Note: This story appears in the April 2012 issue of THE RING magazine. The June 2012 issue, featuring a preview package of the Mayweather-Cotto fight, is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
The facade of the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas looks more like an office building in any downtown metropolis than it does a prison. To outsiders, it was intended to blend in with its surroundings.
Inside, the modern edifice is a glazed-brick village that can hold a maximum 1,450 inmates, a rabbit warren of winding tunnels used to securely escort prisoners from one building to the other.
On June 1, only two weeks after he fights Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather is scheduled to cross from one side to the other for three months. Will he be able to blend in with his surroundings? More importantly, what will happen when his jail sentence for domestic violence ends?
Will “Money” be the same fighter he was before he went in? Will he be the same man?
Some answers might be found in the experiences of other fighters who did prison time during their primes. The list includes former luminaries such as Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston, Johnny Tapia and Tony Ayala Jr., as well as those just entering the limelight, such as James Kirkland.
After doing their time, some resumed their careers where they left off and flourished, while others floundered miserably after release. Some lost major chunks of their careers because of imprisonment.
Mayweather pleaded guilty on December 21 to a reduced domestic-violence charge and no contest to two harassment charges as part of a plea deal that eliminated felony and misdemeanor charges that could have sent Mayweather to prison for 34 years. The case centered on an incident with Josie Harris, mother to three of Mayweather’s children — two of whom were present and allegedly threatened with beatings — that started as an argument about Harris dating another man and escalated to physical violence.
It’s the latest in a list of transgressions, a pattern of behavior by Mayweather that has produced numerous flirtations with prison time. In 2002, he was convicted of misdemeanor battery stemming from a fight with two women at a Las Vegas nightclub. He received a suspended one-year jail sentence and was ordered to undergo impulse-control counseling. In February 2005, in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., he was ordered to perform community service after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault and battery for a bar fight.
Later that year, in July 2005, he was acquitted by a Nevada jury of accusations that he hit and kicked Harris during an argument outside a Las Vegas nightclub. In October 2010, he was acquitted of misdemeanor allegations for threatening two homeowner association security guards during an argument over parking tickets.
He still owes 40 hours of community service to the Las Vegas Habitat for Humanity Project, which was ordered by a South Carolina federal judge after Mayweather dodged a deposition in a music rights lawsuit. According to a statement by Habitat for Humanity official Catherine Barnes back in December 2011, Habitat for Humanity has never heard from Mayweather.
But this will be the first extended lock-up in Mayweather’s life. He was sentenced to 90 days but could get out in 60 if he behaves. Still, Mayweather will face signigicant challenges. He’ll be told when to eat, when to brush his teeth, when to come and go. His life, though for a brief time, will be altered dramatically.
Michael Vick knows a little about going to prison and trying to recapture a career at the highest level afterwards. The All-Pro Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback served 21 months in Leavenworth on federal felony charges involving a dog fighting ring. He lost not only his freedom but his job and a potential fortune in endorsements before ultimately declaring bankruptcy.
But Vick didn’t come away empty-handed.
“I found humility,” he told RingTV.com. “Prison changes you. It makes you more humble, if anything. I remember the first day I walked into prison. I slammed the door, because I knew the bad decisions that I made. It was my poor judgment that put me in here. I allowed that to happen. There’s no way of explaining the hurt and the guilt that I had. I realized that I did something wrong. I think that’s when the reality hits you.
“Hopefully, it will hit Floyd. I don’t know if he’ll react the way I reacted, but when it hit me I cried, cried a lot. The reality of prison puts it all into perspective. You realize you let yourself down, your family down, everyone who ever supported you, you let them down. Sleeping on a prison bed, looking out at the world behind bars, that wasn’t my life. I knew that. I had to change that. That wasn’t the way that things were supposed to be and how my career was supposed to turn out. Funny thing is, I thought, at one time, what I was doing was cool. I thought there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. You think you have everything — money, love — from everyone.
