him $600,000 (of his guaranteed $10 million), and the fight went on.

He became so powerful that when he was sentenced in 2012 for his attack on Harris, his sentence was delayed so he could fight on the date of his choice. Even when he had to take punishment, he took it on his own terms.

"The media, the world, gave him this power," Robinson-White says. "What do you think he's going to do with it?"

But of course, if there's one human quality to be counted on, it's the same thing Mayweather embraces: rebellion. People inevitably rebel against Mayweather, at least in his mind, and when he cannot control people, when he loses his power, he loses control of himself.

"He's very bipolar," Harris says. "Jekyll and Hyde."

"His love language is giving gifts," Harris says. He'll give his women cash, like investing in ex-girlfriend (and former victim) Melissa Brim's boutique, and buy them nice presents and homes to live in. Providing after scarring. His way of saying, "Here's why I'm worth it."

(Minor problem: Sometimes he mixes up his gifts. One Valentine's Day, Harris recalls she received several gifts, each box marked with her initials, "J.H.," except one: "M.B." That box held a Gucci handbag. Harris threw it into the yard. "F--k your gifts!")

But fall out of favor with Mayweather, slip his grasp, and he'll take everything he ever gave you.

Counter. Take no punishment.

Mayweather gave Harris a $500,000 ring in 2006. After he assaulted Harris in 2010, she sold the ring and used the money to move to Valencia and start her business, Nappiesaks. She was lucky. When Mayweather and ex-fiancee Shantel Jackson split up, he kicked her out without so much as a suitcase, and he made her empty her purse on a table in front of him. She has since sued him for assault, to which Mayweather responded by accusing her of aborting their twins.

He attacked Harris in 2010 after learning she was dating someone. They weren't even together.

After years of therapy and a lot of help, including some time on antidepressants, Harris feels like she can finally see Mayweather clearly. Looking back, it's obvious what he was. They started dating soon after meeting in Grand Rapids, when she was 17 and he was 19. He was charming, funny and handsome. He also chased off her current boyfriend—punched him in the face.

She doesn't want to hurt Mayweather, to make him suffer any more than she thinks he already does. She could. She has pictures of what his abuse has done to her, but she hasn't released them, for some of the same reasons she has lied for him, which she did many times after many assaults over many years—protecting him from the police, keep him out of prison, trying to save him.

"I don't think that somebody who loves themselves correctly abuses other people," she says. "Because loving somebody—the most important part is loving yourself first, right?"

After that night with Harris, Mayweather was so upset he called Tasha Robinson-White at some ungodly hour, even though she no longer worked for him. He told her what suit he wanted to be buried in. Tell my kids I love them.

Robinson-White was so worried that she went to his house. She found him sitting in a chair in front of his fireplace, somber as she'd ever seen him. "People don't seem to know it, but Mayweather has a sensitive side," Robinson-White says. She'll never forget the time he called her raving, saying she had to see some movie that had made him cry. "I would've never seen it!" Robinson-White says. "And when I seen it, I'm like, 'This is the hard, the Money Floyd Mayweather, strong, popping-in-awe character, telling me to go watch this type of movie?'"

It was The Notebook, a movie about someone who needs someone who loves her to tell her over and over and over again who they are, until she remembers, and then they can die in that love.

"I've seen people in his family die," Robinson-White says, "and him not really shed a tear over the situation." But that night after Harris, he cried. "His whole thing," Robinson-White says, "was about his kids, his kids, his kids."

He hated that they'd seen it—although not because of how it may have damaged them, but rather because of how it made him look. "He wants to be their hero," Robinson-White says.

She stayed with him, talking him up. You're the champ! You can get through anything! Come on, man! Then, after an hour, Mayweather hopped up, seeming lighter, like he'd let go of something, and said he was going to the movies.

"Excuse me, I've just been told there's a bad storm, and we need to head inside."

"Mannn, there ain't no storm!"

Two minutes later, a gust of wind nearly makes the tent fly away, and then we all go into the gym, the herd following Money. Dark clouds and thunder roll toward us from over the Strip.

Lil' Kim at Mayweather's trainining session.
Lil' Kim at Mayweather's trainining session.John Salangsang/Associated Press/Associated Press

Lil' Kim is here. And hey, there's David Hasselhoff for some reason. Nobody's quite sure why—Swanson didn't even know he was coming. Somehow, he still gets into the gym.

The gym, in the middle of Chinatown, is surprisingly modest. (Other than the 200 people all in there to look at one guy, I mean.) Two boxing rings, one elevated, the other on the floor. A couple of heavy bags, a speed bag, some stationary bikes, some pull-up and dip bars, a couch in the corner, giant speakers, some mirrors on the wall. Really, the most ostentatious thing is the 80-inch flat-screen TV in the lobby, beside the treadmills.

Well, that and the dozens of Floyd Mayweather posters and pictures lining the walls. In the lobby, there are two of him wearing what appears to be some sort of old-timey gangster getup, holding handfuls of cash in one and a machine gun in the other.

