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It was 10:30 last Saturday night in Las Vegas, and in a large dressing room in the bowels of the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino a Mayweather family reunion was under way. On one side of the room a cluster of kids, three of whom belong to Floyd Mayweather Jr., were wrestling on a faded red carpet and playing games they appeared to be making up on the fly. On the other side a trio of elder Mayweathers milled about: Floyd Sr., the father, who had taught Junior the shoulder-rolling defense that over his 14-year professional career has become virtually impenetrable; Roger, the uncle, who had given Junior some offensive moves and helped create a fissure within the family when he seized the training reins from Senior in 2000; Bernice, the grandmother, the stabilizing force and the one constant in Junior's chaotic life.
Three generations of Mayweathers shared one emotion—joy—which for this moment, at least, seemed to unite their often fractured family. Junior had just completed his most impressive win, a dominating decision over WBA welterweight champion Shane Mosley. Junior entered the room like a 147-pound Caesar entering Rome. The kids rushed to his feet. He was embraced warmly by Senior, the man who had raised him, trained him, left him (after being convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1993), been fired by him, estranged from him and finally, last year, reconciled with him. Senior smiled the smile of a father who had seen the fighter in his son before his first birthday, when Junior curled his hands into fists in the crib.
"You see that?" asked Junior.
"You whupped his ass," Senior replied.
"He don't hit hard. Chop-Chop hit harder than him," Junior said, referring to DeMarcus Corley, who staggered him in a fight in 2004. "I wanted to walk him down." Pausing, Junior smiled. "But I know Daddy wouldn't want me to do that."
Daddy, along with the rest of the family, wanted a win. Junior wanted it more. Over the last two years Mayweather's spotless record (41--0, including six titles in five weight classes) had come under assault from boxing experts and a public frustrated by his choice of opponents. He "retired" in 2007 after knocking out Ricky Hatton (a natural junior welterweight) and returned 21 months later to outpoint Juan Manuel Márquez (a natural lightweight). When negotiations with Manny Pacquiao crumbled in January after the two camps couldn't agree on a method of drug testing, many wondered if Mayweather, 33, would ever face someone who matched him in stature, much less in skill.
Enter Mosley, a natural welterweight with a Hall of Fame résumé. For weeks Mosley, 38, sniffed at Mayweather's speed and laughed at his punching power. He cited his own quickness and suggested that Mayweather wouldn't be able to withstand his attack. And early in the fight it looked as if his words would prove prophetic. In the second round Mosley landed a heavy right hand that nearly put Mayweather down for the first time in his career. "He was hurt real bad when I hit him with that shot," Mosley said later. Two more rights slipped through Mayweather's guard, rocking him and sending the mostly pro-Mosley crowd of 15,117 into a frenzy.
But facing real adversity for perhaps the first time in his career, Mayweather responded. He quelled a Mosley surge in the third round with jabs and counterpunches and backed him up in the fourth with thudding right hands and precise combinations. In the fifth Mosley's jaw began to drop like a slow-moving drawbridge, and by the 10th his legs were strings of spaghetti. As the clock ticked toward the final bell, it was Mayweather winging rights, looking for the knockout, and Mosley holding on. "After I caught him with that big right hand, I opened up too much and played into his hands," said Mosley. "He started to avoid the punches. Once I tried to get my timing back, I couldn't adjust."
Adjustments are Mayweather's specialty. Back in the dressing room, clad only in a white T-shirt and fish-print boxer shorts after taking his shower, he walked up to his father and said, "You can bring it, but...." He paused for emphasis. "You. Can't. Break. The. Defense."
It's easy to hate Mayweather. He relishes the role of villain, and he slips into it as easily as a WWE character (which, by the way, he once was). He surrounds himself with a small army of sycophants whose roles range from financial adviser to guy-who-brings-him-his-suit. All of them parrot his message (All roads lead to Floyd Mayweather) and stroke his ego.