The ultimate salesman
Floyd Mayweather, two weeks away from his mega-bucks fight against Saul Alvarez, appears to be a changed man in many ways but one - he's still raking in the big money with big talk
A rare series of storms had cooled the summer air to an almost tolerable level, though it was steamy as ever inside Floyd Mayweather Jnr's gym just a few kilometres from the Vegas Strip.
With a couple of sparring partners in front of him, Mayweather turned up the heat even more. "Right there, right there," he yelled at the first hapless pugilist to feel his wrath. "You can't get away. I'll hit you when I want to."
It didn't take Mayweather long to do just that. As the third of four rounds stretched to the 10-minute mark he connected with a rapid volley of punches, finishing it off with a left hook that rocked his opponent for the day, sending him stumbling across the ring.
All in a day's work, but there was still work to be done. There always is when it's Mayweather in training and especially now, two weeks before his fight with undefeated Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
It's a big fight, but all Mayweather fights are big. He's the undisputed pay-per-view king and the September 14 match-up is so attractive that the pay-per-view price is a whopping US$74.95 for those watching in high definition. Though Mayweather's last fight in May against Robert Guerrero - for which he earned US$32 million - wasn't a huge box-office smash, this one should make executives at Showtime and CBS feel better about the money they laid out for boxing's biggest draw.
Better yet, he's fighting for the second time in four months after not fighting more than once a year since 2007.
"I'm ready to perform and entertain, that's what it's all about," Mayweather said. "I'm a lot older now so the last five fights I have I want to go out with a bang."
The fight is the second in his six-fight deal with Showtime, which lured him from HBO to help sell cable subscriptions and build the network's boxing brand. He says the bouts will be the last of his career, though at the age of 36 he doesn't seem to have lost any of the reflexes or speed that have helped him win all 44 of his fights in a professional career that began following the 1996 Olympics.
What has changed is how Mayweather sells himself, even if he claims he hasn't changed. Ever since his release from a Las Vegas jail after serving 64 days on domestic abuse charges last year, Mayweather has been the model of politeness and civility - in sharp contrast to the bad-boy persona that made him such a big attraction over the years.
That's one reason why Showtime's All Access show on Mayweather-Alvarez seemed to fall a bit flat in the first episode. There were the requisite shots, of course, of Mayweather and Alvarez in face-offs and together on a tour promoting the bout, but there wasn't the drama of Mayweather's earlier fights when he could be seen yelling at his father or counting stacks of $100 bills with his former buddy, 50 Cent.
That sold pay-per-views to people who spent their money hoping to either see Mayweather win or get knocked out. But Mayweather seems to either have outgrown the part or simply doesn't want to play it anymore.
"What do you mean by image? My image has always been as an entertainer, but at home I'm a great father," Mayweather said. "There's no bad guy, that's an image the critics picked. My image is to make sure my kids get the best education and provide a comfortable life for my family."
If the new Mayweather is a kinder and gentler sort outside the ring, he's changed some inside, too. His fights sometimes tended to become tedious affairs as he sought to win without getting hit, but in recent years he has changed his style somewhat and has become more aggressive and flat-footed.
It showed as he walked two sparring partners across the ring, banging away with left hooks and right hands while keeping up a steady stream of chatter. The short time between fights should be beneficial to Mayweather at his age, and he's already inside the 152-pound (69-kilogram) catch weight for the fight.
"I got back into it so quick that I'm still sharp," he said. "I feel good, real good."
Boxing fans should feel good, too, that Mayweather is taking on Alvarez, a 23-year-old who is unbeaten in 42 fights and holds a piece of the 154-pound title. Mayweather has been criticised in the past for hand-picking his opponents and refusing to fight Manny Pacquiao, but Alvarez is about as dangerous a fighter as any he could take on at this stage of his career.
Not that Mayweather will acknowledge any such thing. Icing his sometimes brittle hands while sitting in a dressing room after his workout, he questioned the quality of Alvarez's opponents, and said it was just another fight to him.
Another fight and another US$40 million to US$50 million payout that will cement his reign this year as the highest paid athlete in the world.
As for Pacquiao and the fight that will probably now never happen? "I don't even know who that is," Mayweather said.