After not training for more than a year following the final fight of his illustrious career, pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. decided to strap on the headgear one random Friday at his gym in Las Vegas for an impromptu sparring session.
Standing a few feet in front of him on the ring apron was young Providence, R.I., junior welterweight Anthony Marsella Jr., wrapping up his own training camp in anticipation of his Oct. 21st homecoming at Twin River Casino.
“Champ, where’s your gear?” asked Mayweather.
When told it was in his car outside of the gym, Mayweather replied, “Well, put it on!”
The 21-year-old Marsella couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. Here he was, training in the gym owned by his idol — the former 12-time world champion, crowned the undisputed king in five different weight classes over the span of 19 years following a flawless 49-0 career — making a mad dash to his car to grab his belongings for the chance to spar a few rounds with the greatest fighter of this generation.
“I had already trained and I had blood work that day, too, so I hadn’t even eaten yet,” Marsella recalled, “but I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity.”
Marsella was so excited to jump in the ring he forgot to wait his turn; Mayweather had already started sparring with Thomas Dulorme, a 25-fight vet and former world-title challenger in the 140-pound division. After four rounds, Marsella would be next, except Dulorme spoiled the party by hitting Mayweather below the belt.
“Literally, at the end of the round, Dulorme kept hitting him with low blows and kept going too low and finally he cranks him with a low blow and Floyd is rolling around on the canvas,” Marsella said. “He just rolled out of the ring and said, ‘That’s good for today.'”
While Marsella missed his chance that day to trade blows with an all-time great, his experience in Vegas working at the Mayweather Boxing Club, training side-by-side with some of the best fighters in the world and, more importantly, learning what it takes to be a pro in and out of the ring, has proven to be invaluable.
Marsella is back in Rhode Island this week preparing for his first fight in front of his hometown crowd Friday night against Philadelphia’s Bardraiel Smith (0-1) on the undercard of CES Boxing’s 2016 Twin River Casino Fight Series, nearly 3,000 miles from the bright lights and glamour of Las Vegas, but much wiser and more prepared having benefitted from the lessons learned on foreign soil.
Once this week is over, Marsella (1-0) will head back to Vegas, boxing’s modern-day capital, to continue absorbing as much as he can from Mayweather and his stable of fighters, even if his heart belongs in Rhode Island.
“I don’t really care to fight out in Las Vegas, especially at this point in my career,” Marsella said. “All of my support is here. I always planned on going 10-0 in my backyard all day, having that support and knowing what I can do here and building off of my fan base here. I like the fact I train out there now because I’ve met a lot of people who are following me and helping me expand my market a little bit.
“Friday is going to be a show like we haven’t seen in a while, something for people to be excited about.”
MARSELLA’S INTRODUCTION TO Vegas just sort of happened. A year and a half ago, right around the time Mayweather was preparing for his well-publicized “Fight of the Century” against Manny Pacquiao, Marsella — facing a crossroads in his own career — headed out west to work with the legendary Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, a Brooklyn-born trainer and former pro who had roots in Rhode Island after working with former Providence standout Joey Spina.
The two had linked up through Spina’s former trainer, Jose Santos of Providence. On his first day in Vegas, Marsella sparred with current lightweight world champion Rances Barthelemey and held his own. The next day, he walked into Mayweather’s for the first time — “Just this white boy in the gym,” he said — and reunited with Mustafa.
Shortly thereafter, Marsella got his first chance to make an impression sparring against one of the gym’s regulars. No one knew what to expect.
“I started beating on this dude and everybody started going crazy,” he said. “People were going crazy like, ‘Damn, that white boy can fight!’ From there, I earned people’s respect.”
Video of the sparring session soon went viral. Mayweather himself caught a glimpse and shared it via social media. As Marsella says, “word gets around” at Mayweather’s gym, and if a fighter does something noteworthy or out of the ordinary, Mayweather will eventually catch wind of it.
Since Mayweather was so busy preparing for the fight of his life, he didn’t have much time to mingle with the regulars, and on days when Mayweather trained, the gym was typically off-limits to everyone else.
Marsella, however, had a connection on the inside. He was a close friend of fellow Rhode Islander Paul DelVecchio, also known as DJ Pauly D from the hit reality show Jersey Shore. The two got to know one another when DelVecchio used to train at Gary Balletto’s gym in Silver Lake, and DelVecchio was a friend of Greg La Rosa, Mayweather’s longtime head of security and most trusted ally.
“He told me to reach out to him if I was ever in Vegas,” Marsella recalled, “so I let him know I was training out there and he came by, kind of caught me off guard, pulling up in a Lamborghini. I said, ‘OK, Pauly, you’re doing alright for yourself!'”
