I just wanted to talk to him. To Floyd Mayweather — he is who I was writing about, after all. But now one of the guys who works at his gym’s eyes are getting wider and he’s tensing up in a way that makes it seem like the tension could suddenly become something more. “The gym is CLOSED,” he’s saying, his chest expanding, his right arm going back, its fist clenching by his waist. “Leave the property!”
I’ve never had to write about anyone all that famous before. I’ve preferred the smaller stories, the ones about people who seem more real, or at least are more willing to show you who they really are. Famous people, they don’t trust us journalists.
So that’s what I’ve been doing the past three weeks. Trying to convince Mayweather and anyone who knows him that I’m out to know who he really is, not just to whip some other eyeball-grabbing feature that people will click and click and click on and then forget about the next day. They still might forget about it, but dammit, it’s got to be real. I told everyone that yeah, clearly, people love him and people hate him, and it seems like you either have to be on one side of the spectrum or another, but I’m not, I fall somewhere in the middle, which is where I expect Mayweather does, too, like all of us.
It seemed impossible. Three weeks ago, I barely knew who the guy was. Then an editor at Bleacher Report — hi Vince! — asked me if I wanted to profile Mayweather for a big story to run the week before his fight big fight against Manny Pacquiao on Saturday.
I buried myself in articles and videos and documentaries. Spent three days in Grand Rapids, Mayweather’s hometown. Spent five more days in Vegas, just trying to figure out who the real human being was in the middle of the ocean of B.S. that ensconces the guy’s public life. I wanted him to put all this craziness in context for me — who are you, really in the middle of all this? What are you feeling about it, about what people say you’ve done, about what you’ve been arrested for? Who and what are you, really? Just let me know. I want to write about a human being here, not the cartoon characters it seems all our athletes become, hero or villain may they be. I wanted to write something real.
I talked with several people who were very helpful, and then I talked to several Mayweathers who were the opposite, all of them exhausted by constantly being asked about Floyd and by, some of them said, constantly being misquoted and misrepresented and taken advantage of. Their fatigue wore on me.
Then came media day, Tuesday — my birthday, as a matter of fact — when Mayweather’s PR people seemed to believe I should be able to ask him real and personal questions, and where I believed I might, too. Until I arrived. I felt like a cow in a herd, all of us tramping after and mooing at the man, begging him, feed us feed us. It was horrible. An absolute zoo. So many people yelling questions at him. Men yelling at another man. There were so many cameras clicking I couldn’t hear Mayweather’s answers half the time because even though there were giant speakers set up, Mayweather was inexplicably never given a microphone. I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t ask a question. It felt … I wouldn’t go so far as to call the way we treat celebrities in situations like this inhumane, but it’s something, and it disturbed me.
After wind nearly blew the tent away and we went inside, I inadvertently sneaked in among the television reporters to get about one minute with Mayweather, just me asking a question and him answering, me alone. It went nowhere fast, and because I was trying to be nice, I didn’t say, there in front of a million cameras and reporters, that I had spoken with Josie Harris that morning, the woman he beat so badly he went to jail, and I’d spoken with many other people who said many other things about him, and I wanted him to have a chance to answer, to show me who he really was, not just who they saw him as. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t make myself say all of that in front of all those people. Maybe I should have. But in the moment, I believed I would have another chance to talk with him. So I held my tongue.
I hung around and hung around and talked to a bunch of people, very few of whom said anything really of substance. I watched Jim Gray putz around the ring like some sort of celebrity, and I watched him take a cell phone video of Mayweather hitting the speed bag with the wide eyes of a teenage boy in love. I watched a magazine writer holding out his hand for Skittles from Mayweather’s public relations manager, and another journalist hold a plate of food for Leonard Ellerbe, who picked at chicken while taking a call on his cell phone.
I hung around hoping to talk to, at the very least, Mayweather’s PR people, but I couldn’t even find them eventually. I called them, emailed them, told them some things I’ve learned, told them I need to ask Mayweather about them. I heard nothing back.
I went back the next afternoon, on a whim, just sort of hoping the gym would be open, that I would get a chance to talk with Mayweather. I found out Mayweather’s not coming in that afternoon, so I just hung around a bit longer, hoping to at least talk to someone who knew him well enough to get in his ear for me.
I got to talking to a guy I’ll just call Mike, which wasn’t his real name, which I don’t want to say because things did not go well, and I don’t want to get him in trouble.