Dave Packer from Grand Rapids was here for Mayweather's fight against Marcos Maidana in September. The scene was like this but smaller. Packer stood with his back to the door, taking in all the chaos. He first met Little Floyd as an infant, maybe nine months old. Held him in his arms. Watching him grow up, Packer always thought Mayweather might be something special, but he never expected all of this.

Packer felt a jab in his back. It was Mayweather, standing just beyond the threshold, not quite in the gym yet, smiling. He held out his fist for a bump.

"He's funny now," Packer says. "You know, a lot of the guys, you give them a hug, and Mayweather's just—" Packer pantomimes pushing away, like a hug scares him.

Mayweather asked Packer how he'd been. Good, good, the old coach said. Then Mayweather stepped through the doorway and into the gym, and the horde swarmed toward him.

That day, Mayweather was all smiles and light talk, all Money, but Packer saw something that perhaps only a man who's known another man since he was a baby could see, and it worried him.

"He was real nervous," Packer says. "Just his eyes, you know—looking around, with all these people rushing at him. As outgoing as he tries to be, because he's in this position, he's making all that money—I think he's a little bit shy. And he tries to cover up by going overboard. He wanted to just be Little Floyd."

ERIC RISBERG/Associated Press

I asked Mayweather about his family. After all these years, with all the turmoil they've been through together, how have things been made right with everyone? Does he feel like they have been?

It was an open-ended question I hoped would draw out a thoughtful and real answer, a bit of Mayweather's heart. Instead, he just said: "My thing is always to stay positive. My Uncle Roger, he's a good trainer. My dad's a good trainer. And, um, you know, I love my family. I will always love my family. And everything is going great. … There's really not too much I have to say. Except that everything is going good in training camp, and I'm happy with how I've been performing, so we'll just see how everything plays out May 2."

Asked about his heart, he answered about boxing, then he's off to take others' questions. Which is about right, really. I was warned. "I don't even know if he'd talk about anything real right now," Robinson-White said. "He's got tickets to sell."

I end up hanging around Big Floyd. He's wearing a gaudy white button-down with brown and orange and yellow circles on it, and he can't believe how many people are here. "This is crazy," he says with a chuckle, shaking his head.

Mayweather said something earlier about retiring after his next fight, when his Showtime contract expires. Big Floyd is happy that he'll be in Mayweather’s corner May 2, but he hopes Mayweather really does retire.

"I don't want to see him like Ali," Big Floyd says. "That was my favorite fighter. I don't want to see him like that. … I hope that he drop everything and let it go. When you make this kinda money, what else is you fighting for?"

In the background, somewhere in the middle of the horde, Mayweather beats on a heavy bag, the booms echoing over the clicking shutters and around the gym. Or maybe that was the thunder, rolling closer, a storm on the way.

Nobody ever fights just for money. Money's always just a way to get something else. Fighting is about something you need or something you're scared to lose.

I asked Big Floyd the same question I asked Mayweather: "How have you worked everything out?"

He tells me a story.

He and his son have had several blowouts over the years—Mayweather firing him multiple times, all that. But the most famous was on HBO's 24/7 reality show leading up to Mayweather's September 2011 fight with Victor Ortiz. It happened right here, right about where we're standing, 15 feet from the ring.

Mayweather and his father screamed and called each other all manner of cuss words, arguing over who was responsible for Mayweather's success. Was Big Floyd or Uncle Roger, who trained Mayweather when he turned pro and for a long time after and who still works with him today? A selection:

Little Floyd: "You can't train nobody when you locked up! You can't train nobody when you locked up!"

Big Floyd: "Don't worry about it! I'm the one!"

L.F.: "Roger's the one! Roger's my trainer! Roger made me!"

B.F.: "Roger ain't made you! Boy, you was right here when I was training you!"

L.F.: "We don't want nobody in the way interfering when we working! Stop interfering! Get out of our way!"

B.F.: "Get out of the way?"

L.F.: "This is our gym! Get out of our way!"

B.F.: "Man, I don't give a f--k about this gym!"

L.F.: "Why you here? You don't gotta come here! Nobody asked you to come here! Nobody asked you!"

It devolves into the two calling each other motherf-----s and threatening to knock each other out, people around them holding them back.

L.F.: "You couldn't fight worth s--t!"

B.F.: "Come whup me, motherf----r!"

It ends with Little Floyd ranting, "End of the day, there's only two Mayweathers that count. Roger Mayweather, and Floyd Mayweather. And motherf----r, I'm not no 'Junior.'"

"People said that was just for show," I say.

Big Floyd laughs a short, tired laugh.

"That was no show," he says. "That was real. Yes it was."

His shoulders slump. He looks sad. "I don't cuss unless I'm mad. And you don't say stuff like that to your parents if you ain't mad. You don't say stuff like that to your kids if you're not mad."

They didn't speak for three months after that.

And then, one day when Big Floyd was in the gym training another boxer, in about the same spot where the fighting started, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around. It was Little Floyd. Not countering. Making the first move. "Hey Daddy. Do you wanna train me?"


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