Eventually, La Rosa took Marsella under his wing. Marsella flew out to Vegas six times over the next two and a half years to continue training at Mayweather’s.
“Every time I went there, I made a little bit of a statement,” Marsella said. “Everyone was like, ‘Dude, why do you keep leaving? You need to be here. You need to train here.’
“The training is a different level. The quality of training, the atmosphere alone, when I’m out here in the gym, it feels like I’m alone. I’m doing it by myself. I’m going on my runs and I’m doing it myself. Half the time I go to the gym at night by myself. Out there, you’re training with a team of people. You’ve got a different coach, you’ve got strength coaches, Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the UNLV track at 6 a.m. We have a coach there pushing us and doing different drills with us.
“It’s not just me going to the track near my house and making up a workout regimen that I found online. You’ve got people holding your hand, making sure you do it properly. Again, you’re with a group of guys, so you’re being pushed to work that much harder. It’s not like you’re going at your own pace. You’re trying to beat the next guy.”
WHEN MARSELLA RETURNED to Vegas earlier this summer, just a few months after winning his professional debut in Connecticut, he had only planned on staying for a week. He was living with La Rosa, and since La Rosa was Mayweather’s right-hand man, Marsella got the opportunity to tag along whenever Mayweather called for his head of security.
“If he went out to go eat, I’d go with them, along with at least five to 20 other people. Whenever you’re with Floyd, there’s always an entourage of people,” Marsella said.
“I met him several times before, but we didn’t have much conversation. Greg told him I had a fight coming up, so he said to make sure I was taken care of.”
That first night back in Vegas, Marsella made another impression on “The Money Team” with an impressive sparring session against one of Mayweather’s newest protégés. As usual, word traveled to the top of the ladder.
“I saw Floyd that night and he had already heard about it. He said, ‘I heard you did your thing.’ The next thing you know, he had put me in a condo,” Marsella said. “They told me, ‘You’re good work for our guys and we like what you do and we want to make sure you have a good training camp.’ They knew why I was out there.”
Without hesitation, Marsella accepted Mayweather’s invitation and spent the next month and a half out west, learning from one of the all-time great competitors and businessmen both in and out of the ring.
“A lot of people go by what they see on TV from Floyd, but Floyd is a big-hearted guy,” Marsella said. “He takes care of everybody. He’s got a large amount of fighters he takes care of, some of their families. He’s definitely not shy with his money. He has a big heart. He’s not just doing it because he can. He’s doing it for a reason. Whenever we go out, he tips each valet $500.
“He’s got some rappers, and obviously a lot of young boxers, that he works with who hang around him and he tries to teach them. ‘Listen, this is how you need to be. This is what you need to do.’ I see him try to mentor them and they sit there with their hands crossed without listening.
“I think that’s the difference between me and the next guy,” Marsella continued. “A lot of the stuff he’s preaching, I already know. Of course, I take it in because I’m all ears. That’s how I got to this point, by listening and learning. A lot of that stuff, I already live my life that way, the way he’s trying to make sure everyone else is living. I’m not taking my purses and buying designer things. I want to make investments. He’s all about that. He made millions of dollars. Most guys would be broke by now, especially the way he’s living, but he made the right investments.”
A FORMER AMATEUR standout and four-time Western New England Golden Gloves Champion, Marsella one day hopes to follow in Mayweather’s footsteps both personally and professionally. He’ll return to Vegas following Friday’s fight to continue honing his craft alongside some of the sport’s brightest prospects.
“The first time I went out there, it was mainly for fun, curiosity and just wanting to check it out,” Marsella said. “It ended up being, ‘Wow, this is a different level of training! Where would I be if I had been doing this for the past seven, eight years I’ve been boxing?’
“When I come back home and I train the way I’m training here, I’m like, ‘This isn’t going to get me to where I want to be.’ I only planned on staying for a week. What happened, happened. Why would I leave?”
Shortly after Mayweather called off his impromptu sparring session last week, he and Marsella reconvened in the locker room. Marsella thanked him for the opportunity. Later that night, Mayweather treated several of his associates, including Marsella, with a trip to a nearby movie theater, which Mayweather rented for the evening.
“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Get ready for tomorrow. You’re getting smoked tomorrow!’ and I said, ‘Champ, you know I’m going to be on a plane tomorrow!’ I wanted to bust his balls and be like, ‘You’re lucky I’m going to be on that plane!'”
Marsella might not have the credentials to trade barbs with the 12-time world champ just yet, but he’s clearly made enough of an impression to earn his spot in Mayweather’s inner circle. The training is elite, the atmosphere is addictive and the lessons learned can be applied to all walks of life, the true definition of on-the-job training.
As Marsella himself said, why would he ever leave?
Tickets for Oct. 21st are priced at $47.00, $67.00, $102.00 and $152.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.