Undefeated boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. (46-0), opens up his Las Vegas gym as he prepares to fight Marcos Maidana at the MGM Grand this weekend. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Everyone’s waiting on Floyd Mayweather. The prodigal pugilist is not often punctual, typically arriving at the gym for his daily workout at some point between 3 and 4 p.m. — “You just never know,” one bodyguard said — and this day was no different.

A palpable buzz grew both inside and outside the gym. A crew from Showtime waited in the strip mall parking lot, tasked with documenting the weeks leading up to Saturday’s rematch against Marcos Maidana, eager to capture real and candid moments.

Finding something authentic in Las Vegas, though, is no easy feat. Mayweather’s gym is located five minutes from the city’s glitzy strip in the less glamorous Chinatown district. A dealers’ school is a couple of doors down, and Chinese Baptist Church is next door. The afternoon sun is unrelenting, and visitors break a sweat walking from the parking lot to the front door.

The gym had been packed for a couple of hours. With each passing minute, anticipation grew and the energy in the room seemed to crackle. The boxing ring was a giant stage, waiting for its star.

But 4 o’clock came and went, and there was still no sign of Mayweather. A local fighter finished his workout and walked outside into the scorching heat. Orange cones blocked off five empty parking spaces.

“Ooh, it’s almost time now,” the young fighter said.

But only 15 minutes later, word began to circulate that something was amiss. The Showtime crew collected its equipment and rolled out. A black Escalade, featuring giant block letters “TMT” — the Money Team — departed, too. Slowly, others followed and parking spots opened up. Around 4:30, a young man walked out of the gym, saying to anybody within earshot, “Yo, Floyd not coming today.”

Where in the world was Mayweather? He’s the world’s highest-paid athlete, a once-in-a-generation fighter who’s as comfortable on TMZ as he is ESPN. His name can be found in gossip columns, police blotters, court dockets and of course, all over boxing’s record books. A big fight loomed — his chance to improve his record to 47-0 — and he was nowhere to be found. Even more odd, despite all the hope and excitement in the gym, no one seemed too worried.

“With Floyd, it’s whatever he’s feeling at that moment,” offered a beefy guy in a tanktop, stepping into his Lexus and peeling away.

Just as visitors began to chalk it up as one of those days, a pair of state highway patrol vehicles pulled up in front of the gym. It was not a security detail or a police escort. Far from it.

Stepping out of the back seat of the first car, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world emerged. He was wearing shorts, a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of handcuffs. Give this much to Mayweather: Love him or hate him, the man knows how to make an entrance.

A state trooper uncuffed Mayweather, and the fighter rubbed his wrists. He nonchalantly strolled into his gym without saying a word. About an hour earlier, highway patrol had spotted a white Ferrari zipping along Interstate 15. They clocked Mayweather driving 87 mph in a 65-mph zone and switching lanes without using his signal. More concerning: A background search revealed an outstanding bench warrant, and Mayweather was asked to exit his car and surrender to authorities.

But en route to the county lockup, troopers learned the warrant had actually been cleared, and the fighter asked to be dropped off at the gym, where suddenly a crowd gathered near the glass door to see Mayweather’s bewildering arrival.

“Tell him I’m not going to give him a ticket for why I pulled him over,” a trooper told one of the fighter’s handlers, “but he needs to slow down.”

And just like that, Mayweather disappeared into the locker room to get ready for another day at the office.

Preparing for his rematch against Marcos Maidana, Floyd Mayweather makes time for VICE.com cameras. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)
Floyd and ‘Money’

About 15 minutes later, Mayweather’s Ferrari finally pulled into the parking lot, with a friend behind the wheel. Two other men immediately began cleaning and detailing the sleek car.

Inside the gym, Mayweather finally poked out of the locker room a bit before 5. He showed no signs that he arrived to work in cuffs. For him, it had all the impact of a speed bump.

As the fighter moved toward the ring, all eyes followed. He has his own gravitational pull. He’s rich, loud, unapologetic and carries the torch for his sport like no other athlete.

