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
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 thing, 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
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 Mayweather at all.
Bulked Up or Scaled Down?
The Arturo Gatti who showed up for his Feb. 26 fight with Joey
Gamache at Madison Square Garden was a middleweight in junior
welterweight's clothing. In the 30 hours between the weigh-in
and the bout, Gatti gorged himself on water and pasta and bulked
up 19 pounds to 160, according to a weigh-in conducted on the
day of the fight by HBO. He floored the 145-pound Gamache three
times--twice in Round 1--before knocking him unconscious 41
seconds into Round 2. Gamache stayed on the canvas for seven
minutes and spent two days in a hospital with a concussion.
Claiming he suffered permanent neurological damage, the
now-retired Gamache says he plans to file a $5 million lawsuit
against the New York State Athletic Commission, alleging fraud
and negligence. Gatti, he contends, was far above the prescribed
141-pound limit, rendering the match unfair.
"The way Gatti ballooned up three divisions in a day blew my
mind," says former Olympic boxing coach Al Mitchell, who has
followed the controversy with interest. "When a guy puts on 19
pounds, that's a nightmare."
Until recently, weigh-ins were held the day of the fight. To
make weight, boxers would sometimes spar in rubber suits, sweat
themselves dry in saunas, even gulp down Lasix to spur
dehydration. "It wasn't safe," says Mitchell. "Guys would drain
themselves of fluids and enter the ring weak, their bodies used
Partly to give boxers more time to revitalize, and partly as a
concession to the TV entities that deplore late cancellations,
some state commissions began holding weigh-ins 24 to 36 hours
before matches. "I like early weigh-ins," says Mitchell.
"Fighters have more time to rehydrate." Counters veteran trainer
Gil Clancy, "Early weigh-ins are absolutely ridiculous. Just
look how Gatti took advantage of it."
Acknowledging the latter point, Mitchell offers a compromise:
Re-weigh fighters a few hours before bouts and limit the number
of pounds they are allowed to put back on. "Fighters would be
forced to fight at more natural weights," Mitchell says. "If
they tried to pull a Gatti, the fight would be called off."
Big Apple Resurgence
Move Over, Las Vegas
Las Vegas has been the undisputed heavyweight champion of fight
towns for more than a decade, but the procurement of the Lennox
Lewis-Michael Grant bout by Madison Square Garden is the latest
sign that New York is making a comeback.
Home to Ali-Frazier I nearly three decades ago and countless
other memorable bouts of yore, the Garden, boxing's self-styled
mecca, had lost its luster in more recent times. It hosted just
six title fights between 1987 and '96 and seemed incapable of
properly handling even lower-profile, nontitle bouts--witness
the lack of sufficient security at the July '96 Riddick Bowe-
Andrew Golota debacle, which ended in a riot during which 14
spectators were injured.
Since then, the brawling at the Garden has been confined to the
ring. The arena's successful title-fight promotions have
included Prince Naseem Hamed's rousing KO of Kevin Kelley in
December 1997, the first Lewis-Evander Holyfield match, in March
'99--never mind the dubious judging that gave Holyfield a
draw--and Felix Trinidad's win last year over Pernell Whitaker.
New York boxing received a boost last October when the state
legislature lowered the tax on gate proceeds and
broadcast-rights sales for fights. "It helped even the playing
field with Vegas," says Madison Square Garden vice president
Kevin Wynne, the guiding force behind the arena's pugilistic
revival. "We are aggressively recruiting all the major fights."
--Luis Fernando Llosa
Hamed May Face Morales Next
Prince Naseem Hamed extended his reign with flair on March 11
when he floored South African Vuyani Bungu with a hard left in
the fourth round of his WBO featherweight title defense. Next
up? HBO is steering the cocky Brit toward a career-defining bout
in the fall with WBC super bantamweight champ Erik Morales.
...Undisputed light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. reportedly
will face the WBA's No. 1-ranked contender, Richard Hall, on May
13 in Indianapolis.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Hard of head but slow of foot, Vargas was no match for the quick-striking Mayweather.