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Better Than Ever

And maybe everyone. In dismantling Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather Jr. lived up to even his own lofty standard

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 Màrquez (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.

Mayweather invites vitriol in other ways too. He has an almost obsessive concern with his undefeated record and flaunts it regularly. In the weeks leading up to his fight with Mosley, Mayweather ruffled more than a few feathers by claiming that he was the greatest fighter of all time. Not one of the greatest. The greatest. And although such alltime pound-for-pounders as Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns shrugged off Mayweather's statements ("A fighter has to think that way," said Leonard), their subdued response only underscored his negative persona.

Creating that persona has been, in part, a Mayweather strategy. When HBO came up with the reality series 24/7 to hype his 2007 pay-per-view showdown with Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather used the show to bash De La Hoya and creep under his skin. He took the same tack with Mosley. In the weeks leading up to their fight Mayweather intimated that Mosley, who admitted to having unknowingly used performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, had used steroids before many of his fights. He called Mosley an idiot while slamming him for firing his own father as his trainer before his '09 fight with Antonio Margarito. Irony, it seems, eludes Mayweather.

Of course, in part it is just an act. "Sometimes you just got to put on a show," says Mayweather. And you can't argue with the results: Mayweather is boxing's biggest moneymaker; his fights had generated 5.5 million pay-per-view buys before the bout with Mosley, which is likely to add at least another million to that total. The popular De La Hoya was expected to be the star of 24/7, but the cocky, foul-mouthed Mayweather and his dysfunctional family soon took over. "When we started getting the footage in, I almost fell off my chair," says HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. "Floyd was tailor-made for this series. There is an uptick in the ratings whenever Floyd is on the series."

With Mayweather, however, it's unclear just what is image and what is reality. Take his GOAT boasts. "When he says he is better than Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, he believes that," says Floyd Sr. And is he? "Well," says Senior, "that's a matter of opinion."

No discussion of Mayweather is complete without delving into who's next. "The ultimate goal is to try to find a fighter who can beat me," he says. The 31-year-old Pacquiao, generally recognized as the only other claimant to the title of best boxer pound for pound, is at the top of the list. But Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, says blood testing for performance-enhancing drugs is not on the table, citing Pacquiao's discomfort with having his blood drawn during training. Mayweather, who submitted to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's random blood and urine testing before the Mosley fight, insists that all his future opponents will be held to that standard. "We must be on an even playing field," says Mayweather. "Too many fighters are dying. I'm a clean athlete. I'm doing it the old-fashioned way."

Mayweather's motives are suspect—there wasn't a peep from him about performance-enhancing drugs until he was faced with fighting Pacquiao, who has been dogged by rumors of steroid use—but the issue is real. Former boxing champions Frans Botha, James Toney and Fernando Vargas have all tested positive for steroids. Blood testing isn't perfect (there are designer PEDs it cannot yet detect), but it's the best resource available.

If a deal can't be struck with Pacquiao, there is another intriguing possibility. Last month Sergio Martínez defeated Kelly Pavlik for the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. Martínez is a natural 154-pounder—the same weight at which Mayweather fought De La Hoya—who moved up to 160 to face Pavlik. Martínez's promoter, Lou DiBella, says Martínez would "stand on his head" for the chance to fight Mayweather, and the possibility of adding a middleweight title (and another eight-figure payday) seemed to resonate with Mayweather. "Maybe," he said with a sly smile. "It's interesting."

A leap to 160 is a big challenge, but it is doubtful Mayweather has ever been stronger. The union between his father and uncle will never be blissful, but it has become civil, with both men accepting their roles in Junior's world. In the locker room after the Mosley bout an exhausted Roger slumped into a chair next to Floyd Sr., who looked down and nodded at his younger brother, a silent acknowledgment of a job well done.

And having the wisdom of the two experienced (albeit quirky) trainers seems to have fueled Junior's fire. Two days before the Mosley fight Mayweather's longtime friend and adviser Leonard Ellerbe was sitting down to dinner when his phone began to hum. It was Mayweather, calling to summon Ellerbe back to the gym for a late-night workout. Such workouts are highly unusual so close to a fight. As he left for the gym, Ellerbe leaned over to one of his dinner companions and whispered, "Floyd wants to be perfect."

For the moment, he is.

Now on

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"The ultimate goal is to find a fighter who can beat me," Mayweather says. The 31-year-old Pacquiao (right) ranks at the top of the list.


Photograph by ROBERT BECK

POINT MADE Criticized for not always fighting the best opposition, Mayweather (in red) took on a future Hall of Famer in Mosley and outclassed him.


Photographs by ROBERT BECK

RIGHT BACK Stung early by a Mosley shot, Mayweather soon used his speed and defense—and the guidance of Uncle Roger (opposite, bottom)—to take over the fight.