The Drake song “0 to 100” played from a nearby speaker — If I ain’t the greatest, then I’m headed for it — as Mayweather stepped toward his trainer and began to throw punches. More than 100 people filled the gym, some standing around the ring apron, others seated in white plastic chairs.

“I want everybody to focus in and watch every movement,” Mayweather would explain later.

Rare is the fighter who wants to train in front of a crowd, but Mayweather feeds off it. His friend and longtime business associate Leonard Ellerbe insists there’s a difference between the Mayweather the public sees and the private Mayweather. But it’s not clear what privacy he actually has.

“I’m alone when it’s time to sleep,” Mayweather said.

Everything about Mayweather screams of insecurities: the way he flashes money, plays for cameras, seeks attention. But he says he’s completely comfortable with who he is, with what he has and with what he doesn’t. The real Mayweather is “a family man,” he says, “a person who likes to give back, a great heart, loyal and honest.” The cocky, flashy portrayal the world sees is apparently just a carefully crafted projection.

“You have Floyd Mayweather and then you have Money Mayweather,” Ellerbe explained. “Money Mayweather is what the fans see.”

It’s difficult to reconcile the two, a truth Mayweather seems to acknowledge. Floyd and Money have had multiple run-ins with the law. They’ve created enemies. They’ve been accused multiple times of domestic violence and abuse (just last week, a former fiancee sued him, alleging assault and battery, among other charges.) They’ve shown little remorse or regret. They spent two months in a county jail for fighting an ex-girlfriend in front of Mayweather’s children. Two years later, here’s how he explains that experience:

“Things happen. Malcolm X been to jail; Martin Luther King been to jail. The list goes on and on. You live and you learn. But I think the main thing, I think people should just learn from the mistakes that are made. And I’m not saying that when I went to jail it was a mistake. But things happen and you live and you learn.”

His track record is unlike that of any other major sports celebrity. If they had similar missteps, Tom Brady or LeBron James would hear a public outcry sure to echo forever. For Mayweather, his star only seems to shine brighter. Whether it’s his true person or a heavily produced persona, Mayweather seems to adore the black hat.

Ellerbe is convinced Mayweather is a genius — “the best marketer I’ve ever seen” — and the fighter says his mission is to simply entertain by any means necessary. He compares himself to a professional wrestler, of all things.

“You’ll see Hulk Hogan, but then he come back and be ‘Hollywood’ Hulk Hogan. . . . I used to be Pretty Boy Floyd. Then I come back — I step away from the game for a hot second and then I come back — and I’m Money Mayweather with a totally different look,” he said. “You gotta know about re-inventing yourself.”

Other fighters, he says, don’t understand business. “Fighters just understand ‘I can beat this guy, I can just beat this guy.’ Where I be trying to tell fighters, you have to have something to sell. You got to have a sales pitch.”

Floyd Mayweather Jr., relentless in training and in self-promotion. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

There’s a duality to Mayweather’s pitch — in and out of the ring, on and off camera. Difficult to like and impossible to beat. Self-absorbed and self-possessed. Flawed and flawless.

“I can contradict myself; I can contradict myself because I’m only human,” he said. “But I can wake up every morning, look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You know what? I’m happy with who I am as a man and as a father and as a family man.’”

In the gym, the crowd included a handful of women but mostly men — Mayweather’s barber, jeweler, family, friends, among them. They shouted out affirmations, as Mayweather glides around the ring.

His uncle and trainer, Roger Mayweather, held the mitts, and the punches came flying. Rat-a-tat-tat. Mayweather chewed gum. He muttered “left” or “right” so fast, it’s not clear if he was anticipating his uncle’s movements or directing them. He occasionally let his eyes wander, making sure the room’s still focused on him, but his fists somehow still found the mitts. This no-look dance felt like a party trick, remarkable and effortless.

He’s 37 years old, in extraordinary shape and doesn’t need the money. But he’s still a man in need. He talks often about remaining relevant, which in a short attention-span age requires a lot of hard work.

“He’s almost better than before,” said Rafael Garcia, an assistant trainer who has been with Mayweather since 2001.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. draws an audience even for a sparring session. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)
Winning and losing

During his workout, Mayweather never stopped to catch his breath and never seemed to tire. When he finished one exercise, the room erupted in cheers and encouragement, and the fighter immediately moved onto something else.