Mike was a gruffer sort but softened as I gave my schpeel — just wanna write something real — for the millionth time. “All right,” he said. “Here’s what I can do for you …”
He told me to come back sometime between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Odds were Mayweather would be there then. Mike didn’t know when, exactly, but he knows Mayweather is planning a late-night workout, as much as Mayweather plans anything, anyway. He said that they just have to keep their cell phones always ready, and they’ll get a text message sometime that night, and that’s when they have to come in and open the place up and help him train. All on The Champ’s schedule. “But I’ll tell him what you told me,” Mike said. “Come back here, I’ll let you in, see about letting you tell him what you told me. But that’s all I can promise you.”
I asked if I could get his cell phone number or something just in case something went sideways, but he said no, no, he didn’t want to risk all that. “Risk what?” I said. He ducked his head and held up his hands. “I just don’t,” he said. “I gotta go. Be here tonight.”
It was my wife’s and my last night in Vegas. (We’d originally booked this trip as a vacation of sorts — she was coming out here for the NAB Show, I was going to tag along just for fun, then I got the Mayweather assignment, and it worked out beautifully. Anyway …) I didn’t know about spending our last night there sitting around sort of stalking a guy, but it also felt sort of like an adventure, so we went for it.
We took a cab there around 10, and of course, nobody was there, gym locked up tight.
There was a 24-hour coffee shop right on the corner, so we hung out there. We discovered it wasn’t actually a coffee shop, but the Serenity Club, a 24-hour spot for addicts to hang out. But they had a pool table and food and coffee, so we hung out, talked with the proprietor, etc. Turns out Mayweather’s crew comes in there all the time for Powerades and candy. It was an awesome little place — I’ll write another post about it soon.
Anyway, we hung out for a couple hours, and then, right around the time I’m thinking we call it a night — I mean, our flight leaves at 6:30 the next morning — some cars started showing up outside Mayweather’s gym. Knocked on the door, talked to one guy, he said Mayweather wasn’t coming in that night, but we hung around a bit longer.
Called a cab around midnight. Soon as the cabbie got there, though, I saw Rafael Garcia show up — that’s Mayweather’s 86-year-old corner man — and I figured he had to be coming soon. Had the cabbie do a couple laps around the parking lot. Saw more guys parked behind the gym. (I’m feeling really stalker-creepy right now, too, by the way.)
Then sure enough, a blacked-out Jaguar (I think it was a Jaguar) showed up, taking up two spots parking right in front of the door. Figured that’s gotta be his car.
For all this, I was weirdly hesitant. Just had that feeling that this wasn’t going to go the way I wanted, and I was stressing out. But Katie was like, “Oh come on!” and the cabbie was like “Just go for it!” So I did.
I knocked on the gym door again. It was glass. I can see the faces of the guys coming to the door. Intense, almost angry.
Tell them why I’m there, they’re having none of it. I recognize them both from earlier, and they’re way more aggressive now than with all the cameras around.
I tried to tell them what Mike told me, but they wouldn’t let me get two words out. I pressed. They just got louder, more intense.
I don’t remember specifically what I said or what they said. All I really remember is that I kept trying and trying to tell them what I told Mike earlier, and what Mike told me, and I was trying to ask if Mike was even there — but this one guy, a younger, bigger guy whose muscles you could see through his clothes, was taking his job very seriously.
And look, I don’t know if I was really going to get punched, but the guy just had that look about him. By “that look about him,” I just mean — look, I’ve played a lot of pickup basketball, and things inevitably get heated out there sometimes, and I’ve seen the same look in guys on the basketball court before they started throwing punches as I saw in that guy’s face. But maybe not. I could be wrong.
Point is, though, dude wanted me gone, and he didn’t care who told me I could be there.
And I mean, why not. He’s working for an uber-millionaire fighter. I’m not exactly shocked. I just — where’s Mike? I just want to know if Floyd actually DID this stuff. I —
“The gym is closed! Leave the property!”
“I’m trying to do Floyd a favor!” I said, kind of stupidly, as the door shut in my face.
I get in the cab. I’m kinda pissed. My wife’s like, “Did you really just say you’re trying to do him a favor!”
She’s right. I’m an idiot.
I say, “Let’s just go home.”
A few minutes later, the cabbie goes, “You know, I’m just glad to have had a normal fare tonight!”