LAS VEGAS – It is easy to question and criticize Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for his 15-month, self-imposed exile from boxing and easier still for some to claim it was simply a way to avoid the long shadow of Manny Pacquiao. Yet his long absence from the ring may well be grounded, at least in part, by something far darker.
It was again in evidence in the first episode of HBO’s 24/7 reality show made to hype Mayweather’s Sept. 17 fight against WBC welterweight titleholder Victor Ortiz. In a way it is a fight between more than boxers. It is a fight between two men tormented by their youth and their broken families.
Ortiz’s sad story of abandonment by first an abusive mother and then an abusive father is well documented. While Mayweather’s father too often seems to always be around, the problems between him and his son run deep and are long standing, dating back to well before the father was imprisoned on drug peddling charges when his namesake was 16.
While it was Floyd, Sr. who started his son in boxing, there has for years been an undercurrent of jealousy rather than pride in what he has accomplished. The winner of world titles in five different weight classes and the two-time Fighter of the Year, Mayweather has spent the past 18 years being trained by his uncle, former world champion Roger Mayweather. That is more than twice as long as he was tutored by his father, who had him for eight years as an amateur and briefly as a professional before one of their legendary fallings out led to a split that seemingly cannot be repaired.
This splintered history spilled over once again on the first episode of the four-part reality infomercial for the fight when a film crew caught an ugly exchange between father and son during a training session at the younger Mayweather’s gym.
What began as a rhetorical dual between the two over the skills of two female fighters quickly descended into an expletive-laden screaming match in which they MF’d each other half to death and threatened each other until the son repeatedly ordered the father out of his gym after questioning his credentials as a trainer and his skill as a fighter.
Earlier in the show Floyd, Sr. claimed, “I am the motivator, innovator, creator of the game. See I’m the one that taught them…I was the first (Mayweather) to ever do this…If he wins, I win. His name is Floyd Joy Mayweather, Jr. I’m Senior.’’
The way Mayweather said it was not laced with pride in his son. It was about searching for some way to gain credit for accomplishments far greater than his own as a boxer.
Surely the son senses this. Always has. And because of their checkered past a seething anger and hurt often erupt in ways no one should enjoy seeing. Episode 1 was one of those when their innocuous debate suddenly became a slashing dissection of their relationship.
“You were undefeated when you started with your Daddy,’’ Floyd, Sr. said after his son claimed his uncle was his trainer.
“I started with you (as a professional) didn’t I?’’ the son asks his uncle, who nods but remains silently watching.
“You can’t train nobody when you locked up!’’ the son hollers. “You can’t train nobody when you locked up!…Jealousy don’t get you nowhere.’’
When his father tries to claim he is not only a better trainer than his brother but also “the best’’ in boxing, his son figuratively slaps him down.
“No you’re not!’’ he said. “You’re not even close to him. Tell me what champions you got?…Don’t nobody want to be with you. (Oscar) De La Hoya don’t want to be with you. (Ricky) Hatton don’t want to be with you. Don’t nobody want to be with you!’’
Ugly as the edge to the words are, there seems to be an underlying feeling that beneath young Floyd’s growl is a kid who always did want to be with him. Not with Floyd Mayweather the trainer. With Floyd Mayweather the father. With the one who wasn’t there.
Within another minute or two Floyd, Jr. is ordering his father out of his gym and Floyd, Sr. is leaping toward his son, his jugular vein popping as he shouts menacingly, “Put me out, punk! You put me out, motherfucker! Put me out…I’ll beat your ass!’’
Burly men step between them, most with their backs to the father to avoid further confrontation as they try to ease the son into the quiet of his locker room but words have been said that can’t be taken back.
A father curses a son. A son curses his father. Soon one threatens the other. It is not a show. It is a revealing spectacle that may say more about why Mayweather has taken two long layoffs from boxing at the peak of his skills.
Who needs this kind of ugliness in your life? Who needs to battle your father for the spotlight you’ve earned through an obsessive work ethic and the blessings of great gifts?
As the episode ends, young Floyd is still ranting in his locker room, ending by saying, “When it’s all said and done only two…Mayweathers that count. Roger Mayweather and Floyd Mayweather. And motherfucker I’m not no Junior!’’
Days later the father is not only claiming to have been disrespected but claims he wouldn’t return to his son’s gym if he invited him. While there’s little likelihood of that any time soon, the father takes it to a darker place no son would want to be dragged to and no father should consider going.
“He wouldn’t have nothing without me,’’ Floyd, Sr. was quoted saying by one internet website. “He’d be living under a bridge somewhere. I laced the gloves on him for the first time. I taught him everything he knows that he still uses to this day.’’
Whatever the truth of that, the larger truth is a father’s role is not to minimize is son. It is to uplift him, doing what he can to ease his path rather than trampling on it either out of jealousy or, more likely, from his own sadness and embarrassment over his past failings.
Equally true is that the son, now a grown man himself at 34, still needs the love of a father but not his obsession with laying claim to the achievements of his offspring. Pride, the Bible says, cometh before a fall. Certainly it did again on 24/7, a reality show with a bit too much reality.
“I’m not fighting my father,’’ the son says in Episode 2. “I don’t never got to speak to him again. I could care less…Without him in my life, I’m fine. I don’t care. I’m fine.’’
As he speaks, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. doesn’t sound fine. He may be fine to fight. In fact in some odd way he may be more ready to fight Ortiz now, after this later fracture.
But next time you wonder why Floyd Mayweather hasn’t been in the ring for a while remember those 24/7 Episodes and ask yourself this: Would you want to put yourself through the same kind of confrontations with the man who gave you life?
Is fighting Manny Pacquiao worth the ugliness you saw as, a father seemed ready to assault his son and a son seemed unable to hold back bile built up from years of dealing with an often absent father unable or unwilling to stand in the shadow of his son?
Certainly if Floyd Mayweather, Jr. never fights Manny Pacquiao some will say there is a hole in his resume. They’ll say he was afraid to face the one opponent some believe capable of blemishing his undefeated record.
But before you put too much stock in that go back and look at that ugly rant and you may come away thinking there’s another reason Floyd Mayweather seems less inclined to fight much anymore.
Maybe it’s because any time he tries, he’s Junior again, whether he wants to be or not.
Photo / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com