Mark E. Ortega

A day at the Doghouse

LAS VEGAS – Two Mondays ago, I spent the afternoon at the Mayweather Boxing Club. I’ve made plenty of stops at the gym since moving here in November, but had yet to take in a Floyd Mayweather sparring session. That changed on this day, as Mayweather would go four rounds in preparation for his Sept. 14 pay-per-view fight against Saul Alvarez.

I showed up to the gym around 1:00 p.m., knowing Mayweather wouldn’t show up until around 4:00 or so. Nicknamed “The Doghouse,” the gym is usually hotter indoors than what the Las Vegas sun feels like outside, but on this day, it wasn’t as sizzling. This was perhaps due to the fact that Showtime Sports was there shooting some footage for their All Access documentary series, and in the past, they’ve made the conditions more bearable for those handling the heavy equipment.

Sparring at the moment I arrived was welterweight Troy “Chase” Corbin, an unbeaten welterweight getting ready for a fight on Aug. 30 in San Diego. Corbin is an interesting person to talk to and is unafraid to be frank about some of the problems he’s faced in his personal and professional life. On this day, he was working with a fighter I was unfamiliar with, but as is the case with all sparring at the Mayweather gym, it was very competitive.

Next to get some work in were the bigger guys, Badou Jack and Lanell Bellows. Jack, a super middleweight prospect, faces his toughest test on Sept. 12 against Marco Antonio Periban in a pick-em fight. Bellows will fight off-TV on the big card that Saturday. Both guys had their moments and gave each other good work.

In between sparring sessions I spoke with well-regarded referee Robert Byrd, who can be seen at the gym on a regular basis as he gets in what amounts to a referee’s version of roadwork. Byrd would be the third man in the ring throughout the sparring sessions and helped keep the flow of action moving.

I spoke to Byrd about a number of topics relating to his craft. He was in attendance at that weekend’s Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony to show support for former colleagues Mills Lane and Joe Cortez.

Byrd has been working for 30 years as a referee and no one instance stands out as him having made a poor decision. He’s proud of the fact that he’s never been involved in a fight where one man lost more than just a boxing match.

“I’ve been in this game a long time, long enough to know when someone is too f____ed up to continue,” Byrd would tell me.

The next sparring session would be between junior middleweight titlist Ishe Smith and stablemate Luis “Cuba” Arias. Arias is a few weight classes bigger than Smith, but it was obvious from the get-go the more experienced fighter enjoyed working with his stronger foe.

Arias might be the brightest young prospect signed under the Mayweather Promotions banner. Against Smith, he landed some pretty sharp power punches, the kind you rarely see Smith get tagged with in an actual fight. Smith also showed his defensive intelligence, slipping a variety of punches that at times made Arias miss wildly. Smith would also land more than a fair share of counter shots that made it an entertaining spar to be an observer to.

Trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad more or less runs the sparring in the gym and shouts instructions to the fighters from the apron, always pressing whichever guy seems to be running low on fuel. Muhammad’s motivational skills during these moments always produce more out of the fighters.

Around this time, UNLV boxing coach Chris Ben showed up. Ben runs the program at the nearby university and has recently become the strength and conditioning guy for the fighters bankrolled by Mayweather.

Late afternoon is when the gym begins to fill up in anticipation of Mayweather’s arrival. On this day, his entourage strolled in and setup his championship belts and sets of gloves from which he’d be choosing from. Three large security guards came in and surveyed the crowd before Mayweather and Leonard Ellerbe eventually arrived inside the gym.

It didn’t feel like it took Mayweather very long to be ready to work. The sparring partner for that session would be super middleweight Bastie Samir of Ghana, who Mayweather would work with for four rounds.

The last time I saw Samir fight was in nearby Primm, Nev., in 2011, the day before Erik Morales would make his last great stand against Marcos Maidana at the MGM one night later. Samir failed to impress against capable journeyman Lester Gonzalez, and was fortunate to get a split draw. To my knowledge, he hadn’t fought since then, but some Boxrec research later informed me he had fought three times in Ghana this year after a two-year layoff.

Mayweather took his time early on in the sparring session, rarely letting go of a punch. Samir tried working some offense, occasionally landing a punch, but never really anything clean.

Mayweather was letting his mouth go more loosely than punches at the beginning. “I’ll come when it’s time,” Mayweather would say over and over again, the double entendre eliciting a roomful of laughter.

With about 30 seconds in the round, Mayweather let loose an impressive arsenal of punches, hardly any of which that missed.

In the second round, Mayweather didn’t waste any time getting off, having his way with Samir, who was game but obviously thoroughly outclassed.

At times, Mayweather played a bully. When the pace picked up, those on the apron began slamming their fists on the mat like it was a scene from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”

There were times during the session that Mayweather would shout, “I’m right here,” saying “here” only after he’d landed a lightning-quick power shot. At the end of each round, he touched fists with Samir and after the sparring was finished told him, “Good work.”

Former adversary and fellow Las Vegas resident Zab Judah appeared in the gym during the sparring session and stuck around while Mayweather continued to work.

“I live in Las Vegas, Floyd my homey,” said Judah when asked about what brought him to the gym that day. “I thought I’d come check him out, see what’s going on. He lookin’ crispy sharp, and like I said before, Canelo got no chance.”

Mayweather would work the heavy bag for a while. While hitting the speedbag, one of the little kids named “Famous” had an intriguing conversation with Mayweather, who had the kid apply tape over the eyes and mouth of Canelo on one of the posters for “The One” that was positioned underneath the speedbag.

Mayweather asked the kid about what a certain technique hitting the speedbag was called, and the kid nailed it. Mayweather then proclaimed the kid a student at Mayweather University.

As Mayweather was finishing up, female junior featherweight Ana Julaton showed up to say goodbye before she took off for Cancun the following day. Julaton had a fight with Celina Salazar that is rumored to have major implications. Those rumors only seemed to feel more real when Julaton spent a fair amount of time talking to Ellerbe before everyone took off.

A number of those I spoke to in the gym said that Mayweather looked much sharper than he did when he was getting ready for Robert Guerrero earlier this year.

“He looked much better on his first day for this camp than he did on his last day for Guerrero,” said Ben, the UNLV coach.

If that is indeed the case, Canelo could be in some trouble.

 

 

Photos / Jeff Bottari-Getty Images

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