Dad still No. 1 with boxer Mayweather

August 02, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

ATLANTA -- He smuggled cocaine in detergent boxes, got himself sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, tainted the family name forever.

Doesn't matter.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. loves his dad.

"If it wasn't for my dad, I would not even be here," Mayweather said -- "here" being the Olympics, where on Wednesday night he became the first U.S. boxer to defeat a Cuban in the Olympics in 20 years.

Floyd Mayweather Sr., 43, was the first in a family of fighters, a former light welterweight contender who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard.

Tonight, his son faces three-time world champion Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria in the Olympic semifinals, but instead of cheering at ringside, Floyd Sr. will be serving time at a federal correctional facility in Milan, Mich.

"It's hard, but it's something I have to deal with," said Floyd Jr., a featherweight who fights at 125 pounds. "Ain't nothing I can do about it. But it hurts.

"Every time I go see my dad, when I leave, there's a hard lump in my throat. I want to cry. But deep down inside, I know I'm a man. I have to hold it in."

A man? Floyd Jr. is 19. His father isn't scheduled to be released until Sept. 17, 1997. He has missed the majority of his son's teen-age years, "caged up like an animal," Floyd Jr. said.

Still, Floyd Sr. is listed as his son's coach in the U.S. Olympic team media guide. And Floyd Jr. said that when he turns pro, he'll steer promoters to his father, even if it means they have to visit him in prison.

Floyd Jr. lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and when he is home, he visits his father often. They've spoken by phone three times this week. Floyd Jr. can't just call after a victory. Floyd Sr. must try to reach him, collect.

"It takes a big plug out of my heart," Floyd Sr. told a Detroit newspaper before the Olympics. "He's my baby, man. I want to be there to see him, to watch him fulfill his dream."

Floyd Jr. wants him here, too. He wrote President Clinton asking that his father be released for the Olympics. But presidents do not issue temporary pardons for drug traffickers, even for the sake of an Olympic moment.

Doesn't matter.

Kid loves his dad.

"My daddy never did bad things in front of me," Floyd Jr. said. "Whatever my dad did, he always tried to work to keep his family together, to make us happy.

"My dad don't owe me no explanations."

Floyd Jr. tells reporters that his father went to jail on conspiracy, not drug trafficking. The actual charges were conspiracy to possess with the intention to distribute and distribution of cocaine.

Semantics.

It's all Floyd Jr. has.

"My dad never got caught red-handed with nothing," he said. "If you never got caught, you can't say you ever got caught. My dad went to jail on hearsay."

You can hear the passion rising in his voice, but even on this night, the night he beat the Cuban, the night he guaranteed himself an Olympic medal, Floyd Jr. doesn't get emotional.

He doesn't cry.

"Crying is not going to do anything about it," Floyd Jr. said. "You can go crying to the judge, say, 'Judge, please don't lock me up.' But they're still going to lock you up. It doesn't matter."

The only thing Floyd Jr. can do is keep in contact with his father, and wait. U.S. assistant boxing coach Jesse Ravelo said he never mentions Floyd Sr. But head coach Al Mitchell said the father is constantly on the son's mind.

"He thinks about him all the time," Mitchell said. "He sleeps, eats, dreams about his father. He looks up to his father.

"Everyone knows how deeply he feels about him. You're supposed to, no matter what kind of trouble there might be.

"That's your father. That's part of you."

When Floyd Jr. was little, his father would lift him onto a chair so he could hit a speed bag. Two of his father's brothers also are boxers -- Roger, 34, is a two-time former world champion; Jeff, 30, a professional lightweight.

"My dad started all of us," Floyd Jr. said. "He'd take me to the

gym every day. We'd be the first ones there, the last ones to leave. He was a very supportive parent."

But now he must offer his support from prison, telling his son, "Go for the body, go for the body," even though the computerized Olympic scoring system does not reward a fighter for wearing down his opponent.

Floyd Jr. listens. But he listens to his coaches, too.

"I've seen him completely turn around to a man," Mitchell said. "It's his attitude. He doesn't know everything now.

"He helps the other athletes, pushes for them. It's not just about Mayweather. He says, 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' "

Two more victories now, two more victories and Floyd Jr. is an Olympic champion. He wants to win the gold medal, and give it to his father.

"While he's been in there, he's going to school, he's going to church, writing down different things we can do when he gets out, as far as training methods," Floyd Jr. said.

"We can travel together, do things more often. Not a father-to-son thing -- I'm not a young man no more. But man-to-man."

Doesn't matter what happened. Doesn't matter what people think. Doesn't matter that his father is in prison when he should be at ringside.

Kid loves his dad.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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