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by Jon Saraceno, USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS - For Floyd Mayweather Jr., independenceis paramount. The man they call "Money" has discovered that enormouswealth is indeed secondary.

Freedom holds a lot of newpossibilities for the undefeated welterweight champion, 36, as he putsthe finishing touches on preparations for his title defense againstRobert "The Ghost" Guerrero on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.It's Mayweather's first fight since last May. Despite becoming one ofthe world's richest athletes, he has averaged one fight a year over thelast six years.

Recently, Mayweather signed a lucrative,mega-fight deal with Showtime, potentially worth $200 million; he hasreunited with his estranged father, trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., 60,who is suffering from sarcoidosis (an incurable lung disease); and thereality TV star is receiving nibbles about a potential foray into actingafter he retires, probably by 2015.

It is quite acounterpunch from his life nearly a year ago. Last June, with the worldseemingly at his feet, Mayweather pleaded guilty to a reduced charge ofmisdemeanor battery domestic violence, and no contest to a pair ofharassment charges. The case involved a violent struggle between thefighter and former girlfriend Josie Harris as two of their childrenwatched in September 2010. Mayweather is the father of four.

Mayweatherwas sentenced to 90 days and found himself incarcerated with convictedmurderers and other serious offenders in Clark County Detention Center.With the exception of attorney contact, he spent 23 hours a day alone inhis cell in maximum security.

The detention center deemed it inhis best interest for safety, said attorney Shane W. Emerick, who didnot represent Mayweather in the case but visited him every day at thebehest of the fighter's legal team and manager Al Haymon. Mayweatherbelieved the location of his incarceration was unjust, Emerick said, buthis request to be added to the jail's general population was turneddown. Mayweather's bid for house arrest also was denied. He served fromJune 1 to Aug. 3.

"Was being in jail very bad, very rough for me?"Mayweather told USA TODAY Sports as he sat this week in the expansiveliving room of his $9 million, 22,000-square-foot mansion overlookingthe city. "There is nothing cool about saying, 'I've been to jail,' or'I've been to prison.' That's a place I won't go back to."

'It's about being classy'

Raisedin a dysfunctional, drug- and alcohol-saturated home, Mayweather hadbeen arrested numerous times during the last decade for violence-relatedcases in Nevada and Michigan, his home state. But he always seemed toavoid serious punishment, receiving suspended jail sentences and fines.

In17 years as a professional fighter, Mayweather (43-0, 26 KOs) has nevertasted losing. This time, it felt as if Judge Melissa Saragosa landedone to his jaw. He also received community service and was ordered tocomplete one year of domestic violence counseling. He attended a sessionon the same day of his May 5, 2012, fight against Miguel Cotto.

"WhatI learned from my jail experience was that freedom is very, veryimportant," he said. "You can have money but no freedom. It's just likeyou're poor, you're broke. It's like you have nothing. I found out thatfreedom is more important than money."

Wednesday, at the finalmajor news conference to promote the Guerrero fight, Ruben Guerrero -father and trainer of the challenger - called out Mayweather.

"We'regoing to beat up that woman-beater - the one that beat up his(ex-girlfriend) in front of his kids," Ruben Guerrero said from thepodium. "He must have learned that from his dad. We're going to eat thatwoman-beater (and) see how he's gonna like it, and he's gonna get itfrom a real man."

No one from Mayweather'scamp, including the champion, responded at that juncture. Later, thefathers of both fighters began jawing at each other and had to beseparated. Mayweather Jr. kept his cool when asked about the namecalling.

"My thing is, I'm a lot older and I'm a lot wiser," hetold Showtime analyst Steve Farhood. "If I did or didn't do a crime ... Iserved the time. It's about being classy. I was wild when I wasyounger."

Those who know Mayweather well say confinement gave him adose of reality, and that he is a changed person. They say he has madestrides to become more introspective, show greater restraint and soughtto be become less volatile in his personal relationships. He shares hishome with fiancée Shantel Jackson.

"Is Floyd Mayweathermisunderstood? Absolutely," he said. "But, you know, that's life. You gothrough certain obstacles. Only thing I can do is continue to live andtry to become a better person every day."

