BRAWL IN THE FAMILY
“It’s all smiles,” Floyd Mayweather Jr. told a cluster of reporters listening in on his final news conference telephone call last week.
Mayweather Jr. was talking about the scene inside his Las Vegas gym, a den that was home not only to his combustible personality but that of the boxer’s long-estranged father and his uncle-trainer Roger Mayweather, who professed last month he didn’t care if his brother Floyd Mayweather Sr. “was there or home in a rocking chair. I know enough about boxing. I don’t need to ask his opinion. Floyd’s on pay-per-view because of me, not his daddy.”
All smiles? Perhaps from the listeners who weren’t buying Floyd Jr.'s story.
As he prepares for a Saturday fight against Oscar De La Hoya that he is telling everyone will leave him unbeaten, retired and established as the greatest fighter ever, Mayweather Jr. (37-0, 24 knockouts) weathers the distractions of an ongoing family drama.
Mayweather Sr. left camp last week, distraught with his son’s “disrespect,” and said he would attend the fight with tickets given him by the boxer he formerly trained, De La Hoya.
Roger Mayweather issued a good riddance by balking even at the olive branch his mother, Bernice, was extending: That she will order the brothers to attend her 74th birthday party on June 10, and “try to get them together.”
“I love my mother,” Roger said, “but she can’t make me talk to my brother.”
Meanwhile, Mayweather Jr. maintains, “We’re used to this. One day, we all might get along. The next, maybe we’re not speaking.”
One thing the Mayweathers agree upon is that Floyd Sr., a former welterweight fighter who went 10 rounds with Sugar Ray Leonard, deserves credit for passing on the sport to his son.
Pointing Tuesday to a small great-grandchild pawing at a punching bag, Bernice Mayweather said, “My son had Floyd Jr. doing that as a 1-year-old, and he was telling him he’d be champion of the world at age 2. Floyd Jr.'s daddy gave him his drive. He would tell his boy, ‘If you can make it as a boxer, you can make it as anything in this world.’ It’s a tough sport.”
A tough life began quickly. Floyd Jr. was caught in the crossfire of a domestic dispute as a toddler, when a man identified as the brother of Floyd Sr.'s girlfriend shot him once in the leg before the 1978 fight against Leonard.
“I was holding Little Floyd, I was holding my son, and the guy was telling me he was going to shoot me with a shotgun,” Floyd Sr. said. Floyd Jr. recently told the New York Daily News that his mother told him his father used him as a shield to keep from getting shot. Floyd Sr. said any reports that he was using his son as a shield were false.
Floyd Jr. said, “He got shot in front of me as a kid. In my neighborhood, to see a guy with a gun was no big deal.”
The boxing training around their Grand Rapids, Mich., home was intense. One of Floyd Sr.'s lessons, Bernice said, was to direct Floyd Jr. to take an ax to a tree and chop the entire thing into firewood.
Floyd Sr., however, wasn’t as disciplined. He was imprisoned in 1993 on an interstate cocaine trafficking conviction, then was absent in Floyd Jr.'s late teens. At a news conference Wednesday, Floyd Jr. said his biological mother also fought drug abuse as he was growing up.
“When his daddy went away, I stepped in,” Bernice Mayweather said. “One time, little Floyd was hanging out at night. I told him, ‘If you don’t want to box, I’ll tell your dad.’ He didn’t want that. He decided to box, and he was so good, he made it to the Olympics.”
The younger Mayweather won a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and started his professional career.
“He just stays focused on what he’s doing and does a lot of praying,” said Mayweather Jr.'s mother, Deborah Sinclair, who lives in Las Vegas and remains “friends” with Floyd Sr., whom she never married. Floyd Jr. has “been raised to stay focused, and when he did it in the Olympics, he knew he could.”
Floyd Jr. and his grandmother also kept a secret from Floyd Sr. He no longer had to chop down trees.
“There wasn’t nobody for me then,” Floyd Jr. said. “I survived.”
On the HBO series, “De La Hoya-Mayweather 24/7,” Floyd Jr. discussed his upbringing and said he was deprived of parental love: “My dad was real hard on me. I couldn’t make mistakes. If I make a mistake, my dad would cuss me out, slap me, check me ... put me in my place.” Floyd Jr. said there were subjects he wanted to address with his father, but was afraid to raise.
