the north face stores Floyd Mayweather is the last great prizefighter
HE IS STANDING in a jewelry store that caters to the top sliver of the top one percent, wearing nearly $3 million in platinum and diamonds around his neck and wrist, surrounded by at least 20 of his associates, one of them hugging a Nike duffel that contains ziplock bags filled with forearm thick knots of $100 bills and enough jewelry to satisfy the sartorial whims of its owner for an 11 city press tour. There are people outside on the New York City street with their faces smeared against the windows of the store, standing a few feet from a seven deep black Suburban and Escalade motorcade. There is a Gulfstream IV and a Gulfstream V gassed up and waiting for him and his entourage on the tarmac across the Hudson at Teterboro.
He has, in the past 20 minutes, spent close to a quarter of a million dollars on earrings and a necklace for his 13 year old daughter, Iyanna, and he has sent some of his people out to buy so many chicken strips and fries that the place smells like a vat of burning oil, and at this moment he is haggling with the jewelers over a $3.5 million watch as a member of his security detail the one summoned into action by the lyrical command “Jethro sanitizer!” is pouring so much Purell on his hands that it cascades through his fingers and creates a puddle on the white marble floor.
And it is here, at this moment, amid the self inflicted chaos of his life, that Floyd Mayweather Jr. demands the attention of everyone in the room: the people eating out of Styrofoam boxes, the jewelers chiding him for scheduling his next fight on Yom Kippur, the reporter and photographer and camera crew there to document moments just like this one. “Listen listen listen,” he says, the word like a bad case of hiccups. “Listenlistenlisten.” The room falls into an obedient quiet. He lifts his arms to his sides like a preacher giving thanks. “You know how much I’d like to have a normal day? One normal day? No pictures? No autographs? A normal day?”
There is a pause in the room. This is a man who wears his boxer shorts once before throwing them out. This is a man who wears his sneakers once before leaving them in hotel rooms for housekeepers who might have a relative in need of a size 7, who keeps his head shaved yet travels on a private jet with his personal barber, who has two sets of nearly identical ultraluxury cars color coded by mansion to help him remember white in Las Vegas, black in Miami where he is.
One normal day? The moment of silent disbelief ends with a few forced laughs emitted by those employed by the man and wishing to remain that way. The response is muted and brief the room returns to its default mayhem setting almost immediately because what Mayweather has just said, his stated desire to be normal for even one day, is perhaps the most outrageous statement this singularly outrageous man has ever made. 14 fight against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Somewhere behind the G5, in the G4, are his bodyguards, four massive humans who fly separately because Mayweather has an irrational fear of sharing a cabin with that much human bulk. His masseuse, Doralie, a beautiful woman with irradiated hair and 8 inch Valentino heels, is rubbing his feet and staring off into the distance in a three hours of sleep kind of way. Floyd is holding court, talking about a hundred things at once, never stopping to gauge reaction or ask a question. “This is the way to live, baby,” he says. “Just relaxin’ in a G5.”
The Mayweather experience is an invitation to cede control of your life, to simply hand over everything where you go, when you sleep, even what you eat to Floyd Mayweather. If you’re accustomed to even the slightest measure of self sufficiency, it’s a bit of an adjustment. By the end of the second day of my time on tour with him, I stop asking the one question that’s constantly on my mind: What are we waiting for? The answer, from any number of people, is either a shrug or a sleep deprived “Floyd.” No explanation needed.
Mayweather is the modern embodiment of what Gay Talese, in describing Frank Sinatra, called “the fully emancipated male.” He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants with just about whomever he wants.
He is the last of boxing’s old school, carny barker showmen, the last of the third person narcissists, the last of the great American prizefighters. He attracts and repels in equal measure. He is bigger than his sport, usually the highest paid athlete in the world, and watching him preen his way from New York to Washington to Grand Rapids, Mich., to Chicago and back home to Las Vegas cheered and jeered in equal measure feels like the beginning of the end of an era. He is 44 0 and one fight into his six fight, 30 month, potentially $300 million deal with Showtime. If he wins them all, he will be 38 and 49 0, the same record as Rocky Marciano, the mythical champion of champions. A 49 0 record without a contract would leave him free to negotiate an ungodly amount for a 50th fight. Through smart business, shrewd scheduling and the decline of Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather is boxing’s final megastar.
“Everyone wants the Floyd Mayweather payday; they want the same things Floyd Mayweather got,” he says. “But Floyd Mayweather, he earned it the hard way.”
The bout with Alvarez will be the richest gate in the sport’s history, and yet it highlights an inherent problem for Floyd and his profession. With contenders scarce, boxing’s resident firestorm is in danger of running out of fuel. For a run at 50 0 to be appreciated, his relationship with his opponents, starting with Alvarez, must become more symbiotic than adversarial. In other words, it works in Mayweather’s best interest for Alvarez to prove credible.
But right now, Floyd has more immediate concerns: He is cold. Mayweather’s preference for heat is famous among his crew; the gym in Vegas is always warmer inside than out, regardless of season. He asks the flight attendant to bump up the heat and says, “You can’t cook with cold grease, baby.”
HE IS SITTING at a table in the G5, eating Twizzlers and talking about his father. A thought occurs: Who is he? It’s an honest question, because it’s difficult to delve beneath the flash and money and human insulation. Nearly everything workouts, interviews, even conversations is conducted in a group and for the benefit of the group. He speaks to rooms rather than individuals, making every discussion a form of performance art.
