LAS VEGAS – The midday sun is searing. Shade is all but impossible to find. The temperature inches toward 110 degrees and the heat radiating from the concrete is visible to the naked eye.
A reed-thin man with a scraggly salt-and-pepper beard filled with burrs shuffles slowly across a busy street, not particularly concerned about the traffic. He has been sweating, and with the wind blowing, the dust sticks to his face.
He makes his way toward a large black truck parked alongside a road in one of the city's poorest areas. It's obvious that, even if he doesn't have a clue who's inside the truck, he knows what it represents.
The man, who said his name is Zeke, said he is not sure if he's hotter, hungrier or thirstier. Clearly, though, he could use a meal. He's about 6-foot tall but doesn't look like he weighs 150 pounds, unless you count the 20-pound sack draped over his shoulder.
He is among the first of the 100 or so homeless people who seem to appear out of nowhere to reach the truck. The door on the back of the truck loudly clatters up and an athletic young man bounds effortlessly into the back.
Zeke sees him and sticks his hand out. Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of the most controversial figures in boxing, bends down and hands him a bag with a sandwich, a piece of fruit and some chips as well as a bottle of water.
Zeke throws the fruit and the chips into the bag he drags along with him but devours the sandwich in seconds. He gulps down the water and heads to the line again.
He gets back to the front, but Mayweather recognizes him, smiles and declines to offer him a second lunch at that point.
"Let's make sure we have enough for everyone, then I'll take care of you," Mayweather says softly. "I won't forget you."
Disappointed, Zeke shuffles away. He asks a nearby observer to stand in line for him and at least get him another bottle of water.
"That'll kill you," he says motioning toward the fiery orange sun.
Zeke hangs around for the half hour or so it takes for Mayweather and his cohorts to hand the lunches to those who stand in line. When the line is clear, Mayweather scans the area and spots Zeke. He shouts and then tosses him another bag of food and a bottle of water.
A few hours earlier, standing in his office, Mayweather explained why he would risk spending so much time in the strength-sapping sun with a bout that will land him an eight-figure payday nearing rapidly.
This is a regular routine and, fight or no fight, Mayweather is out on a weekly basis to feed the homeless. He heard from a friend about the large homeless population in Clark County and the appalling conditions the men and women live in. Mayweather was dismayed when he observed them himself.
He told his manager, Leonard Ellerbe, he needed to do something immediately.
"I've been blessed by God," Mayweather said. "No doubt about it. God gave me this talent and I've been able to build a better life for myself and my family. The people out there, the ones we're going to see, they haven't been so lucky. They need someone to give them a break, but no one wants to bother with them. People forget about them and pretend like they don't exist. I guess they think if they act like there is no problem it will go away. But it won't. Someone needs to help, so I do my part."
Ready for return
The unbeaten welterweight, who was a virtual unanimous choice as the best boxer in the world prior to his sudden retirement in June 2008, will return to the ring on Sept. 19 when he meets Juan Manuel Marquez in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Mayweather remains one of the sport's most polarizing figures. He flaunts his money – the jewelry he wears on his wrist and around his neck costs more than many of his fans' homes – and he's reviled by many who dislike his outlandish spending, loose tongue and exceptionally high opinion of himself that he's so quick to share.
He's only recently reconciled with his father after nearly a decade of public dispute. His former promoter, Bob Arum, makes no effort to conceal his disdain for him. In an interview with Fanhouse.com, Arum blasted Mayweather's fighting style and said "People know Mayweather now. They know the son of a gun doesn't fight. He fights scared. … Outside the ring, yeah, he shoots up cars and he does other things like that and he entertains. But in the ring, he's not an entertaining fighter."
Arum was referring to an incident last month in which shots were fired at a local roller-skating rink. Mayweather's 2008 Rolls Royce was at the scene and police later searched his home. Though police say Mayweather is not a suspect, they removed two handguns (one of which was a Smith & Wesson), a holster, three magazines containing live rounds and a bulletproof vest.
Ellerbe said the guns were registered to two of Mayweather's bodyguards. Despite Mayweather's denial of having any involvement, the incident has contributed to the perception many hold of him as a hoodlum.
But Ellerbe, who is also his best friend, said Mayweather is far from that.
"There's the entertainer, the public figure, but the Floyd Mayweather I know is a kind and caring and thoughtful person," Ellerbe said. "You hear all this stuff, but we all know where it's coming from. It's jealousy. Any time anything happens, they want to blame Floyd. It's ridiculous."
Mayweather clearly doesn't care for the negative perceptions of him, but he also refuses to attempt to polish his image in a bid to curry favor.
He'll tell you vehemently that he is no hoodlum, no petty criminal, no bad guy, but neither will he change who he is just for the sake of impressing middle-aged white men in suits. As a way of explanation, he makes no bones about his affinity for visits to Las Vegas' topless clubs.
