Mayweather confidential: The man and myth behind the 'Money'

Las Vegas (CNN)If you could use three words other than "money" to describe Floyd Mayweather Jr., which would you choose?

The thoughtful, heavily-tattooed man pauses for a moment before giving a considered answer.
"Caring, compassionate ... and a comedian; he's always joking around in the locker room," Ashley Theophane replies with a smile.
Surely not the first words that would spring to mind for most boxing fans if asked the same question.
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    But then Ashley "Treasure" Theophane is no ordinary follower of the "sweet science."
    "Everyone who comes in contact with Floyd, he looks after them. Everyone sees the money and the cars, but that's the 'Money Mayweather' persona -- in person he's a nice guy," the British boxer says of the man who is now his mentor as well as his hero.
    "When he signed me he said, 'Anything you want Ash, you ask me and I've got you.' I went to his Mum's house for Easter and saw his cousins and uncles, which is cool because I don't have any family over here."
    Theophane and Mayweather have much in common. Both were born impoverished and both turned to boxing as a way out. Mayweather's journey from the rags of Grand Rapids, Michigan to the riches of the Las Vegas strip is well known.
    Theophane's is less so, but his path has been the same solitary road of guts, dedication and self-belief that his boss has turned into such a powerful narrative for selling out fight nights.
    The 34-year-old from Paddington, London is a former British light welterweight titleholder who had tired of his talents being overlooked in his homeland. So, despite advice to the contrary and with the odds stacked against him, in 2012 he turned to America to follow his dream of becoming a world champion.
    "I used to do training camps in New York (when building up to a fight). Then I looked online and noticed that Floyd was starting an eight-week camp for the Miguel Cotto fight," he tells CNN ahead of his super-lightweight bout against Mexico's Mahonri Montes at the Palms Casino, Las Vegas, on Thursday.
    "So I Googled his gym and flew out (to Las Vegas), just booked a hotel for two weeks. They had no idea I was coming, I just got a cab to the gym and asked them if I could train.
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    "Roger Mayweather (Floyd's coach and uncle, a former double world champion) asked me who I was, I told him 'Ashley Theophane, British champion.' He said: 'That don't mean s**t, that don't mean you can fight.' So he got his mitts and we went to work on the pads. After a while he said 'Yeah, you're okay.'"
    It was a bold move that only the desperate or decidedly devoted would have contemplated, but the dedication and sense of destiny clearly struck a chord with the gym's owner, Floyd.
    "I was buzzing, thinking I can't believe I'm here, then after my workout one day I was asked to stay to watch Floyd train," Theophane recalls. "He normally doesn't speak in these sessions but he says to me: 'Who are you?'
    "So I tell him: 'I'm Ashley Theophane, British champion.' He looks me up and down and says, 'We might have to spar, let's see what you've got...' That was the perfect start for me ... I've never seen him call someone out like he did with me in all the time I've been here. It's like it was meant to be. "
    After the two-week training camp, Theophane left Vegas only to lose his title in a hard-fought bout back in England. A year went by, with two more comeback fights bringing two more victories and another crossroads for his career.
    "I had a chat with my manager and said I think I should go back to Vegas because I had a good chance with Floyd, so the plan was to come back for a two-month training camp and see what happened.
    "When I came back Floyd said, 'Ah, the London guy is back' -- even though a year had passed, he remembered me! He invited me to his fight against Robert Guerrero.
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    "After he won I went backstage to see him and all the press were there and he told them he had fighters from all over the world at his gym. He said, 'This is my fighter from the UK' -- and that's when I was like, 'Oh, I'm part of the team now!'"
    Theophane joined Mayweather Promotions in 2013 as one of the stable's 12 fighters across the weight categories. From lightweight Mickey "The Spirit" Bey to cruiserweight Andrew "The Beast" Tabiti, each fought under The Money Team's banner, a privileged position that can deliver between $5-$300k per fight but that also brings challenges.
    "You might have Floyd's backing but at the same time he's not going to win the fight for you. And if Floyd is ringside, the opponents fight even harder because they think if they win they might get on to The Money Team, so the pressure's on," Theophane says.
    "He's at ringside shouting out, 'Do this! I like that! You're stealing my moves Ash!' The first time I had him ringside I was nervous because I could hear the man's voice and my cut man was passing on messages from Floyd to me."

    Readying for a sparring session @ashleytheophane at the TMT gym @cnnsport

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    His story is similar to many in the fight game, boxers whose career is built on a single-minded and often lonely pursuit of their goal. Leaving the politics and morals of the sport aside, for the protagonists it takes an almost religious dedication to be competitive.
    Up to five hours grueling training every day, beating after beating, long run after long run. Theophane follows a 'boring' diet of fruit, porridge, protein shakes, pasta and chicken. His last taste of alcohol was in 2011 when he celebrated becoming British champion. And Mayweather, four years his senior, out-trains even the hard-working Theophane, according to the fighter.
    "When I watch him train I have to find something to lean against," Theophane says. "His sessions last for so long that my legs get tired just standing there."
    Since joining The Money Team, he's registered four victories despite an initial loss to Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano. For a professional whose career hangs in the balance every time he steps in the ring, it's a precarious life that's psychologically testing.
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    But, like Pacquiao -- who has a 57-5-2 record, while Mayweather is unbeaten in 47 pro fights -- Theophane does not see defeat as mark of weakness, rather proof of taking fights that presented the required challenge to be credible.
    "Sport stars lose, boxers lose, the best teams lose; it's normal to lose in sports ... but because of the Floyd Mayweather era a defeat is seen as a much bigger thing," says Theophane, who has won 37 fights, lost six and drawn one.
    "And that's the good side of Floyd too, because I lost my first fight under him but he said, 'Don't worry, we'll get you back there.'
    "So I had four wins in 12 months, now I'm back on the TV. Floyd is known as a man of his word, if he says he's gonna do it for you, he does it for you. He said he was happy with my win in December and he said I'd be back in the big fights and now here I am.
    "Before I signed with Floyd I had lost five times but he still signed me. His uncles were world champions; they lost and they were still seen as great champions. You can look at the history of boxing and all the greats lose.
    "Manny has lost five times but he's fought the best of his era; sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. The losses don't mean that much because he's still getting paid $100 million! I wouldn't say he's burnt out -- I think he's going to lose, but he's not burnt out."

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    Theophane's verdict on Saturday's big fight outcome may be biased by being on the payroll of one of the protagonists, but he'd argue at least he's had firsthand experience of the subject.
    "The number one thing with Floyd is he's smart, he reads fighters. As boxers we all have our routines that we do, and he's good at picking up these movements very quickly. He works hard but he's very smart and that's why he's undefeated," Theophane says.
    "Manny is too wild, he jumps in wild and that's how he got knocked out with (Juan Manuel) Marquez. For him it's a weakness that he can't change, that's just how he fights. Manny's impulsiveness will be his downfall."
    As Theophane attests, Mayweather's technical skills are widely regarded as some of the best in the sport, but the merits of his bad-guy "Money" persona, if it's a construct at all, is more divisive. For a figure endowed with such gifts of talent, does the brash persona and arrogance not diminish his power to inspire?
    "Remember, even when Ali was fighting he was hated! They went against him on the Muslim thing, the Vietnam thing -- he wasn't much liked when boxing, it was only after. But that era was different to the sportsmen around now, it's different times and a different society," Theophane says.
    "The pictures of him with all his money might inspire folks too, you know? It might inspire a lot of kids to think if he's done it then I could do it too.
    "A lot of people don't like him because of that, but then there's a load of people that love him because of that. He came from nothing, so anything he gets paid he deserves it.
    "A lot of boxers don't get paid what they're worth so it's good to see that some do."