Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s early years: From THE RING Magazine
MAYWEATHER VS. PACQUIAO: MAY 2
This is the first in a series of stories on Floyd Mayweather Jr. and/or Manny Pacquiao that appeared in THE RING Magazine in recent years. This particular story on Mayweather, written by Norm Frauenheim, originally was published in the June 2013 issue. The current issue — previewing the May 2 fight — is on newsstands now. This story appeared in the March 2015 edition of THE RING Magazine. Don’t know where to find a newsstand near you that sells it? Click here. To subscribe ÔÇö both to the print and digital versions ÔÇö click here. You can also purchase the current issue on that page.
A LOOK BACK AT A YOUNG FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR., COMPLETE WITH COMBUSTIBLE EMOTIONS AND MONUMENTAL TALENT
He’s 36 now, without a loss in the ring and without a visible scar on his face. He changed his nickname from Pretty Boy to Money, and with a new Showtime contract worth a potential $250 million, who’s to argue?
He has a criminal record. He walked into jail, did his time and walked out. He has agonized over his own father’s time in prison, once evicted his dad from a house he owned, then re-possessed his van, threw him out of the gym during an infamous encounter on HBO’s 24/7 and now has brought him back into his corner.
He’s erratic and loyal, disciplined and unpredictable, insecure and cocky, notorious and popular, careful within the ropes yet a gambler outside of them. He’s a whole lot of other things, seemingly contradictory yet all wrapped up in the quicksilver enigma known as Floyd Mayweather Jr.
For many who knew Mayweather as a kid without money and sometimes unsure of where he’d spend the night, they recall a young amateur who loved junk food as much as he loved to train. They remember combustible emotions as hard to contain as the talent.
They remember Floyd Sinclair, the name given to him by his mom, Debra. He legally changed it in 1989. As an 11-year-old, he took on his dad’s name and the tempest that has come with it.
“Bonding with Floyd is not an easy thing to do,” said Don Hale, who helped guide Mayweather Jr. through formative years that included Floyd Mayweather Sr.’s five-year sentence on federal drug charges.
Hale, now president of HRC Medical in Nashville, Tenn., first heard about Mayweather Jr. in 1993. Floyd Sr. had just been convicted of smuggling cocaine in detergent boxes. Hale was living in Grand Rapids, Mich. At the time, he was managing Frankie Randall, who would soon be the first to beat Julio Cesar Chavez with a split decision on Jan. 29, 1994, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“Frankie was getting ready to fight Julio,” said Hale, who also managed heavyweight Nate Jones, a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist, a Mayweather teammate at the Atlanta Games and a loyal friend of Mayweather ever since. “His uncle, Roger, called me and told me about this 15-year-old kid who was a good boxer but was running the streets and not in the gym anymore. I agreed to help.
“Floyd Jr. actually moved in with me, my wife and three kids. He lived with us for a while. I tried to treat Floyd as if he was one of our own. I’d take him to tournaments. I’d also take him to see Big Floyd, who at first was doing time in Pennsylvania and then in Milan, Michigan. But he didn’t have the nurturing that other kids get. He could turn his back on relationships. He could do without relationships.”
But there was a relationship to boxing and the daily regimen that he grew to value perhaps more than any other. He trained at Pride Boxing Gym in Grand Rapids. It’s long gone. But Bruce Kielty, a longtime Midwest manager and matchmaker, remembers a 10-year-old on his toes and precariously balanced on top of an old wooden box so he could reach the speed bag. The box moved one way. Then, another. The feet moved with it in what might have been the first few steps in the educated footwork that has carried Mayweather to the top of the game.
Then, his dad, a former welterweight who lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978, was always there, Kielty said, teaching the trademark shoulder roll, tucked-in chin and everything else that makes Mayweather Jr. the defensive equal of anyone in any era.
“I look at Floyd Jr. now and I see his dad,” said Kielty, who operated the Pride Gym with former heavyweight Buster Mathis. “They have the same body type. Like his son, his dad does a lot of talking. But in the gym, his dad is a very serious coach. He imprinted his son with the style he used as a fighter. Floyd Jr. took it and perfected it with the speed, reflexes and athletic ability that his father didn’t have. I think Floyd Jr. also may have inherited some things. It’s just there, genetically.”
These days, Floyd Jr. likes to talk about clean living. Lousy food was one of his complaints during his two-month stay last summer in the Clark County (Las Vegas) Detention Center for domestic abuse.
No junk food, no alcohol. Let Ricky Hatton drink his pints, he said before knocking out the popular U.K. fighter in 2007. He would never touch beer, he said. However, a couple of decades before he had a personal chef he was like any other kid in a candy store. He couldn’t stay away. The Pride Gym was located above a convenience store. It was irresistible. The young Mayweather would bounce down the steps and buy all the cookies, candy and chips he could afford.
“We’re driving around one day, Floyd Jr. is in the back seat and I hear all these wrappers beneath his feet on the floor,” Kielty said. “I warned him about it. I told him to quit eating all that junk or I’d throw him out my car. He yells back at me, telling me that he’s gonna have his daddy beat me up.”
He grew up and left behind the junk food. But his dad is not so easy to discard. The relationship has been there in some form for as long as anybody can recall. Junior and Senior have had more fights than Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao. More reunions than Marquez-Pacquiao rematches, too.
It all started when Floyd Jr. was a toddler and his last name was still Sinclair. In a well-documented story, Floyd Mayweather Sr. recalled a day in Grand Rapids when there was a confrontation with a brother-in-law, Tony Sinclair.
