Birmingham: As Tony Bellew and David Haye dissolved into an unlikely embrace after their extraordinary fight on Saturday night, the world’s richest sportsman-turned-businessman looked on with a mixture of admiration and empathy.
Floyd Mayweather may have career earnings of 600 million pounds (Dh2.7 billion), have a brand ‘Money’ which is known the world over and be both promoter and businessman supreme in his life outside the ring but at heart he is still an undefeated boxer.
So as 11 pulsating rounds came to an end, Mayweather knew the feeling: “It is a unique thing when you go through that experience with another boxer, and it creates a great respect between them. They showed themselves to be two great fighters.”
Mayweather was guest of honour at a black tie, Las Vegas-style ball on Saturday at the ICC Birmingham, organised by promotions company Showfighter, with the fight shown on a big screen.
Dressed immaculately in hazelnut leather shoes and a razor-tight cut blue tailored suit, Mayweather opened up on the difficulties of his childhood and the secret to his success, revealed that he regrets not fighting in the UK, and discussed the possible ‘crossover’ fight with mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor, of Ireland, one of the hottest properties in combat sport.
Across a glittering 20-year career, Mayweather transformed himself from tiny gym rat to boxer and brand with a global reach of 30.5 million social media followers.
But it has been “a very long journey”, he explained, rising from poverty and joining the professional boxing ranks to amass 49 victories, 26 of those world title contests in a reign as a five-division world champion.
“It wasn’t easy. I had a very, very tough upbringing. It started in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My dad was a fighter, my dad’s two brothers were fighters, and every day my dad would take me to the boxing gym,” he said.
By the age of four, he was standing on a chair “hitting the speed bag like a professional”.
“I can remember 1987 when I had my first amateur fight in Michigan, weighing 64lb. I was 10 years old. I was the youngest and smallest guy on my team. I can remember what I ate. There was this restaurant called Ponderosa and my dad made me eat a steak. I was happy. It was a first-round knockout. I slept with my trophy for two weeks.”
The experience of his father, Floyd Mayweather Snr, has stayed with him.
“My dad lost to Sugar Ray Leonard and Marlon Starling. But my dad had an interesting story. My daddy got shot in the leg; my mother’s brother shot him in the leg when I was a kid. My dad was holding me when he shot him. He shot him with a 12-gauge shot gun at close range.
“My dad was in a hospital for months. The doctors told my dad he would never be able to walk again. My dad beat all the odds. He came back and was able to walk and start boxing again. He went to No. 1 in the world at welterweight to fight for the world title. But he never had his chance to fight for a world title.”
Mayweather Snr was “a hustler”, who “got involved in the street life”, explained Floyd.
He served five years in prison. They are close today, but Floyd’s aim is “to try and break the circle” for his own children. But the boxer, retired two years now after a succession of super-fights, also aims to create opportunities for other talented boxers from the projects.
“Gervonta Davis is very talented. He has a very interesting story,” he explained of the rising star who is expected to fight Britain’s super-featherweight Liam Walsh in the near future.
“This is a kid who stayed in different foster homes and an orphanage and beat all the odds. A fighter who had 10 fights, never seen on TV. As soon as I saw him walk in the room I said, ‘He’s going to be world champion’.
“I got him six fights and within 24 months he’s world champion. He has the potential to be the closest thing to Floyd Mayweather. It’s going to be extremely hard to do those record-breaking numbers. It took many years for me to build the fan base like this. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But I know it pays off in the long run.”
Looking back on his career, he said: “Different days I think about different victories. Ricky Hatton is one of those fights. I respect Ricky Hatton. He’s a warrior. He’s a hell of a warrior.” Then one small regret.
“It was always one of my dreams to come to the UK and fight.” Mayweather feels a special relationship with UK fans.
“I’m going to always bleed the red, white and blue. I represented the US in the Olympics, I love my country. But the US fans will love you on Monday, if you lose they’ll hate you on Tuesday, if you win it will be back to loving you on Wednesday. The thing about these UK fans is if they are with you, they’re with you.” Mayweather then touched on the burning issue of whether he would ever fight McGregor, in a boxing-meets-MMA super fight, which could generate over pounds 300 million.
“McGregor has bosses. I don’t have a boss. If Conor McGregor really wants to fight me, we can make it happen. But is he blowing smoke up everybody’s (backside)? In one fight I made more than Conor McGregor has made in his whole career. The difference between me and him is this: He has to fight. If I was him and I was smart, before I lose again in the UFC, I’d let Floyd Mayweather kick my (backside) for a lot of money. It makes business sense.” If that fight ever goes ahead, Mayweather will become the first billion dollar boxer in earnings. That’s why he is ‘Money’.