Twice a week he waspermitted to engage in a video visit with family or friends. At times,it was humiliating for the former U.S. Olympic star.

"Theystrip-search you whenever they want - just because," Mayweather said."This officer already was giving me a hard time. I took all my clothesoff. You have to open your mouth (to be searched for possibly concealeditems), lift your testicles and other things that are very flagrant -squat (and) cough.

"After he searched me, I reached for myclothes. He said, 'Stop! Put them back.' Then the whole search (began)again. I'm like, 'Man, (are you) for real? Is this really worth it?'That's all I said."

Emerick, a retired criminalattorney, told USA TODAY Sports, "In my 25 years in town, I've neverheard of a misdemeanor inmate being held in administrative segregationin maximum security."

Mayweather said he controlled any urge to become angry.

"Youhave to stay mentally strong; I knew I was coming home," he said. "Whyput yourself in a position where you have to stay longer? I conductedmyself as a gentleman."

An explosive person

Thathasn't always been the case for Mayweather, who was raised in afractured boxing family, one that includes Roger Mayweather, a formerworld champion who is his uncle and ex-trainer. The Mayweathers not onlychallenged others but famously rumbled among themselves.

From hisyoungest days growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mayweather said hislife was consumed with fighting, most of it done inside the ring. By theage of 3, his father, a former fringe welterweight contender anddefensive specialist who was knocked out by Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978,had laced oversized sparring gloves on his son's tiny hands.

"All Idid was study boxing from day one," said Mayweather Jr., a high schooldropout. "That's the first thing I ever knew. Before I knew anythingabout life, I knew about a boxing gym. I knew how to throw punches."

To this day, Mayweather sometimes wonders how he managed to persevere through a difficult childhood environment.

"Ifeel like I beat all odds being where I am today with my mother(Deborah Orr) being on drugs, my father going to prison (for drugtrafficking), no stable home," Mayweather recalled. "At one time, (we)stayed in New Brunswick, N.J., (with) seven people in one bedroom."

Thesedays, the father and the son have repaired their relationship to adegree. They will reunite for the first time on fight night since thefather worked his son's corner in 2000, shortly before he quit.

"Myson and I have had collisions," the elder Mayweather told USA TODAYSports. "But since he got out of jail, I've seen a better change inhim."

"I always had a bond with my son but not like now," said thefather. "He'll grab me and hug me; or I will grab him and hug him.He'll tell me that he loves me."

While the elder Mayweatherbattles sarcoidosis, Roger, 52, has diabetes and is trying to fend offdeteriorating vision. He is co-training his nephew but will not be inthe corner on fight night. He also has served time relating to violenceagainst women in battery incidents.

Others have tried to fill the void as a male role model for Mayweather Jr. Some have been more successful than others.

AlMitchell was the head coach of the USA Boxing team at the 1996 OlympicGames in Atlanta, site of Mayweather's last defeat - a hotly disputed10-9 decision to Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria. But despite the youngamateur's talent, Mitchell, considered a no-nonsense coach, says, "Ithought Mayweather probably wouldn't go anywhere (professionally)because of his attitude."

Today, Mitchell can't help but beam when he looks at how Mayweather persevered.

"Everyyear, I've seen him change and adjust," Mitchell said. "I pulled himaside (one evening) and said, 'Mayweather, you really surprised me.' Hereally has matured. He's not the same guy I knew. He's got smart peoplearound him with Al Haymon and (adviser) Leonard Ellerbe.

"People don't realize that to hold an explosive person like that in check is hard."

Emerickmade in-roads with the fighter during their many visits last summer.Despite his educational background, Emerick found he had more in commonwith Mayweather than the fighter initially suspected: He, too, had comefrom a broken home where he lived in public housing with his mom, asingle mother of five. He later served as an Army helicopter pilot andas a public defender.

"I was like anybody in the public in my viewof Floyd Mayweather Jr., and what his reputation was. To me, it wasn'tgood," he said. "But after I got to know him, I realized he was smart,had a good heart and is an amazing person.

"I do believe theincarceration had a profound effect on him. He really took it as Godworking in mysterious ways. He focused on his family.

"After hewas released, you could see a change in him. He knows what's important. Inow see him as a very calm person. I think he is well on his way."

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