Mayweather Sr. wanted him to leave the house, saying he had overstayed his welcome. Tony Sinclair left and returned with a loaded rifle. Mayweather Sr. said he had his son in his arms when Tony Sinclair busted through a door. Mayweather said he looked up and saw the barrel of the weapon pointed into his eyes. Mayweather Jr.’s mom begged him to give her the child, according to Mayweather Sr. But he wouldn’t, he said. Sinclair shifted the rifle’s aim, lowered it to his left leg and fired, said Mayweather Sr., who has a nasty scar for proof.
There was chaos then and more of it later. Mayweather moved around, from address to address.
“We set up a place in his mom’s basement,” Hale said. “He lived there for about three months.”
The boy lived with his grandmother. He lived with Hale. Mostly, he lived in the gym. It was the one place he knew and could control with skill and instinct already evident.
“In the gym, the first thing I noticed was the desire,” Hale said. “Getting Floyd to work hard was never a problem.”
It quickly paid dividends. At 16, Mayweather won a national Golden Gloves title as a light-flyweight. He would win two more, in 1994 as a flyweight and 1996 as a featherweight. It was at featherweight that he encountered his first real rival, Carlos Navarro, who went on to a pro career with 34 bouts (27-6-1, 22 KOs) at featherweight and lightweight. Navarro was America’s No. 1-ranked amateur at featherweight in 1995.
“I’d always told Floyd in the gym that Navarro was probably doing this much and that much,” Hale said. “Floyd heard me and always did more.”
In 1995, Navarro beat Mayweather in trials for the U.S. team at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, south of Buenos Aires. The next year, Mayweather would avenge the defeat, beating Navarro and eventually winning the featherweight spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. But Hale remembers the loss and a handful of others because of the tears.
“He never handled losing well,” Hale said. “He’d come back into the locker room after and cry on your shoulder.”
Those emotions have always been there, under the surface and quick to pour out in a burst of anger or frustration. Kielty’s wife, Janet, saw it when he was 8-years-old.
“It was 1985 at a Silver Gloves tournament,” said Janet Kielty, who cooked for the kids at Pride Gym. “We got there, and Floyd Jr. finds out that he didn’t have an opponent. He looked all around for an opponent. He was asking kids to fight him. But nobody would. He came over, sat down next to me and just started crying.
“I remember him telling me: ‘Just don’t tell the other guys I cried.'”
Before the 1996 Olympics, Mayweather almost begged reporters at a training camp in Augusta, Ga., and again in Atlanta to help him get his dad out of prison. He said he wrote a letter to then-President Bill Clinton, pleading for his father’s release.
“I want my father to see me win the gold medal,” he said tearfully during an interview at an Olympic camp at the Augusta Boxing Club.
He wouldn’t win that gold or gain his father’s freedom.
Instead, Mayweather settled for bronze after losing a controversial semi-final 10-9 to Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria. The U.S. lodged a formal protest, alleging that the supervisor of officials, Emil Jetchev, intimidated the judges into giving the narrow victory to Todorov. Jetchev was also from Bulgaria.
Mayweather hasn’t lost since. But tears and emotional outbursts have continued.
He fired his father as his manager in 2000. Then he fired him as his trainer and replaced him with Roger, who was in his corner until he re-hired his dad for his May 4 fight with Robert Guerrero.
The Mayweather story wouldn’t be what it is without the emotions that have exploded for all to see on 24/7 or with Larry Merchant after a controversial fourth-round stoppage of Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17, 2011, at the MGM Grand. Mayweather spewed expletives at Merchant, who is more than twice his age. He was angry even though he was the winner. No telling how he would react if he lost. Nobody knows, of course, because in 43 pro fights he hasn’t.
There’s an argument, rooted in pop psychology, that personality more than legacy is the reason Mayweather wouldn’t fight Pacquiao or anybody else who might endanger his perfect record. He doesn’t fear getting beat up. Getting beat, however, is something he can’t handle. That’s a theory, anyway. That 0 on the right side of his record is an empty symbol open to some interpretation.
“Floyd Mayweather is a little bit insecure,” rapper and promoter 50 Cent, Curtis Jackson, told The Wall Street Journal‘s digital network in an interview that touched on Jackson’s rocky friendship with him.
It’s in the eye of the beholder as to whether Maywweather is protecting a fragile ego more than his chin or his legacy. Hale, for one, thinks that a perfect record is a Mayweather priority.
“Extremely important,” said Hale, who also says the reunion with his dad is a sign of maturity in a fighter with kids of his own. “If he wants to, he can retire unbeaten. Yeah, I think that means a lot to him.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he fights guys he’s comfortable with.”
Maybe, nobody else should be, either. That’s always been the one relationship he can control.
THE EARLY YEARS
A timeline of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s formative period.
Feb. 24, 1977 – Floyd Sinclair (his mother’s last name) is born into a well-known boxing family in Grand Rapids, Mich.
1989 – The boy legally changes his name to Mayweather.
1993 – Wins first of three National Golden Gloves titles, at 106, 114 (1994) and 125 pounds (1996).
1994 – Floyd Mayweather Sr., a former contender who fought Sugar Ray Leonard, begins a five-year term in prison for drug trafficking.
May 4-15, 1995 – The U.S. National Champion loses in the second round of the World Championships in Berlin after breaking his hand. Noureddine Medjihoud of Algeria beats him 8-6.
July 20-Aug. 4, 1996 – Wins a bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He lost a controversial 10-9 decision to silver medalist Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria. That was his last defeat.
Oct. 11, 1996 – Knocks out Roberto Apodaca in two rounds in his pro debut in Las Vegas, his current hometown. He would go on to win 10 world titles in five weight divisions.