The closest he came to a break was when he walked toward a wall-length mirror, scanned up and down and offered a smile to his reflection. He was always in control of his surroundings, telling the Showtime camera the optimal vantage point and directing the boom mike operator where to stand for the best sound.

Midway through his jump rope routine, he barked out to an assistant trainer, “Get me a soda! I wanna cramp when I run! I wanna get a cramp!”

The gym walls are covered with Mayweather’s photos, but there’s also a giant artistic rendering of a $100 bill, front and back, hanging above everything. It’s a blatant metaphor. For Mayweather, all of it — his defense, his motivation, his purpose — seems to come back to money.

Mayweather unwittingly made headlines last month when rapper 50 Cent, a confidante turned antagonist, insinuated publicly that Mayweather was less than literate, challenging the fighter to read a single page from a Harry Potter book. Mayweather responded by tweeting photos of checks from his last two bouts. “Read this $72,276,000.00,” he wrote.

(“Reading does not define my place in boxing history,” he said last week. “Will God not let me in heaven because I didn’t read like a news anchor? Me, myself, I would be perfect at reading if it was how I made my living and fed my family. Once again, intelligence and education are two different things.”)

Ellerbe said Mayweather has earned $350 million in the past seven years. Saturday he’ll likely have a guaranteed purse of at least $30 million with millions more coming on the back end. The key to such unprecedented paydays was essentially becoming his own promoter, upending the sport’s economic formula. He’s no longer an act in the center ring; he helps run the whole circus. He gets paid off every ticket, hot dog, beer and pay-per-view buy related to his fights.

“It’s a model that never will be duplicated again,” Ellerbe said.

The fighter has plans to further extend his brand, to put his name on athletic gear and boxing equipment — “so I got a little bit of everything that’s coming out in the sport of boxing.” He has resisted lending his name and image to other corporate brands. Traditional endorsements aren’t his thing.

“I endorse myself,” he said. “That’s what it’s about: being an entrepreneur.”

After 21 / 2 hours, Mayweather had completed an impressive workout. Regulars in the gym said it was actually a light day for him. The barnacles filtered out and made their evening plans. “You ready to stay up all night?” a young woman said to a friend.

Mayweather keeps his own hours. Who knows when he’s going to bed or when his training day will end? He equates victory with effort, and his unblemished ring record is telling.

“Winning is not always having your hand to raise,” he said.

But he also equates it with something else, in a way that none of the legends who preceded him ever articulated. As the lights shut off in the gym, he did a quick interview with a crew from VICE.com. The Showtime cameras were still swarming, as the reporter passively challenged the fighter.

“What is losing?” Mayweather said. “So, okay, if my hand don’t get raised, but I still make $70 [million] to $80 million, is that losing? Or that’s winning? . . . Whether my hand is raised or not, winning is giving it 100 percent, but if I make $70 [million] or $80 million, guess what? I’m a winner.”

On Saturday in cities all over the world, people will plop down $65-$75 apiece to buy the pay-per-view. They’ll spend even more for a seat in the MGM Grand. The precise reason they’re there, eyes glued to the ring, is irrelevant. Just like those in the gym watching Mayweather train, they just want to get close as possible, to gawk, stare and see what happens. For Mayweather, the boos and cheers are indistinguishable.

“Whether you pay to see me win or pay to see me lose, I’m the smart one at the end of the day,” Mayweather said, “because you pay me.”

Mayweather decided he wasn’t yet finished for the day. He left the gym and stepped out into the Vegas night to go for a run. Showtime cameras tailed him. For Vegas and for Mayweather, it’s all choreographed, shimmering and plastic and contradictory at every turn. The money rolls in faster than anyone can count; air is pumped through the vents; entertainment is available at all hours. There’s no clock or rhyme or reason to anything, and everything under the sun can be bought. It’s all fueled by money and whim. Indulgences are the norm, excesses expected, and no indiscretion is ever judged.

It’s the perfect city for an imperfect man.