LAS VEGAS – Bright orange traffic cones blocked the parking spaces immediately in front of the Mayweather Boxing Club on Tuesday, awaiting the arrival of the proprietor who was, predictably, fashionably late.
A group of men the size of the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line kept watch in case anyone was bold enough to try to move the cones and slip into the prime parking spots by the door.
It was a scene that has played out dozens of times over the years – the big top comes to the boxing gym with the lure of hearing a few words from the world's greatest fighter and the opportunity to watch him go through his paces.
As familiar as the surroundings appeared, however, this was a very different Floyd Mayweather who spoke with the media Tuesday.
As with every public figure, the real man is far different from the one the public sees on television and reads about online.
And Mayweather, who is preparing for a pay-per-view bout against Marcos Maidana on May 3 at the MGM Grand, is decidedly different in real life from the character "Money May" that he shows to the public.
Mayweather is boxing's best fighter and by far its greatest attraction. His last seven fights have exceeded a million in pay-per-view sales and the May 3 bout is expected to make that eight.
He was built, partly, by the star power of Oscar De La Hoya. When Mayweather defeated "The Golden Boy" in a 2007 fight that sold more than 2.5 million on pay-per-view, the outrageous, flamboyant figure he played on HBO's "24/7" series turned him into a star the likes of which boxing has rarely seen.
He did everything to excess. He pulled back the curtain to show the world his fleet of six-figure cars, jewels that were worth more than any of his cars and a tastefully decorated home he refers to as "The Big Boy Mansion."
He flashed outrageous amounts of jewelry and money. He hobnobbed with A-list celebrities and said the most outlandish things, just so long as the cameras were rolling. When he got into a dispute with his father, it was loud and very public.
A large segment of the population ate it all up. A sizeable portion hated it, but bought his fights in the hope of seeing him get his comeuppance.
This character he plays is a born salesman who figured out how to hawk pay-per-views better than anyone who lived.
But he's the father of four young children – Son Koraun is 13, daughter Iyanna and son Zion are 12 and daughter Jirah is 9 – and he often speaks of them in reverential tones.
It's a tough challenge to live the crazy public life that Mayweather leads and to raise children to be normal and balanced, but he said he speaks to them frequently about his job.
He's taken the time to explain to them that, at heart, their father is an entertainer and that a lot of the outrageous things he does are to push his image and sell tickets.
"When my children are tuning in to [Showtime's] All-Access [preview show], they see things like us using foul language and us talking about women, and I explain to them that it's just like a movie," Mayweather said. "It's entertainment. Your father is there to sell tickets. It's how we put food on the table. One day, once you all get older, you'll understand. This is a business.
"The things I say on All-Access, it's about being fun and it's about being entertaining. You have to understand the difference between entertainment and real life."
He came across Tuesday as a measured, thoughtful man – one who admitted he had made mistakes in the past and who apologized for them.
He was in a controlled environment and wasn't being pushed or challenged, but still showed a side of himself not frequently seen in the public.
One reporter asked him if he'd done anything over the years that, later in private, he regretted having done.
And Mayweather immediately brought up his 2012 jail sentence when he pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges in an incident with the mother of three of his children.
"Things happen for a reason and the only thing you can do is at nighttime, get on your knees and ask God for forgiveness for anything that you did that you didn't feel was right," Mayweather said. "Just like with my jail situation, even though I know I didn't stomp, kick and beat a woman, it could have been something else that God was punishing me for. So the one thing that I did was I got on my knees and I apologized and said, 'Make me a better person.' "
A cordial half-hour interview with familiar reporters, who asked questions that he had to expect were coming, proves nothing.
But there was something about his tone and his tenor that suggested this was no act. When he was asked about comments his bitter rival, promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, made about his fight with Maidana, Mayweather demurred.
In similar interview situations throughout his lengthy career, Mayweather would have taken the opportunity to unload upon Arum.
But in this situation, he didn't prod the rival promoter.
"The only thing we can do is pray for Bob Arum," Mayweather said. "You know, just pray for him. I don't want to say nothing negative about Bob Arum. I wish Bob Arum nothing but the best and we're doing what we're doing over here [at Mayweather Promotions]."
His comments were astute and apt, and many wouldn't have shown the same self control as he did when he declined to take a shot.
At the post-fight news conference following Manny Pacquiao's win over Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand on April 12, Arum decried the Mayweather-Maidana fight as a 15-1 mismatch (it's actually 8-1) and urged the media to boycott.
That was an obvious attempt to take money out of Mayweather's pocket, and nobody could have or would have blamed Mayweather if he'd chosen to get his licks in.
That he didn't react could just be that he happened to be in a good mood on Tuesday, but it could also mean that he's matured and understands more about the world and his place in it.
He's 37 and has been a professional for nearly half his life. He was just 19 when he turned pro on Oct. 11, 1996, by stopping Roberto Apodaca at a tiny casino in North Las Vegas, Nev.
Almost 18 years later, he remains unbeaten and is the holder of the two biggest fights in pay-per-view history, both by unit sales and by revenue. He'll hold every significant pay-per-view and earnings mark by the time he retires.
Including the May 3 Maidana fight, he has just four fights left, meaning he could be walking away from the sport he's dominated in the fall of 2015.
If Tuesday is any indication, it will be a much wiser, astute man who says his goodbyes in 2015 than the bold and outspoken teen who took the sport by storm in 1996.
And without question, that's a very good thing for all concerned.
- Society & Culture