LAS VEGAS – It's impossible to improve upon perfect, but when the subject is Floyd Mayweather Jr., the normal rules don't apply.
An outsider might say the 36-year-old boxer lives a perfect life. He's among the greatest ever to have competed in his sport. He owns a fleet of luxury cars, a massive and stylish home in a tony, golf-course community, wears hand-tailored custom suits and accentuates his wardrobe with more diamonds than Elizabeth Taylor could dream of having.
He employs a gaggle of assistants to take care of his every need, real or imagined. If he wants to go to the movies, he rents out the entire theater. He stays in the finest hotels and flies on a sleek private jet. Women throw themselves at him; men dream of being him.
It's some people's idea of a perfect life. In life, as in sport, however, perfection is very elusive.
And so, even with a 43-0 record, even with a spot among boxing's all-time greats long ago assured, even with every material thing he might want at his fingertips, Mayweather himself is the first to concede his life is not perfect.
"Everybody goes through ups and downs," Mayweather said in one of his final public appearances before his welterweight title fight Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden against Robert Guerrero. "Nobody has a perfect life. ... I just have to take the good with the good and the bad with the bad."
There's been far more good than bad in his 36 years, though 2012 was a nightmare in many ways despite one of the most successful promotions and significant victories of his career.
Less than a month after he defeated Miguel Cotto in a bout that sold more than 1.5 million pay-per-view units, Mayweather reported to the Clark County Detention Center to begin serving a 90-day sentence following a guilty plea to misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
He spent 23 hours a day in his cell on weekdays and was confined around the clock on weekends. It was through the help of visits from friends and his lawyer, and sessions with a savvy counselor that helped him survive the ordeal.
Mayweather says the experience taught him never to take his freedom for granted.
"Your freedom is your most precious gift," he said. "There's nothing like being free. Without freedom, you don't have anything."
He was jailed because of a 2010 incident with Josie Harris, the mother of three of his four children, in a home he bought for her to live in.
In Harris' version, Mayweather became enraged when he saw text messages from NBA player C.J. Watson and got physically abusive. Harris alleges she suffered a concussion and other injuries as a result of the beating.
Mayweather has never spoken of the details, but has denied striking Harris, and said he pled guilty to the misdemeanor to spare his son, Koraun, from having to testify.
Mayweather and Harris have had a long, tortured history together, and authorities have been involved in disputes between them frequently. Mayweather went to trial on felony domestic violence charges in 2005 after an incident between them.
Harris recanted at the preliminary hearing and Mayweather was acquitted at trial. She testified at that trial that Mayweather "was a teddy bear inside." She also told jurors, "No matter what I did, he would never put his hands on me."
Those two months he served in the Clark County Detention Center have made a noticeable change in him, at least in his public appearances. Several of his closest acquaintances and associates say he's markedly different now.
"Without a doubt, it had a huge impact upon him," said former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, a noted boxing trainer and friend of Mayweather's father who often works at the Mayweather Boxing Club. "It opened his eyes to a whole lot of things about life and in his life that he never really gave much thought to before.
"I'll bet you see a better performance out of him than when he fought [Diego] Corrales, because the weight is off his back and he's made right with his family."
He's re-hired his father, Floyd Sr., to be his lead trainer. The two have had a volatile relationship, and Mayweather Sr. has not been his son's lead trainer since 2000. Mayweather Sr.'s brother, Roger Mayweather, has trained the champion for the bulk of his professional career.
In 2000, Mayweather Jr. booted his father out of a home and repossessed a van he'd given him. They had several notable disputes, culminating in a painful-to-watch argument on HBO's "24/7" just prior to his 2012 fight with Cotto.
Mayweather Sr. and Roger Mayweather are both volatile personalities who have gone back and forth at each other over the years. Roger Mayweather isn't thrilled to not be in his nephew's corner on Saturday – Mayweather Jr. says it's because his uncle's diabetes causes him vision problems – but he hasn't blasted his brother, at his nephew's request.
"I want what is best for Floyd [Jr.]," Roger Mayweather said. "That's his father. If he wants his father, then he should have his father up there with him. It ain't no big thing."
Mayweather Sr. has resisted taking shots at his brother and at Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, who will be the third person in the corner Saturday, also at his son's direction.
It's led to one of the most harmonious camps of Mayweather's professional career. When he started, he had his father and his two uncles, Roger and Jeff Mayweather, in his corner. For the Guerrero fight, all three were part of the camp and in the gym, though Jeff Mayweather didn't have an official role.
But Jeff Mayweather said he believes his nephew's attitude change has him primed for an elite performance.
"I think we're going to see a brilliant performance, like some of the best ones he's had in his career," Jeff Mayweather said. "He's a lot stronger now, and he's had a very good, very smart camp. You can just see everything falling into place.
"There's not the friction and the distractions that have been around in the past. This is like the perfect ending to Floyd's career. It's come full circle. The prodigal son has come back and he's back with his dad, where it all started. Little Floyd forced his dad to accept Roger in order to be a part of the team. Everyone is doing their job and getting along."
The younger Mayweather asked that a seat not be saved for his father on the dais for Wednesday's final news conference at the MGM Grand. It wasn't because they'd had some late dispute, but because Mayweather Jr. recognized his father has a short temper and expected Guerrero's father/trainer to try to incite him. In order to avoid trouble, Mayweather Jr. felt it wise to keep his father off the dais and away from a microphone, where he couldn't be tempted to get into a dispute with Ruben Guerrero.
Mayweather Sr. accepted the decision and didn't create a fuss. And while he's had some wild public disputes with his son, it was always obvious he adores his son and reveled in his success.
As the men have matured, they've come to value the relationship more.
"He's much better to be around now," Mayweather Sr. told the New York Daily News. "He's more calm. It just seems like he's much more productive with his time. He's real pleasant to talk to now. I would have to say that he's changed a lot of things about himself. The Lord above is looking down on him and on me. He's touched him and let him know that he needs his daddy."
He's trying to do the right things, in the ring and in his personal life. Ellerbe said Mayweather Jr. has taken great strides to improve his familial bonds, particularly with his father.
Mayweather Jr. laments the fact that his time in jail forced him to miss, among other things, his daughter's birthday.
That birthday celebration is something he'll never get back, so he plans to do everything in his power to not miss any special days again.
"Jail is no place to be," Mayweather said.
He vowed never to return, the same vow light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins made almost a quarter century ago after being paroled from a Pennsylvania prison following a stint on a strong-arm robbery conviction.
Hopkins turned his life around and became not only one of the greatest boxers to have ever lived, but a model citizen. Hopkins said Mayweather has the personal makeup to be the same way.
"It takes a lot of discipline to change whatever it was that was going on in your life, but Floyd has that kind of discipline," Hopkins said.
Mayweather has always been disciplined in his boxing career and that's led to a perfect record and an astronomical balance in the checking account.
But here he is, a superstar of the highest magnitude, almost 17 years into his boxing career, and in many ways, it's as if he's starting over.
That difficult, elusive quest for perfection rolls on.
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