But there are signs that Mayweather, at 36, has acquired a measure of introspection. The fact that it was forced upon him shouldn’t diminish it. After his May 2012 win over Miguel Cotto, he spent two months in solitary confinement in the Clark County Detention Center on a domestic violence conviction. He was kept away from the other prisoners and was allowed outdoors one hour a day, five days a week. The rest of the time he found himself in a highly unusual circumstance: alone with his thoughts.
He filled his days doing pushups and sit ups and writing letters to his family. (He also spent a lot of time reading luxury home magazines and the DuPont Registry, and he says, “I kept seeing my name in Forbes.”) He wrote to his mother and his grandmother, his uncles and his four children. Along the way, 13 crumpled pages of notebook paper landed on the floor of his cell. Each one represented a failed effort to write to his father, Floyd Sr.
They’ve always had a tempestuous, complicated relationship. When Floyd was a toddler, Big Floyd used him as a human shield to avoid being shot in an altercation with a shotgun toting in law. It didn’t work Big Floyd got shot in the calf anyway and on the tour stop in Grand Rapids, Floyd halted the motorcade to point out the house where it happened. Big Floyd, a former welterweight contender who once went 10 rounds with Sugar Ray Leonard, taught his son the family business before being sent to prison for drug trafficking when his namesake was a teenager. Since being released in 1998, Big Floyd has been in and out of his son’s camp as his trainer, and their clashes were often public and nasty.
The thought process behind those 13 crumpled, unfinished letters that father and son needed to reconcile brought Big Floyd into his son’s corner. He is back training Floyd Jr., and their relationship seems to have found a relaxed angle of repose. They greet each other warmly before every workout and speak calmly about strategy throughout. Big Floyd is a master defensive tactician, and Mayweather felt he took unnecessary punishment from Cotto, but the reunion was more than a business decision.
“I’m not saying it was good that he went to jail,” Big Floyd says. “But I’m saying it was good for him. It was something that he needed. He got a chance to look at a lot of things, to think about a lot of things. He got a chance to study things, and he got a chance to be secluded where nobody could think but him.”
There are signs of a calmer, more peaceful Mayweather. Before his most recent fight against an overmatched Robert Guerrero on Cinco de Mayo weekend Guerrero’s father interrupted a news conference with a crazed diatribe, calling Floyd a wife beater and suggesting he learned it from his father. A younger Floyd would have unleashed a vicious response. This time, however, he looked down at his phone, unresponsive, as if Ruben Guerrero weren’t there at all.
Is this the New Floyd? The better son? The man who spent nights in jail writing heartfelt letters to his family?
“You could say I’m at peace,” Mayweather says. “But people get the wrong idea. Just because you’re quiet doesn’t mean you’re humble. late for most people, midday for Mayweather and he has just finished playing more than two hours of basketball beneath the cicada hum of the orange lights of a gym that’s seen better days. Nearly everyone on the Money Team, as Floyd calls his crew, is here, and they are standing on the sidewalk, waiting. Several of the motorcade cars sit idling and empty, drivers at the ready, but nobody moves toward them. Everyone stands around, bovine and obedient, until Floyd announces each person’s vehicle and seat assignment.
This is simply the way it works. Nobody knows what will happen next, but everybody knows Floyd will provide. There is a pecking order, and this is yet another way for Mayweather to send subtle messages to his crew. The sooner your name is called, the higher your standing. He is not big on delegation.
“We don’t know what we’re doing until we do it,” says one of his assistants. “You get used to it.”
There is a psychology behind the entourage. Even when Floyd fights twice a year, which he will do this year for the first time since 2007, there’s a lot of downtime. He begins training roughly two months before every fight, which leaves eight months of free time in a two fight year. Outside of training, he has no set schedule. Many of their roles are undefined. Some live in the many homes he owns in Vegas. Some are employed by Mayweather Promotions. All appear to be compensated in varying degrees, though what’s not always clear is how. In Floyd’s loose corporate structure, there’s one guarantee: He’s never sitting around waiting for someone to get off work.
HE IS STANDING in a Foot Locker in the Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, shortly after his plane has landed. The amount of commerce taking place around him is astounding. Mayweather has decided he wants to play basketball at his old high school but doesn’t want to check into the hotel and change first. The obvious solution: Take the crew, including a number of friends and family members from his hometown, into the Foot Locker to purchase the gear necessary to head straight to the gym. Shoes, shirts, shorts, socks they’re being grabbed and tried on and brought to the register without conscience.
By this point, he has already cut a swath through the Apple store (for two bags of accessories), Macy’s (for a tall stack of $18 one and done boxers) and North Face (for several large duffels). But those were just warmup acts. In Foot Locker, the tower of shoe boxes at the counter makes it look as if a delivery truck just unloaded a month’s supply.
It had just been suggested that Floyd’s visits to Grand Rapids could be pinpointed through an uptick in county sales tax revenue when he calls me over. He looks around to make sure nobody is watching before holding out a slip of paper cupped in his right hand. It is a bank slip, and Floyd is watching me watch it as my eyes attempt to focus on the balance. I look at the numbers spread out across the thermal paper. I had heard that Floyd does his banking the old fashioned way: going inside, talking to a real life teller. He is also known to be a big proponent of maximum liquidity. Still, the amount of digits spread across the bottom right corner doesn’t seem possible.
I look up to see Floyd smiling. He begins to laugh. I say something unintelligible about too many numbers. I’m not sure what prompted this. Perhaps he mistook my look of fatigue for disapproval? Given his spending habits, is he concerned with pre empting the inevitable talk that he will end up broke? Or is it simply one more example of the man’s hubris? I look down one more time to make sure I got it right. And yes, it’s right there, 11 numbers long.