"There are guys at HBO [and] they tell me I shouldn't go to the strip clubs," Mayweather said. "Why not? I'm an adult. I'm not married. I'm not committing any crimes. And you know what? I have been in strip clubs and I've seen a lot of the same men in there who talk about me and who tell me not to go in there. They're in there and they want to tell me I shouldn't go? At least I'm honest about what I do."
True to himself
When Mayweather turned professional, he was viewed as the next Sugar Ray Leonard. He tried that approach for the first half of his career but didn't feel it ever fit.
He has become more successful since he invented "Money Mayweather" and projected more of a brash, anti-establishment persona. And despite all his good works, that's the way it's going to stay, he says.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. hands out lunches to homeless Las Vegans on a sweltering desert summer day.
Kevin Iole photo
"Why should I have to act differently just to please someone who doesn't know me?" Mayweather said. "The people who know me know who I am and the person I am. If you want to know about me, ask them. I'm a guy who loves my family, who wants to do the best for my kids, and if I can do something to help someone who hasn't been as truly blessed as I have been, I'll do it. Ask the people who know me what I'm really like."
Nate Jones, Mayweather's teammate on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, is one of those who knows Mayweather the man, not Mayweather the public figure. They first met, Jones said, at the Golden Gloves in Michigan in 1994. Jones instantly disliked him.
"I heard this kid running off at the mouth, every day at the weigh-in," Jones said. "Every morning you weigh in and every morning, I'd go down to weigh in and here's this kid just talking about himself. He wouldn't shut up. I just didn't like him because of his mouth.
"But I saw him fight then and I went up to him and I shook his hand. When I first saw him, I told him to shut up because he talked so much. But when I saw him fight finally, I said, 'Oh my God.' All I could do was bow to him. He could really fight. Everything he was saying was true."
Each went on to make the Olympic team and became roommates and close friends. When they turned professional, Mayweather signed with Arum and Jones opted to sign with Don King.
While Mayweather enjoyed nothing but success as a pro, Jones hit a road block. He was too small to make an impact as a heavyweight and began having problems. He retired in 2002 because of neurological damage.
Jones was lost and had nothing to do, no way of making a living, when his phone rang. "Floyd said, 'Nate, come on out here and work for me. You know boxing. I'll find something for you to do and you'll always have a check,' " Jones said.
Jones said part of his problem as a professional was that he began to drink heavily. Mayweather would counsel him and urge him to stop, but Jones persisted. He drank and didn't train as hard as he needed.
"I would drink in camp, up to about a week before the fight, and I shouldn't have been doing that," Jones said. "Floyd told me. He begged me. And I paid for it. You kill a lot of brain cells when you drink like I was and then you go and get hit in the head. It quickened up the process."
Jones said when he first arrived in Mayweather's camp he was simply a friend, a guy Mayweather paid just to be around so he'd have some money in his pocket. As time evolved, though, Jones began to have a more active role in Mayweather's boxing career.
"Floyd has a lot of respect for my boxing knowledge," Jones said. "He always tells me, 'Nate, yours is the only voice I hear when I'm fighting. I can't hear anyone else's voice but yours.' He respects my opinion, so I can make suggestions and talk about things with him. I'm like a secondary trainer. He knows I have his back. All I want is what is 110 percent what is best for Floyd. He knows that."
Jones said it stings him to his core when he hears Mayweather being attacked. Mayweather has an entourage of about 20 people he has hired because he felt sorry for them, Jones said.
"He doesn't need me," Jones said. "He'd win without me. But he cares about people. He pays decent money so people can have good lives and have a chance to have success. And that touches a lot of people. There's one guy here who is working for Floyd who basically can't do a thing. He can't even carry a bag without having some problem. Floyd just doesn't turn his back on anyone.
"He said to me, 'Nate, I don't need this guy. He can't carry a bag. He serves no purpose. But how would I feel if I told him to go home and I know it would hurt him? I can't do that.' That's the part of Floyd people don't understand."
Ellerbe talked about Mayweather going shopping for shoes to deliver to the students of Matt Kelly Elementary School, which is located in one of Vegas' most blighted areas. Mayweather also paid the full tab, nearly $200,000, so the Michigan Golden Gloves could be held in Grand Rapids last year.
"I got a chance by fighting in that tournament and I was lucky and I made it," Mayweather said. "There wouldn't have been a tournament [last year] because there was no money, so me paying for it to keep it alive, that was a way for me to say thanks and give someone else the same opportunity I had."
It's mentioned to him that if more people saw this side of him he would skyrocket in popularity and would make more money. He would become a beloved figure.
Mayweather shook his finger.
"You might be right, but that's not what it's about," he said. "I don't go talk to kids and I don't go feed the homeless because I want someone to know about it. I want to do it because I know there's a need and I have the chance to do right.
"I don't care who knows or who doesn't know. As long as I help the kids and people who need help, that's really what matters. I don't care too much about what anyone else thinks or has to say, to be honest with you. I'm happy with who I am and that's the important thing."