The Rap Against Jr.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. kept his title but is losing his sweet reputation outside the ring
It was downright heartwarming, the Mayweathers' father-son story. Floyd Sr., a former fighter himself, serves five years on a drug conviction, missing his son's bronze medal performance at the Atlanta Olympics and the start of his pro career, but is finally sprung and then reunited with a still-adoring Floyd Jr. as his trainer-manager. In 1998 they win the WBC super featherweight championship together.
But things got complicated five months ago, when Floyd Jr. fired his dad as manager and replaced him with rap-album producer James Prince. The family story is no longer as sweet—though Floyd Jr.'s fighting still is. The younger Mayweather, in his fifth title defense, looked as composed as ever in winning a near shutout over Goyo Vargas last Saturday night in Las Vegas. Mayweather was in such total control that he even had time to help with the broadcast. In the 10th round, as he moved the game but severely outclassed Vargas around the ring, Mayweather overheard HBO announcer Jim Lampley say that the champ had switched to a southpaw stance for the second time in the bout Mayweather leaned ringside and said, "It was the third time."
Even after a six-month layoff, Mayweather, who's 23-0, was elusive, dazzling the crowd with his moves. Vargas had little to offer in defense except an exceedingly hard head. Against the sharpshooting Mayweather, even that isn't enough to forestall disaster. In the sixth round Mayweather went downstairs and dropped Vargas with a hook to the ribs. You need strong abs, too.
But then, there's never been any question about Mayweather's talent. It's what's he's done outside the ropes that has promoters and his father concerned. After meeting Prince (also known as James Smith) through Mike Tyson, and sacking his father as manager (although Floyd Sr. still trains his son), Junior rebuffed a $12 million, seven-fight contract offer from HBO as "slave wages," became media-reluctant and adopted an entourage that is far disproportionate to his relatively low profile in the sport.
All this may be nothing more than a 23-year-old kid spreading his wings. But Bob Arum, who promotes Mayweather and who wrangled the initial HBO offer, also discerns a personality change in the fighter, one he feels is not for the better. "He was such a sweetheart," Arum says. "What's happened is just sick."
You might say this is a generational tiling, the old guard resenting the new. Who says a record producer can't succeed as a boxing manager? If the job were really that experience-specific, only a pirate would be qualified. Yet look at the results. Mayweather Jr. is about to sign the same $12 million HBO contract his father argued for in the first place. What's different? This time, 20% of it goes to Prince, whereas his father never took a managerial cut "It's obvious [Prince] hasn't done anything for his share," says Floyd Sr.
The father has been outspoken about those "damn rappers" and his partial displacement as an authority figure. "Who likes somebody taking advantage of their kid?" he asks. But the father-son relationship seems more intact than one might think. Alone together in the dressing room after the bout, the two seemed almost tender toward each other, the son listening seriously as the father laid praise (and here and there a complaint) on his son.
Arum and HBO express concern about the baggage young Mayweather has taken on and wonder whether his career can continue apace now that he's likely to be viewed by some as a rap-rhymin' villain. "It's difficult enough to promote a non-Hispanic, nonheavyweight pay-per-view attraction," Arum says. "But now, if he's going to keep turning people off, people will stay away."
Of course, winning counts for something too, and on that count, nothing has changed for May-weather at all.