By Arne K. Lang
The name Mayweather is synonymous with boxing. For many people, the name is also synonymous with bad behavior. Brothers Floyd and Roger Mayweather and Floyd’s famous son of the same name have all had well-documented legal troubles. It’s fair to say that some folks, if asked to pick one word to characterize all the Mayweather men, would check the box marked “thug.”
If they knew Jeff Mayweather, the least well-known of the fighting Mayweathers, they wouldn’t be so quick to seize upon that stereotype. Jeff Mayweather isn’t loud or profane, doesn’t go out clubbing, has never threatened a woman with bodily harm, doesn’t make a spectacle of counting his money, and likely has never raised his fists to anyone outside the ring. He’s low-key, approachable and pleasant.
Jeff Mayweather is the baby of the bunch, twelve years younger than Floyd the Elder and three years younger than Roger. When Jeff launched his pro career, Floyd was retired and Roger, with 35 pro fights under his belt, was the reigning WBC 140-pound champion.
Compared with his siblings, Jeff was slow to get started. He was 10 weeks shy of his 24th birthday when he made his pro debut on April 23, 1988. Boxing at the professional level stayed on the backburner until he finished college. At Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, roughly 50 miles from his home in Grand Rapids, Jeff majored in graphic arts.
Jeff Mayweather brought a 23-2-2 record into his biggest payday, an 8-round contest with budding superstar Oscar De La Hoya. The Golden Boy was too good for him – the fight was stopped in the fourth round – but the match gave the three Mayweather brothers an odd distinction. Floyd and Roger had also fought an Olympic gold medalist. Floyd fought Sugar Ray Leonard; Roger fought Pernell Whitaker. Jeff lost the fight but completed the hat trick.
Jeff’s career sputtered after the loss to De La Hoya. He came up short in 12 round tussles with hometown favorites Joey Gamache and Israel Cardona and finished with a mark of 32-10-5. But unlike most fighters, including most great fighters, he left the sport on a winning note.
Jeff knew going into his match with Eric Jakubowski on March 12, 1997, that this would be his final bout. The match was staged in Grand Rapids on a card that featured his brother Roger in the main event and included his nephew Little Floyd whose career was just getting started (Little Floyd, as he was commonly referenced back then, turns 40 next year).
Jeff judged that this was the perfect setting for his farewell fight. He was back in his hometown, where he had never boxed professionally. Sharing the bill with two members of his family made the event extra-special.
Jeff was a reluctant warrior. Had he been the oldest brother, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Before he turned pro at the age of 20, Roger Mayweather was an outstanding amateur. Tagging along with Roger to the gym, it was inevitable that Jeff would be goaded into giving boxing a whirl.
Jeff willingly acknowledges that he didn’t have the drive to be special that is the hallmark of all great champions. Don’t misunderstand. He was always in shape. He competed in the 132-pound division in the 1997 National Golden Gloves Tournament and as a pro he never weighed more than 139 ½ pounds. But there wasn’t the same passion for boxing that he saw in others.
“Things came too easy for me,” says Jeff. “I was good at school and I had no fears that things would be hard for me if boxing didn’t work out.”
As an amateur, Jeff crossed paths with several boxers who made quick headway as professionals – boxers that didn’t strike him as exceptional. As he watched their careers blossom, Jeff reconsidered his decision to forego boxing for a career in the graphic arts. “I wasn’t 100 percent committed to boxing,” he says, “but I knew that if I was going to give it a shot I couldn’t wait any longer.”
Transitioning from boxing to training boxers was a seamless transition. Jeff’s older brothers, to use a basketball analogy, were gym rats. Roger was forever mentoring aspiring boxers even as his career was still ongoing. Jeff upheld the family tradition.
On July 28, 2006, Sultan Ibragimov, an undefeated heavyweight from Russia, met Ray Austin at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. Ibragimov’s cornermen were old salts Panama Lewis and Stacey McKinley. Austin’s cornermen, Jeff Mayweather and Shannon Briggs (yes, that Shannon Briggs), were greenhorns by comparison.
Ibragimov had advanced to the gold medal round in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he lost a controversial decision to Cuban amateur legend Felix Savon. Expected to have little difficulty with Austin, he was fortunate to escape with a draw.
Ibragimov’s wealthy backer was none too pleased and made it known that he was in the market for a new head trainer. He auditioned five applicants before settling on Jeff.
A trimmed-down Ibragimov won his next three fights, blowing away Javier Mora in the opening round and then out-pointing Shannon Briggs and Evander Holyfield without too much difficulty. “Up-and-coming trainer Jeff Mayweather appeared to mold Ibragimov out of putty, creating a well-rounded boxer out of a brawler,” said Associated Press boxing writer Dave Skretta in his recap of the Briggs fight.
“He and I had the same temperament,” says Mayweather of Ibragimov, “and that made for good chemistry.” It helped that the Russian was fluent in English.
The final Ibragimov-Mayweather collaboration ended on a dispiriting note. On Feb. 23, 2008 at Madison Square Garden, Ibragimov failed to unseat heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, losing a 12-round decision. He never fought again, but Mayweather would soon have another champion under his wing in Panamanian featherweight Celestino Caballero. (Jeff has also tutored a few MMA fighters, notably Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal. “A lot of MMA trainers don’t know enough about the science of boxing,” he says.)
Little Floyd’s life outside the ring has been a soap opera and Uncle Jeff has played a supporting role. “For nine years there was silence between us,” he says without elaborating on what caused the rift. “But through it all, I always prayed that my nephew would win all of his fights.”
A larger rift developed between Little Floyd and his father, but that too would be patched up. Jeff has written for boxing web sites and believes that one of his articles quickened the healing process. “I mentioned that all this animosity was killing our mother, Floyd’s grandmother,” says Jeff, looking back at those troublesome days.
Asked to name his favorite active fighter, Jeff tabs Kevin Newman II who has won five straight in the super middleweight class since being held to a draw in his first pro bout. Jeff, who has no children, considers Newman his adopted son. He has been schooling him since the young man was nine years old.
Nowadays, folks meeting Jeff for the first time have a stock question for him. They want to know if his famous nephew will come out of retirement and fight again. With one more win, Floyd Mayweather Jr will overtake the fabled Rocky Marciano who finished 49-0.
We would be remiss if we didn’t ask the same question. So tell us, Jeff, what do you think?
It so happens that he feels very strongly that his nephew will never fight again. “Floyd doesn’t need to beat Marciano’s record because he set a bunch of other records that will be even harder to beat,” says Jeff. “He was undefeated for 19 years as a pro. Who can top that?”
Some folks are willing to bet that Jeff is wrong. Time will tell.