“Yes, you can call it entitlement. I was an NFL quarterback, with everything, all these endorsement deals. I thought the world loved me. I thought I could do anything. I really did. It’s what star power could do. It was an exciting time. But you know where it got me? Laying in a prison bed by myself with no one to talk to but me. Yeah, there were times I cried myself to sleep. Prison changes you. It changed me. I hope Floyd comes out of this okay. He’s an amazing talent. I learned from the experience. I hope [Floyd] does.”
Among boxers, Tyson is probably the most notorious case. His six-year prison term for the rape of Desiree Washington ended in 1995 after three years, and Tyson went on to beat Frank Bruno and a frightened Bruce Seldon for the WBC and WBA versions of the heavyweight title. After that, he went 5-5 (with two no-contests) in the last 12 fights of his pro career.
Like Vick (and now Mayweather) Tyson went away while at the peak of his profession. He was a huge figure in the sports world, able to attract national mainstream media with the snap of his fingers. His prison term swallowed up what would’ve been three of his prime years. When he returned, he won the two titles but was no longer the force of nature he had been. Consecutive losses to Evander Holyfield was evidence of that.
Then there is Liston, who in many ways was the ghost that haunted “Iron Mike.” One thing “The Bear” was able to do that Tyson wasn’t, though, is recoup his career after a nine-month stretch in a St. Louis workhouse for assaulting a policeman and stealing his gun. After being released in 1958, Liston won his next 21 fights, including a first-round knockout of Floyd Patterson that gave him the heavyweight championship and the same result in their rematch.
The most recent high-profile case, Kirkland, appeared to have changed his life. He was headed toward a junior middleweight title shot in 2009, when he was caught carrying a gun while on probation for an armed robbery conviction from 2003. He served 18 months and had a two-year layoff from the ring, then suffered a first-round knockout against light-hitting Nobuhiro Ishida after resuming his career.
But after all of that, Kirkland is back among the top 154-pound contenders in the world. It now looks likely that he will avoid being another cautionary tale of wasted talent.
“Going to prison is based on losing contact with the world, your family and friends, and you’re around all these people that are convicts; it affects your performance and how and where your future goes. It does,” Kirkland said. “I don’t think Floyd will be challenged in there, fighting-wise. But it will be challenging humble-wise. There are different ways to present yourself in prison, and inmates respect you for that. My whole situation changed me.”
Is there a chance we can see a new and improved Mayweather after his stay in the Clark County Detention Center?
“In prison, you lose everything,” Kirkland said. “Floyd loves to train, and who knows if they’ll take that away from him, mess up his timing and take away the things he always does regularly. I think this will hit him. There are days when you’re living the great life and then you hit rock bottom. My whole situation changed me. It made me smarter and made me learn who was really behind me. Floyd may shed a few tears and think that he’ll never let this happen to himself again.”
Among those with hard-earned wisdom, though, there are some who keep things in a slightly different perspective. They would remind us that Mayweather is who he is, and that a stint in the same facility that once housed rocker Vince Neil, fellow diva Paris Hilton and dethroned Miss Nevada Katie Rees, isn’t exactly Alcatraz.
“Floyd is going to be all right, believe me,” said Bernard Hopkins, who served five years for armed robbery. “Money, and I don’t mean his nickname, changes a lot of things. He’s already had his sentence pushed back. Who knows if he’s even going to prison. If he does, Floyd is a celebrity, and they might not even put him in general population. I’ll tell you this, he’s not going to no [maximum-security] Graterford [Prison] like I did. He’s going to a country club.”
Still, even former light heavyweight champion Hopkins sees an opportunity for Mayweather.
“The greatest gift I had in prison, and what Floyd is going to need to learn, is patience,” said Hopkins. “When this guy was hanging himself, and that guy was on drugs, and another guy was looking to kill someone, I was plotting and looking ahead at something better, and looking for a better life after I got out. When I went in, I had nothing. Floyd has everything. Money, fame. I don’t know Floyd like that, but I think he’s going to make it. He’s going to need to take his time and look back at himself. He’s going to be fine when he gets out. Hopefully, he’ll learn something. I did.”