Floyd Sr. said seeing that segment last week influenced his decision to walk out of his son’s camp only a few months after they reunited following a seven-year estrangement.
“What did little Floyd want to tell me?” Floyd Sr. asked. “He didn’t want for [anything]. How can little Floyd box like he does if I didn’t spend a lot of time with him? That boy was very well taken care of, and he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for his daddy. He’d be in a graveyard somewhere, or out selling drugs. Instead, he’s got millions of dollars now.”
With Floyd Sr. “treating me like I was a child,” Floyd Jr. opted in 2000 to replace his father with his uncle as trainer.
That title was sweet for Roger Mayweather, a former two-time world champion boxer who claims his divisive relationship with Floyd Sr. has lasted for several years.
“We’ve never been good brothers,” Roger said. “He always had to be saying he was better than me -- that he’s older than me, asking me who’s the best fighter? Who’s the best trainer? Telling me, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ The bottom line is that I’ve been on my own for 27 years, and I don’t base any of my opinions on what my brother thinks. I don’t worry about him.”
Yet, if ever there seemed an ideal time for a full-fledged, father-son reunion, this fight was it. Floyd Sr. had trained De La Hoya since 2001, but was ousted in favor of Freddie Roach because of his relation to the opponent and his insistence that he be paid $2 million. Roach was retained for $1.3 million.
And Roger Mayweather was in trouble. In 2006, he had his training license suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after jumping into the ring to confront Zab Judah for striking Floyd Jr. with a low blow and sucker punch behind the head.
Later last year, Roger was jailed for committing battery against the maternal grandmother of his small son.
Roger’s training license was reinstated this year -- the commission threatened him with the “death penalty” if he ever repeats the act -- but Floyd Sr. entered the gym and provided occasional pointers to his son about how to defeat his former fighter.
“All Roger does is hold the pad and slap him on the top of the head,” Floyd Sr. said. “All Roger says is, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ And he got that quote from me.”
De La Hoya’s decision to part with Floyd Sr. had the unintentional benefit of throwing an emotional monkey wrench into his opponent’s camp.
“I believe Floyd Sr. [was] in charge, and he should be, absolutely,” De La Hoya said. “When you have Floyd Sr., Roger and Floyd Jr. in one room, the egos are too big. You have Roger and Floyd Sr. saying they’re the best trainer in the world.”
The brothers’ mother says, “Maybe there’s some jealousy there, but I think they’ll come back together. This won’t distract Floyd Jr. He’s dedicated his life to boxing.”
Days before Floyd Sr. split, Mayweather Jr.'s manager Leonard Ellerbe said, “We have a great working relationship on our team. We’ve had nothing but peace and harmony during our preparation.”
That harmony ended, Floyd Sr. said, when his son “disrespected” him on national television.
“What else can you do to your daddy, except kill him?” Floyd Sr. said. “It’s very painful. If he don’t have respect for his mother and father, if he don’t know right from wrong, then pity on him.
“Little Floyd has got to fight the right fight. Right now, he’s fighting with his own mind.”
Bruce Trampler, a longtime matchmaker for Top Rank, Mayweather Jr.'s former promoter, disagreed.
“As far as boxing goes, I think this thing is much ado about nothing,” Trampler said. “Floyd Jr. just goes about his business. I know right now Roger’s got his tail up in the air, feeling his credentials as a trainer are being questioned, and I know how this hurts Floyd Sr.
“Floyd Jr. just wants to get from point A to point B with no interruptions. And point B is being called the best fighter in the world. Nothing deters him. It takes a special mind-set to be a great athlete, to filter all of the out-of-ring distractions. He’s done it very well.”
Floyd Jr. says his family strife is “not a distraction. We’ve got a wild, crazy exciting family. My dad’ll be back here tomorrow.”
Turning to a nearby member of his entourage, Mayweather Jr. ordered, “Give my dad a call.”
No phone number was immediately dialed, however, and Mayweather Jr. jumped back into the ring to start a rigorous training session during a time he and his family know well: