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.
Mayweather: The monstrous ego valued by Forbes at $420 million who calls himself “The Best Ever,” with Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson as seconds?
Mayweather: Who spent two months in jail in 2012 after pleading guilty to a battery and domestic violence charge?
Mayweather: Whose narcissistic social media posts include a picture of him perched on a bed alongside wads of hundred-dollar bills, and who will fight Manny Pacquiao on Saturday with a $25,000 mouthguard laced with diamonds?
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”